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Spirit Lifter

Let's switch over to our major revenue sport for a bit which is lead by a competent head coach. Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, which by far is the best college football/basketball (IMH) preview pre-season publication in American has teamed up with ESPN's Insiders to provide a "comprehensive look" into all 326 D-1 basketball programs. And ESPN has removed the subscription firewalls from their preview of Ben Howland's 2006-07 squad. Well let's just say it's a delicious and welcome relief from the h*ll of following Dorrell's football program.

Here is the lead:

Considering Florida convincingly won the 2006 NCAA crown, and returns its starting lineup intact, the Gators have a legitimate chance of joining Duke (1991-92) as the only repeat champs since UCLA won seven straight from 1967-73. Right?

Maybe, but don't forget about the team Florida more or less dissembled the night of April 3 in Indianapolis.

Yes, that would be the Bruins, who despite losing All-Pac-10 point guard Jordan Farmar to the NBA with two years of eligibility remaining and two other starters could be a significantly improved team.

No, that's not a misprint, last season's national runner-up, despite losing three starters, including a first-round draft pick, enters 2006-07 with a stronger starting lineup and more depth and experience than a season ago.

"We had more injuries last season than any team I've ever been associated with in my life, coaching, playing, whatever, I was absolutely shocked to look back at season's end -- it was a nightmare," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "If this team stays healthy, we'll be right there with anyone."

Another Pac-10 coach takes it a step farther, saying, "Even without Farmar, to me, UCLA's the best team in the country."
Did that catch your interest?  More from ESPN/Blue Ribbon on Coach Ben Howland, who just in three years has rebuilt the jewel of college basketball after it was flushed down into the toilet by an incompetent, clueless, training-on-the-job head coach:
"I think, anytime you take over a new program, the first year's going to be tough," Howland said. "But then you bring in some of your own recruits, and the first class gets in there for the second season and is able to have an impact. And by that third year, you've brought in two, maybe three classes including late signings that first season."

Howland, 49, enters his fourth season in Westwood with no seniors and just two juniors on the roster. It would appear at first glance that this would be more of a transition year than one to compete for the program's record 12th national title.

"Last year definitely gives us credibility, especially recruiting wise," Howland said. "That's a young team like last season won the Pac-10, and went to the NCAA title game, that says a lot about the players. We're young again, even younger really, but we have some experience and people were so excited around here last season. I'm just so happy for the program and the fans. It was special, it really was, and we've gained some momentum."

And while momentum is always nice, Howland, who in late July signed a seven-year contract extension that keeps him in LA through 2013, is well aware of the expectations this season and beyond. There's only one step beyond the path the Bruins traveled last season.
Now read that part few times over and contemplate what is going in our football program. In any event make sure to read the entire article (I have already read it 3 times just to alleviate some of the football miseries), which includes specific takes on all of our key players, including this morsel on Josh Shipp:
"As of the summer, Josh isn't only back to his freshman form, but he's stronger, too, adding 12 pounds of muscle," Howland said. "It might've been an unbelievable year if he hadn't gone down. He was one of our two players over at the Jordan camp [in July] and reports were he looked great."
And the preview ends with both an optimistic and pessimistic forecast for our boys in Blue and Gold:
As with any team, there are two forecasts, that of the optimistic and the pessimist.

If Collison even approaches Farmar's level, if Dragovic is the real deal, if Keefe and Westbrook are ready to contribute as UCLA freshmen of the last two seasons have, there's really no doubting the Bruins as one of the top teams in the country.

And then there's the flip side, with Collison continuing last season's trend of trying to make too much happen, and the freshmen not being ready mentally for the rigors of the Pac-10 and Dragovic is a complete flop and the injuries of 2005-06 repeat and & and you know what, UCLA is still one of the top teams in country.

This run isn't expected to cease anytime soon, either. UCLA not only has one of the youngest rosters in the Pac-10, if not the country; but during the summer, 6-9 forward Kevin Love, of Lake Oswego, Ore. -- one of the two top recruits in the Class of 2007 -- gave a verbal commitment to the Bruins. But UCLA can't afford to look toward the future. It's possible that two, maybe three players -- Afflalo, Dragovic and Mbah a Moute -- could declare for the 2007 NBA draft.

Whatever the future brings, though, this team, this season, is capable of winning the national championship.

And in Westwood, what else really matters?
A - freaking - men.

Again if you are a college hoops fan, I'd definitely recommend you guys consider getting a copy of the Blue Ribbon Yearbook, which really is the Bible of college basketball by going here.

Anyways less than 9 days left for Ben Ball.  As always make sure to check out BBR and BHS, who are also keeping track of the other major program in UCLA, which has been rejuvenated and rebuilt from scratch in less than three years by a competent head coach. Incredible - the difference a competent leader makes  - in completely changing the mentality of program within short period of time. You never hear tired old excuses of learning, growing, and grinding for underachievement WRT to UCLA hoops.

Just some day we will have a spirit lifting head coach like Ben Howland leading our football program.