While Rick Neuheisel has had issues with his assistant coaches the last few seasons, Ben Howland may be putting together a perfect team. From Jon Gold on the hire of new assistant coach Corey McCray:
I think it's a great hire and one that's been a long time coming. Look, Ben Howland is Ben Howland, and whoever sits in that assistant chair needs to know his role with the team is going to be a specific one. Now they have the X's and O's guy in Garson, the ultimate player-staff go-between in Phil Mathews, who handled that role well last year, and now an ace recruiter. Or at least, that's all the indications I get from people who know the recruiting scene much better than I do. Many people have told me off the record that this could be the single most important hire in the country this offseason, simply because it's Howland becoming self-aware and realizing his limitations as a recruiter. Despite landing some good talent the last couple years - Josh Smith, Honeycutt, etc. - UCLA has also whiffed on a lot, including at the point guard position and especially on the east coast and midwest, so McCray's contacts and recruiting ability could put the Bruins over the top. This year, obviously, the eye is on Jordan Adams and Shaq Goodwin, and really, if McCray led to either, it would be worth it.
This is very interesting take. Let's delve into it after the jump.
Putting aside Garson, the take on Matthews is really interesting. It cannot be denied that the 2009-10 team had major personality issues and bad chemistry. In contrast in 2010-11 the team got along well, with some of the same personalities in key roles. First Reeves Nelson. If Matthews was the one that got the players to tolerate Nelson's "rough edges" he deserves a lot of credit. As Stover said of Nelson:
"He's a really emotional person and it comes out the wrong way sometimes, but he always means the best," Stover said
"I do feel more comfortable with this team this year because these guys are all my friends, not just my teammates," he said.
The other interesting person is, of course, Jerime Anderson. I talked about Anderson attitude at length in an earlier post. Anderson's attitude his junior year was great and very different from his first two years. Matthew's effect here, if that was his role, was very positive indeed.
One more note on Matthews, he was the lead on recruiting of De'End Parker. If Parker is good, Matthews really earned his pay and then some.
Switching to the "ace recruiter". BN documented the positive effects of former ace recruiter Kerry Keating often but the void since he left has also been documented.
As Gold mentioned UCLA whiffed at some of the big PG prospects but it goes deeper than that. You compare UCLA to Washington and Arizona: UCLA was arguably the best team in the Pac-10 matching up starters only (especially if Jones is healthy and counting Smith as a starter). But in a hypothetical game of second units last year, Washington and Arizona would have blown UCLA away.
By the numbers, the UCLA second five averaged a meager 11.7 points per game and only 7.4 Rebounds. Arizona's second five, which all played in every game, averaged 30.7 PPG and 15.1 Rebounds. Washington‘s second five, which had to fill in for an injured starter much of the year, was even better averaging 34.7 and 13.2.
Of course stats never tell the whole story but let me put it this way. The tenth man for Arizona was 6'11" Kyryl Natyazhko who played in every game and shot 50% from the floor. UCLA's tenth man was Blake Arnet who only played in 7 games and did not have a FG make for the season. The Huskies' starting PG Gaddy got hurt and they moved their shooting guard (Isiah Thomas) to PG and he was all Pac-10. Isiah's backup, more or less the third string PG to start the year, Venoy Overton, was #2 in the conference in assist to turnover ratio. UCLA's starting PG Jones got hurt not once but twice hurting his finger and wrist, yet UCLA had little choice but to keep playing him because the third string PG was arguably Blake Arnet. I understand if Jones could not play at all Lee would have been the backup PG. However, in the one half that Jones could not play at all, the first half of the Washington game, Blake Arnet played for his only time all year in the first half of a game. Thus Blake would have seen more action had Jones been unable to play.
Our bad bench is because our recruiting has not been as strong as it should be and to be blunt had some misses. Hopefully McCray can turn this around really quickly and Matthew's recruit (Parker) can contribute right away.
There is some reason for optimism regarding the assistant coach situation in basketball and more importantly the long term health of the program.