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Our Wonderland

So apparently I have missed a lot of the same old doubting and questioning in the local (and national MSM) about in last few days. Larry Brown Sports has a poignant post about all the whining over UCLA non calls and our Rhapsode put up a great diary here on BN laying out while we might have gotten lucky, we wouldn’t be 33-3 if not for the fact that Coach Howland always has our boys prepared that allows them to win this close games time after time.

In addition being prepared going into every game our guys have also shown a remarkable ability to maintain their poise off the court dealing with the vultures in the local/national MSM. They have been rock steady while facing the constant barrage of questioning, whining, nagging, and doubting by being self effusive and maintaining an uncanny sense of humor. From the OC Register:

"I don't think anybody's playing with anything but confidence right now," Love said. "I think Luc's going to get going. Russell's going to get going. Josh, he's fine. He's all smiles."

Smiles don't work for the media, not when there are so many obvious crises in the air. Stressed ligaments, busted jumpers, luck running on empty. Oh, the madness.

Now here come the Hilltoppers, who are trying to become the Mountaintoppers. A No. 1 losing at this point to a No. 12? The Bruins wouldn't just be picked apart, they'd be autopsied.

At one point Tuesday, in the semicircle around Love, a radio reporter tripped and clung to a sports writer, balancing himself against his startled colleague.

"Now that's a foul," Love said. "But we probably would have gotten away with that one."

The Bruins' senses of humor remain intact. And that's a good thing for a team that later Tuesday was scheduled to travel to Phoenix.
Of course it goes way beyond their sense of humor. The steadiness among our warriors come from a head coach who have fully installed a sense of commitment to the collective among all our players, which I earnestly believe is unparalleled in today’s world of major college athletics. Bob Keisser wrote a beautiful column that ran in the San Bernardino Sun on how Coach Howland’s commitment to defense and hard work has created a wonderland in Westwood:
UCLA is all about players who have fully bought into Howland's system. They know practices are going to be physical. They will not get on the court if they don't play good defense. They must be willing to give up their bodies for the collective.

They've done that often. I doubt if any team in the nation has lost more players to injuries than UCLA in Howland's five years. Cedric Bozeman missed all of 2004-05 after tearing his ACL in practice. Lorenzo Mata-Real has played through concussions and injuries to just about every appendage. Josh Shipp needed hip surgery. Alfred Aboya suffered a knee injury. James Keefe and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute have been this season's MASH unit.

This isn't to say Howland's system begets injuries, just a reminder of what can happen when young men throw their bodies around a basketball court and play with intensity. He gives no quarter.

When he was asked about Josh Shipp's poor game against Texas A&M, he noted that Shipp had strep throat. Howland's cure: Shipp spent 75 minutes at practice Tuesday taking shots, 325 of them, 200 of them game shots, and with free throws in-between.

When he was asked about Luc's ankle, he said it looked like he was suffering from elephantitis. He then said Luc would practice.

When he was asked about Kevin Love's progress as a true freshman, he glowingly talked about Love's seven blocked shots versus A&M, indicative of the manchild's growth in the facet of basketball that pleases Howland.

Now every single young man who dreams of playing for UCLA realizes that he will be asked to bleed on his jersey if necessary, and not just wear it.

Having watched too many UCLA teams over the years back down from tough games, shrink versus bigger teams, and not get the most out of their ability, watching Howland's body of work is, as John Mayer sang it, a "Wonderland."

Thank heavens for audacious men.
And that is why I am thankful for the program we are blessed to have Coach Howland every freaking day no matter what I read from the professional cynics in the local press.

I will say it again I don’t really care whether or not we win the banner number 12 this year. All I know if it doesn’t happen this year, it will happen eventually. It’s just a matter of time with the incoming infusion of more future Ben Ball warriors in the coming years. We have kids like Holiday, Lee, Gordon, Anderson, Nelson and more all lined up for Ben Ball'a wonderland. It's a pretty good bet they will give us the same kind of all out effort on the court, committing themselves to the collective team, while maintaining that Howlandian humor and poise off the court.

So let’s all take a deep breath and take all of this in a game by game basis. Let’s sit back and just soak in the experience of following (and obsessing over) an incredible program and team, which I believe is going to give us everything it has (battling through any incoming adversity, bumps and bruises) going into tomorrow night’s game.

Let the vultures who get paid to engage in their cynicism so they can rip off a few cheap articles driving up hits on their websites. Over here we are going to stick with LRMAM, AA2, KL et al and our coaches as they march into every game:

Photo Credit: Phillip Cha

We are going to stay right here with our head coach and out team through every step of the way, while enjoying every moment of this wonderland.

I encourage all of you to be in a state of mind knowing full well no matter what happens this year and beyond it is all good in the new world of UCLA basketball as long as Coach Howland is guiding our ship. And once you have that peace of mind it will be that much easier to take this all in one game at a time. On to the Hilltoppers.