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Appreciating Our Coach: Focusing On Ben Howland's Track Record Of Developing Pros

Kendall Salter from the Daily Bruin wrote in an article entitled "Don't lose your support for Ben Howland":

If you were around campus during winter quarter, you heard the whispers.

Ben Howland can’t coach a proper offense.

If you sat in the student section in Pauley Pavilion, you probably heard the doubters.

Why don’t UCLA players score at an elite level? It’s because all Howland cares about is defense. All he cares about is rebounding. His style is too Big East and not enough Pac-10. His style doesn’t play to the strength of its players.

LOL. Seriously I'd like to know which "students" have been doubting Howland's ability to lead this program and their rationale for it. I find it surreal that Kendall actually had to spend his valuable time (hey I found time to be an extremely valuable commodity while I was on campus) write an article defending who I think happens to be the best college basketball coach in America. No doubt after our early exits this past season concern trolls were popping up with a little more regularity after tough losses by lobbing unhinged calls into the local radio stations, posting same stale takes in our post game threads or message boards elswhere, and the often useless traditional media in Southern California (which always seems more than happy to blow up any specific concerns about the UCLA football/basketball programs).

Yet despite all the concern trolling we hear from certain bandwagoning so called UCLA "basketball fans" or a hanful of psychos who didn't hestiate to criticize someone like Coach Wooden with their "what have you done for me lately" mentality, it doesn't take away from Coach Howland's track record, which establishes him as perhaps one of the best if not the best college basketball coach who prepares his student athletes for the next level.

Luckily majority of the UCLA basketball community don't live in the same fantasy land those concern trolls referenced above live in. Brian McCormick, a UCLA alumni recently wrote a series of posts proving Howland's impeccable track record in terms of preparing his players for the next level. First, a little review on BMac's Blog on Howland's track record with player development at UCLA:

Let's review. Ben Howland inherited several players for one season. Cedric Bozeman, who underachieved through his first three years after being a McDonald's All-American, played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ryan Hollins, who had a better chance of being an Olympian in the high jump than an NBA player when he arrived at UCLA, plays for the Charlotte Bobcats.

Howland's first recruiting class included Afflalo (Pistons), Jordan Farmar (Lakers), Lorenzo Mata (overseas) and Josh Shipp (5th year senior due to hip problems).

Howland's next class included Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (Bucks) and Darren Collison, a pre-season All-American.

The next class included Russell Westbrook (Thunder) and the following class included Love (Timberwolves).

Of the recruits, Farmar and Love were McDonald's All-Americans. Based on that, one would expect them to play in the NBA. However, Mbah a Moute wasn't even the highest touted Cameroonian in the Buins recruiting class, as future President of Cameroon Alfred Aboya was once considered the better prospect. Westbrook had to wait until spring of his senior year to get a scholarship offer from UCLA, and he did not turn down any offers from BCS schools while he waited. Nobody expected Collison to develop into an NBA player.

In addition to that there are the hard numbers on UCLA alums logging in the NBA. More from Brian McCormic at TrainForHoops:

On the UCLA Scout site, I saw an article which tabulated the minutes, points per game and rebounds per game for NBA players representing their respective universities since Howland was hired at UCLA. Surprising to most, the leader is not Florida, with its two NCAA National Championships, or Duke with its roster of McDonald’s All-Americans.

Instead, the top two performers on the list are two of the three coaches who I have said that I would send an elite recruit if the recruit asked my advice: Texas’ Rick Barnes and UCLA’s Ben Howland.

Since the high school class of 2004, UCLA has put five players in the NBA: Jordan Farmar, Afflalo, Kevin Love, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Russell Westbrook. Out of high school, Love was the only definite NBA player, and Mbah a Moute and Westbrook were three-star recruits overlooked by many universities. Florida and Texas have put four players in the NBA, while Carolina and Duke have two each.

When looking at cumulative mpg, ppg and rpg averages, UCLA’s five players total 116/43/23, while Texas’ four players total 126/61/16 and Florida’s four total 85/29/21.

Obviously those data points blow away assertions you often read around this time of the year about how Howland's scheme holds back NBA level talents in the college game. Brian also pointed to additional factors on why Howland coached players are better prepared for the next level:

At UCLA, Howland prepares his players for different reasons. Howland, from what I know, is the most like NBA coaches in terms of his use of video and game preparation. Every college coach scouts, but Howland scouts opponents and takes away their strengths better than anyone right now. His players are ready for NBA coaching because they have played in a similar style at UCLA. Second, Howland demands defense and effort on every play. He does not play favorites, like many coaches, and he does not allow his best performers to rest on defense. He will not play players until they can defend to his level.

