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Hoops Roundup: Bruins' Pulse On Ben Howland & Next Season

<em>Photo Credit: <a href="" target="new">insomniaclounge (flickr)</a></em>
Photo Credit: insomniaclounge (flickr)

So some really great reflections in response to our latest poll concerning Ben Howland's approval as the head coach of UCLA basketball. As of right now the feelings are pretty split (just like UCLA's sub .500 record this past season) in BN.  

51 percent of the community being either unsure or disapproving Howland's performance as the head coach of UCLA basketball. While 47 percent of this community still either approve or strongly approve of Howland as the head coach one can easily sense the trepidation around those nods by reading through our comment threads. bruin7982 laid out his reasons for voting to disapprove our head coach (emphasis added throughout):

My standard for UCLA basketball (perhaps unrealistically high) is that UCLA should seriously contend more often than not for national championships and that off seasons should be such as we had last year or in Howland's second season. What happened this year should just never happen. In Howland's seven seasons as coach, UCLA has been a serious contender for national honors 3 times (the three final four years). That's not bad, but my problem is that it seems the talent level has fallen off rather than gone up over the last few years. And I just don't see things getting a whole lot better next year - there are a lot of things that have to break right in order for that to happen (players remaining in school and improving their attitudes, recruits turning out to be good, etc.). Now, I'm not saying that Howland should be fired. The three final fours show that he can put together good teams. I would say we should take another look in a couple of years and see if he has been able to put the program back on the right track. But if not, the program needs to go in another direction.

Blue Me, who along with yours truly have been rightfully critical of number of serious issues through the whole season is in the unsure category:  

Quite frankly, I am perplexed as to what the hell has happened to this program. There are things that happened this year that I never in a million years would have guessed would happen to a Ben Howland-coached team. The problems seem to run deeper than can be explained by a episodic "downturn" that can happen to any program. What most perplexes me is the complete absence of any clear-cut positive signals that things will turn around relatively quickly. I am just not seeing it.

As far as I'm concerned, taking everything into account, next year is Howland's "show me" season. It should be readily apparent to anyone that follows this program closely that we are heading in the right direction by the time March 2011 rolls around.

While gbruin is voting to approve with anxious thoughts about next season:

CBH is the leader of this program. The buck stops with him. And he completely mismanaged this season. He allowed precedents to be established which killed the ethic and spirit of this team. The team flailed in the environment. More than the players, CBH was responsible for this year, and in my eyes, he lost a great deal of standing in this program.

Having said that, I think (and desperately hope) that the real CBH is the coach of the 3 F4's, and that this year was the aberration. In that light, I still approve of his job thus far. But the gap between approve and disapprove got a lot smaller this year. Next year will be very interesting and very telling.

If you haven't done so you can vote here and register your comment in this thread.

So what about next year? Well on a day when everyone else is going to occupied with the present in basketball world (yes we will still have an open thread which Ryan will be heading up later today), thought I share some positive notes for next season.

Let's start with an article in the OC Register, in which Al Balderas wrote how the team is focusing on next season.  I though the following quote from Malcolm Lee was a little uplifting:

Just how much better the Bruins become will be based on how much time is put in during the offseason workouts. Without any tournaments on their schedule, there is nothing like getting an early start.

And if any of them need that mid-offseason push, all they have to do is think back to the disaster that was their 2009-10 season.

"If the season like this doesn't motivate us for next season, we're just not basketball players," Lee said. "All basketball players should use adversity as a motivation process for next year because you really don't want to repeat it."

Well I still think it's a good bet that Lee is going to test the NBA waters, which is not going to reflect well on Howland. However, if he goes through the feeling out process and take the reasonable step of coming back for another season, I hope he lives up to those words. I have been hard on Malcolm Lee number of times this season for his off-field comment and tweet. However, I think he has given consistent effort through the entire season. He still has a lot to work on which includes gaining strength and weight, and developing a semblance of an outside shot. If he puts in the work this off-season, I still think he (along with Anderson) has an opportunity to salvage some of the tattered reputation of incoming class of 2008.

Meanwhile, some Bruin alums are sounding upbeat about our team next season. Smoooth as silk Jaamal Wilkes is hoping for a silver lining:

You hope for the silver lining that maybe some of these young players for UCLA played a lot and maybe got some experience, and maybe got a better understanding of what it's going to take next year for success. I think coach Howland, he's going to bounce back. The reality is that you have down years. Everyone does.

Okay, I will bite my lips here about younger players getting the experience they needed this season. LOL Yet for the good of the program we all agree with the overall sentiment expressed by Jamaal (or like gbruin desperately hope that there will be a silver lining).

Similarly Sean Farnham talked about the work Bruins will have to put in this off-season:

Adopting the right mantra to play for Ben Howland. You need to be a tough player to fit into his system, both mentally and physically. The players that are, have flourished and propelled themselves and the Bruins' program in recent years. I believe that with players like Reeves Nelson and JC Transfer point guard Lazeric Jones, that the days of competing and playing the Howland brand of basketball will return to Westwood quickly.

[Ssshhhhh. Sean, it's Tyler Lamb not Mike Lamb]

I still don't think it is smart to pin all of our hopes on Lazeric Jones. I don't remember a JC transfer ever making a big difference for UCLA basketball. I think the most we can hope for Jones is that he is going to bring hard completion against Jerime Anderson and that Ben Howland will actually be playing guys who win competition during weekly practices (We simply refuse to believe and accept Nikola Dragovic won those competitions during practices these past season and the data from this season and his entire career supports that assertion).

Anyway, it is a dangerous proposition for UCLA basketball fans to hope that all our guard worries will be taken care of by Jones. For us to be reasonably optimistic for next season we need to bring in at least one more guard in this year's class and hope both Anderson and Lee put in the work with extreme dedication and commitment this off-season.

We don't need to go into detail in terms of the factors Ben Howland needs to address heading into this offseason setting up next couple of years.  There are lots of Ifs and factors that need to break our way this off-season. Yet noted Pac-10 observers like Greg Hansen are already pronouncing Bruins as the favorite to win the conference next season. For the sake of Ben Howland and more importantly for UCLA basketball, let's hope he is right.