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Draped Clocks & Double Socks

I imagine all of us at this point just want to get this night over with and get to game day. All of us are dizzy with anticipation. I bet I am not the only one with who has that weird pre game feeling in my stomach which is a concoction of anxiety and sheer excitement.

Although I am at total peace in terms of how this season turns out my mind has been racing all day. But every time I get even a hint in nervousness, this is what calms me down right away. From Jeff Eisenberg in the Press Enterprise:

In the five years since UCLA hired Howland to restore its decaying basketball program, he has earned a reputation for being controlling, demanding and maybe even a little bit pushy. From draping blankets over the clocks at Pauley Pavilion so players don't know how much time is left in practice, to making sure they wear two pairs of socks under their sneakers to avoid blisters, no minutia is too small for Howland's discerning eye.

While Howland's attention to detail, as he would call it, can sometimes wear on those around him, players cite his perfectionism as a catalyst for their success. Howland has rebuilt UCLA into a perennial national title contender, becoming the first coach to lead the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours since the legendary John Wooden retired in 1975.

"His level of preparation is unlike anything I've ever seen," freshman Kevin Love said. "It might drive you a little crazy sometimes, but at the end of the day the guy's going to help you win."

Howland's penchant for defense and discipline has proven to be the perfect antidote for a UCLA program that was in a state of disarray before he arrived. The Bruins stumbled to a 10-19 finish in the final season of Steve Lavin's tenure, a seven-year saga marked by electrifying wins, inexplicable losses and a rapidly retreating fan base.

To change the program's underachieving culture, Howland instilled newfound toughness, intensity and discipline. It's not uncommon for players to receive down-to-the-minute itineraries before road trips or to watch tape of a blown defensive rotation up to five or six times.

"He is on top of every detail," assistant coach Scott Duncan said. "He knows what's going on in the training room, he knows what's going on in the weight room, he knows what's happening on the court and he knows what's going on with academics. I think that gives the players a sense that they should be detailed, too. If this is so important to our coach, this should be important to us."
That is one of the best Howland profiles I have read in a while.

That's certainly the first time I have heard about draped clocks and the socks story in Howland era, and I am sure those details are going to make thousands of people smile just thinking back to story of tying shoes of a certain legendary coach. Art Spander from the Oakland Tribune had no problem figuring out who Coach Howland is channeling during every practice at Pauley:
"I would put everything on 3 by 5 cards," Wooden explained about practices that were efficient and detailed. Practices that, with the relentless group of players from Goodrich and Walt Hazzard to Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton, were responsible for 10 NCAA championships.

Detail. Routine. Repetition. Do it again until it's correct. Stop talking in the back of the room until the question is heard.

"The difference between winning and losing," Howland reiterated. "Between being good and being great. Between being successful and not successful. It's all in the details."

Details that seem to conflict with the hang-loose society of the early 21st century, details that appear to be at odds with kids who love to dribble between their legs and dunk with a flourish.

But details the UCLA players, even with their freedom inhibited, accept. "They want to win," Howland said, of today's youth. "Most of all, players want to win. They understand that playing defense is a way to win."

Josh Shipp, the sophomore wingman, was asked for an example of the Howland philosophy.

"Um," Shipp said, thinking for a moment, "when we're doing walk- throughs, he wants everybody in their precise spots. We try to shortcut things just to save time. He stops us and points out we need to get to those spots."
So really what's there to worry about? And if you want to read more Howland related articles to finish up this Friday, make sure to check out Jeff Goodman's column in on Coach Howland's "simple recruiting touch":
Collison chose between UCLA and San Diego State. Westbrook was a late-bloomer and picked the Bruins over San Diego and Creighton. Mbah a Moute looked at South Carolina and Virginia Tech while Aboya was hardly a big-time recruit after de-committing from Georgetown following a coaching change. Mata-Real looked at New Mexico and Roll, who has been injured this entire season, was pursued by UC Santa Barbara.

Hardly a group that would be pegged to represent the Pac-10's finest.

Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating, who spent four years on Howland's staff, said it took a while to understand Howland's recruiting philosophy. It was more than just players who can make open shots, pass the ball and bring intangibles to the table -- although those are all important characteristics that Howland cherishes.

"I had to figure it out," Keating said. "He wants hard-working, dedicated guys who compete."

He prioritized players that came from winning programs. Players that performed well in playoff games.

"He wants players that never got accustomed to losing," Keating said. "They expect to win."

Howland's teams are a stark contrast to the previous regimes. Former coach Steve Lavin was all about luring the high-profile players to Westwood. He brought McDonald's All-Americans JaRon Rush, Dan Gadzuric and Ray Young to Westwood in 1998 and had Baron Davis (recruited by Jim Harrick) in 1997.
It is really amazing. As noticeably our bandwagon has grown in last couple of years, is often amusing to read thoughts and comments in which it becomes apparent people taking for granted exactly how Coach Howland has rebuilt this powerhouse in Westwood, left behind Lavin's trail of tears and destruction.

Often times you read a clueless article in the MSM, you get the sense that somehow Coach Howland had it made for him when he arrived in Westwood. While Roy Williams inherited a loaded program at UNC anchored around Sean May, and Bill Self inherited the machine Williams left him back in Lawrence, Howland got stuck with a roster which included Mike Fey, Jon Crispin, Josiah Johnson, and Ryan Walcott. I really can't think of any other coach in America, who could have done at UCLA, what Coach Howland has done in last five years. None. That's one reason I am hardly interested in who comes and goes from our conference or the coaching carousel around the country. I have no problem other people talking about it here in the diaries, but to me it just doesn't matter, as long as we have the America's best basketball coach in post Wooden era to lead Coach Wooden's program.

There was a pretty amusing article in the LA Times earlier this week on how Coach Howland kept striking out how he kept applying for one job after another opening up in Southern California's local schools (until landing at University of Northern Arizona). The article ended on this note from Mrs. Howland:
Kim Howland, Ben's wife, stood on the court last week with their two children, now young adults, watching her husband cut down the nets for a third consecutive trip to the Final Four.

Someone asked her about those days when Howland couldn't get a head coaching job, and about not being hired at Santa Barbara.

"I think it was disappointing and emotional," she said. "It was something he really wanted. He loves Santa Barbara. He grew up there."

But it worked out.

Yes, Howland's wife said with a smile, "There was something better down the road."
Let's hope Coach Howland's road ended in Westwood because with him around this is the closest thing to sports heaven I have had the pleasure to experience since the day of Magic and Kareem (again I never got to experience Coach Wooden leading our alma mater).

Just keeping in mind how Coach Howland is watching over our program (he is the Caretaker after all) is enough information to put me in total ease in this Friday night. With this guy in charge there is absolutely no reason to be anxious about tomorrow night and beyond.

Draped clocks and double socks: that should keep you smiling heading into game day.