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Appreciating Ben Ball

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Let me get something out of the way. I hate losing. Every single loss by a UCLA team bothers me and it's not any different with Coach Howland's basketball program. Ben Ball warriors have lost 4 games this season. All on the road. Each one of those losses put a damper on my Saturdays. Yes Saturday's loss against Washington came in a meaningless game and that game is not going to matter much in terms of this season's big picture. Yet, I was left with this stinging/stomach churning feeling that I can't quiet put into words. Every one of those losses stung like a b!tch knowing deep inside we could/should have win each one of those four games. Yet here I am all euphoric over yet another remarkable basketball season. Let me to attempt to explain riffing on a great post, which I stumbled upon recently, why I am so giddy about Ben Ball.

As we all get ready for the Pac-10 tournament and the BIG DANCE, which is set to tip off in 7 days, we are all giddy and euphoric with anticipation. Everyone in BN has that classic case of hoops fever. Through all of this anticipation though, I think it is important to step back a little, and appreciate the remarkable season, this year's Ben Ball warriors have put together following the dream run of last season, which signaled the reemergence of Bruin hoops as one of the ultimate elite programs in the national scene. Over at LAist, a really cool blog which covers anything and everything that relates to our City Angels, blogger Ryan Young perfectly sums up, why the Bruins Nation, should be appreciative of what our Ben Ball warriors have done this season:

Granted, with the Bruins' tradition, and the raised expectation of success after last year's run to the Finals, some may deem it premature to celebrate, noting that the true measure of success is the team's performance during the three-week crapshoot that is the NCAA tournament. LAist says this is a load of crap. Regardless of how March (or April) turns out for UCLA, this squad has earned all of the praise it has garnered, simply based on its consistent quality of play throughout the course of the year. In short, the Bruins have simply been a joy to watch as a basketball fan.

Now many may argue that the current brand of basketball that UCLA employs is hard on the eyes. Without question, it is not always as aesthetically pleasing as, say the Victoria Secret Fashion Show, to watch the team grind out lower-scoring games, wearing opponents down on the defensive end and being effective enough offensively to outgun teams when necessary. What is incredible to watch is the level of precision that the team executes its game plan. It's seeing probable All-American Arron Afflalo run a curl off of two solid back picks to square up for an open three-pointer. It's observing Luc Richard Mbah a Moute setting a down pick for a strong-side cutter, then flaring off of a back pick on the weak-side for a backdoor layup fed from Josh Shipp in the corner. It's watching Alfred Aboya come over the top on a post double-team, while Darren Collison sneaks back into the passing lane at the top of the key to make the steal. It is superior preparation, combined with fundamental situational understanding, mixed with top-notch talent. It is brilliance in action.

In college sports, the top programs are able to consistently recruit the top high school talents, giving them a built-in advantage over the other 99% of teams. These programs can overwhelm most teams by their sheer athleticism. And every year, there are also a number of teams that make up for their shortcomings in talent through effort, discipline, and teamwork to achieve great things. Under Ben Howland, UCLA has been returned to being a program that epitomizes both of these characteristics, full of highly talented players that play for collective rather than individual success. Not surprisingly, the wins have followed, even in this supposed transition year with three key players gone from last year's team.

The funny thing is that there will always be haters that give little credence to the mental and physical toughness that Howland instills in his players, regardless of how many wins they accumulate. In fact, Hall of Fame Arizona coach Lute Olson recently took a jab at both UCLA and USC (another program being rebuilt in this hard-nosed style), saying that the schools couldn't attract top recruits because they didn't play an enjoyable style of basketball; this despite the fact that Olson's Wildcats are woefully underachieving this year, buried in a tie for fourth place with arguably the most talented roster in the conference (and getting smoked twice by both teams, sour grapes anyone?). Last time LAist checked, teams didn't raise championship banners for accumulating the most style points. Some may abide by the White Men Can't Jump mantra of looking good and losing rather than looking bad and winning. That's what Sportscenter Top 10 Plays is for. Meanwhile, the Bruins will keep chugging along and playing their game, knowing that they have nothing to prove to anyone but themselves.
I have said this before. Right now I am a happy camper. Even with those stinging losses I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

I don't know what is going to happen in the Pac-10 tournament.

I don't know what is going to happen in the BIG DANCE.

I do know with Coach Howland at helm, our Bruins are going to be ready. They are going to come out and give everything they have in these games. And they are going to give everything they have next year, when once again they will make another run for the Pac-10 title, doing their best to put our program in position to contend for a national title.

With this kind of foundation in place we know banners number 12 and then some more are just a matter of time. As the clichés go we have to take it one game at a time (but clichés are so much easier to eat up and believe in when you have a great coach (unlike you know who) leading our program).

So one more time please join me in taking a step back and appreciating the program Coach Howland has built within four gratifying (a term Roach Laughin used to love blathering at the end of all his hapless underachieving seasons) years. Coach Howland, his coaching staff, and his players truly deserve all of our appreciations and congratulations for putting together another remarkable season. UCLA is now well set up to make constant runs toward "something spectacular."

Thank God for Coach Howland.