When I asked ESPN’s David Thorpe about the weaknesses of college players moving to the NBA, he said that they are terrible defenders. UCLA’s players are not. They are ready to defend at an NBA level as rookies, which gives them an advantage and helps them earn playing time. UCLA focuses on its post defense and pick-and-roll defense as much as anyone, so players understand NBA defensive rotations when they reach the NBA, and UCLA players play against NBA-type defensive intensity and rotations in practice, so they learn to attack post double-teams and traps against the pick-and-roll.

While many criticize Howland, he employs an NBA-style approach to his offensive sets and defensive schemes and this prepares his players to perform as rookies.

Going back to our alums shining in the league, Kendall lays out the pattern:

Farmar, a star point guard during UCLA’s Final Four run in 2006, earned increased playing time with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed. Farmar was contributing substantial minutes and leadership running the “Bench Mob,” the Lakers’ second team. He has since lost a few minutes to flashy guard Shannon Brown, but Farmar is thought to be the heir apparent to aging Laker guard Derek Fisher. His savvy and basketball intelligence, as well as his defensive abilities, are often remarked as strengths of his game.

Meanwhile, former teammate and dynamic duo partner Afflalo has seen an increase in his playing time with the Detroit Pistons. Afflalo, an All-American and veteran of two Final Fours, starred as a shooting guard in his three seasons at UCLA and was hailed as a premier defender, a quality that has translated to the professional level. Afflalo has seen an increase in minutes since the injury of star Allen Iverson, and though the Pistons staggered into the playoffs, Afflalo looks primed to have more success in the years to come.

Lakers’ small forward Trevor Ariza was only in Westwood for one year – Howland’s first as the Bruins’ coach. His departure raised a few eyebrows from those who held doubts about Ariza’s potential. Talented but undeniably raw at first, Ariza has flourished wearing the purple and gold. He has channeled his premier athleticism and length into his game and has rapidly become one of the best bench players in the league. One of Ariza’s strengths is the defensive intensity that he brings to the perimeter, a trait no doubt instilled in him by the defense-minded Howland.

Other players are finding success in the league despite their absence from the playoffs. Kevin Love, the former freshman extraordinaire, made a strong push for Rookie of the Year after his outstanding performance with the Timberwolves. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has surprised many with his success as a forward for the Milwaukee Bucks and is hailed as a defensive stopper. Russell Westbrook has teamed up with fellow high-flyer Kevin Durant to lead the Seattle ... sorry, Oklahoma City Thunder, a talented but overmatched squad with plenty of young talent. Westbrook has shown the same offensive flash he displayed during his days in Westwood, but the highest praise comes for his effort on the defensive end.

I would also add that while all these Ben Ball warriors were able to develop their defensive skills in Westwood, more importantly they were drilled in with fundamentals. I am not going to rehash defense of Howland's offensive philosophy.

The numbers from last two years bear out the effectiveness of Coach Howland's offensive scheme at the college level. Sure we can question his decisions here and there in terms of personnel use in specific games. However, when we take into account his entire body of work and his track record at UCLA, anyone questioning his leadership of the UCLA basketball program, would appear as the same lunatic who questioned Coach Wooden for "letting us down" by not winning a NC. Just keep that in mind next season as Coach Howland gets ready to lead the charge with a young team (that is going to be even less experienced as the one from this season) and work to shape them up as next batch of Ben Ball warriors. It also means whenever we see comments are made that can be perceived as shots at Coach Howland and our program, we will push back and push back hard with facts others have already pointed out in defense of Coach Howland.

Who knows. Given Coach Howland's track record of developing pros, it might be ML looking to make the jump after next year, provided he blows up ala RW in his second season at UCLA. Then again, it will only mean Coach Howland will bring in more kids to coach up as Ben Ball warriors and get them ready for the NBA.

We have a Coach in charge of Wooden's program, who has regularly taken us to Final-4s, win consecutive conference championships, has the team in position to contend for conference titles almost every season, and regularly get his players to the NBA. It might take him time just like it took Williams years and two programs to finally win the big one.  But I am not all that worried. Sooner or later he will bring us a banner. For now, I'd suggest everyone enjoy the ride.