Well thank you Kyle Anderson for giving us some moments of relief in what has been a surreal, dark and gloomy first quarter of 2011 UCLA football season. I am excited about the latest class Coach Ben Howland and his staff are putting together. The new core of staff highlighted by assistants such as Phil Matthews and Korey McCray (who apparently has still not been listed on the official site) deserve a lot of credit for getting on some of these recruits early, building relationships and put Howland in position to close with commitments. This process had been missing in the world of UCLA basketball for last couple of years.
That said my enthusiasm for hoops related is somewhat contained. I think there are few reasons for that. First, I am still smarting from the Class of 2008. Ironically, the last member of this class - the other Anderson - flashed up in news alerts just hours before Kyle Anderson's commitment. If anything, the other Anderson news, gave me a reminder of how it would be prudent for all of us to stay guarded, and see how these student-athletes handle Howland's commitment to one-on-one defense once they get here, instead of saying all the right things to the press.
Second, while the basketball program has shown signs of life we have not had a conference title in Westwood in almost 1,300 days. I am going to keep myself from being all exuberant about our program until I see how this team performs in what is going to be a crucial bridge year heading into 2011-12 season in the "renovated" Pauley Pavilion.
I fully expect this team to be truly contending for a conference title in a terrible Pac-12 conference. More importantly I expect every member of this team to play up to standards of "Ben Ball," which means defense and fundamentals first (cough***Reeves Nelson***cough). And, if any player, no matter how crucial he is to the success of team is not living up to those standards, be held accountable by Howland.
Lastly, I am not feeling the excitement about hoops and I do think it has lot to do with the dismal state of our football program. Regular readers, who have been with this community from Day 1, know well, how we have repeatedly laid out UCLA is not just a basketball school. Our basketball tradition is second to none and we are proud of that. However, football matters just as much and in reality worth lot more. So when the state of the football program is in such dire straits, it is hard to experience total euphoria about a big time recruiting commitment (which should be the norm not the exception for UCLA hoops in any event).
Now in terms of football, I want to zero in on a macro issue concerning a big time recruit , who lit up the whole Bruin Nation with excitement with his commitment to UCLA little more than a year ago.
Yes, I am talking about Brett Hundley. The chatter is heating up re. whether Rick Neuheisel will be burning his red-shirt during the conference season. Neuheisel's comments on Hundley so far has been vague:
Neuheisel is still considering a package of plays for freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, but didn't sound confident in Hundley's ability to handle a game situation right now. "We'll continue to develop him and see if he can be ready," Neuheisel said. "I'm not going to make any determinations. I want to watch him continue to get better and we'll see if there is a package for him."
``There's still some things that happen in the course of practice that show (for example) he didn't know he'd be hot on that guy or didn't know there was protection required here,'' Neuheisel said. ``It's not a knock on him. Most (new) kids don't. Unfortunately, I have played guys since I've been here that weren't ready.''
``We'll see where he is as we get to the end of every week. I'm also mindful I don't want to squander a year. If he's not worth the investment with where his maturity is with respect to the offense, we want to be prudent there.''
Well, I have heard from multiple folks I trust that the comment about Hundley having a tough time at practices. However, to be fair to Hundley, the entire football team looks dazes and confused. The way it is going, it is not unreasonable to fathom a scenario that UCLA runs a "Hundley package" only to discover that Hundley is not on the field, and then take a time out, and come back on the field to find out that Hundley still hasn't lined up. After what we have seen in last two weekends at the Rose Bowl, this kind of ridiculous scenario is more than plausible with this team.
I do understand the temptation of playing Hundley though. Achilles envisioned this scenario back in April:
UCLA starts the season on a terrible to mediocre note with record ranging from 1-4 to 2-3 with Kevin Prince/Richard Brehaut as the starters. Brett Hundley comes in, starts the Washington State game and gets a much needed win to inject some life into the team. What do you think will buy Rick at least one more season?
A 7 win season with Brett Hundley leading rest of the way? or
A 7-8 win season still going back and forth with either Prince or Brehaut without a victory over SC?
If I were the AD, neither of those scenarios would buy Rick extra time but we have the elephant in the room ... aka the Dan Guerrero situation festering all over UCLA Athletics.
One would think Rick might consider the factor that getting 7 wins with a true freshman at QB could give him more room to argue for at least one more season. Something to think about ...
Well, we are most likely in position for a terrible start unless the Bruins dramatically turn it around in Corvallis. If there is a team to turn it around against, it would be the Beavers, who arguably could have lost to San Jose State. May be there is a 10-20 percent chance that this team will turn it around with Brehaut as the unquestioned starter and win 5-6 Pac-12 games. Then again Brehaut's track record to date (I believe a 3-9 record as starter) is not all that impressive either.
The Brehaut-Prince situation is reminding me more and more of the Brett Johnson/Jimmy Bond dynamics from 1989 and the Ryan Fien/Rob Walker situation from 1995. Both were terrible situations and in both cases there was an exciting freshman waiting in the case. In the case of Johnson and Bond, Terry Donahue red-shirted Tommy Maddox. In the case of Fien/Walker, Donahue was forced into playing Cade McNown, after Fien went down with a neck injury in the season opener against Miami. Walker at that point had no confidence. Cade came in a true freshman, managed us to a win against the Hurricanes and never looked back.
I think this situation is different though. Even though Donahue was an underachieving, mediocre head coach, at that time he had "stability" as he didn't have to face angry alums and fans. Neuheisel doesn't have that luxury and has been awful to terrible even compared against Donahue's mediocre standards, especially in his later years. May be Neuheisel will be desperate enough to put in Hundley to spark the team. Will that be worth it?
I am not sure. I am not sure because we have zeroed in from all angles there are serious fundamental issues in this program. There are issues with how Neuheisel manages it at Spaulding during weekdays and how he coaches it on Saturdays. I am not confident whether Neuheisel will be able to use Hundley in a way that will optimize his talent. I am saddened that I feel this way about Rick because given his track record with college QBs such as Troy Aikman, Tommy Maddox, Wayne Cook, Kordell Stewart and Marques Tuiassossoppo, never in my wildest imagination, I thought I would have reservations about Neuheisel's development of QBs.
I understand the situation Neuehisel is in and perhaps tempting to let Hundley play. However, my personal preference is to save Hundley's red-shirt, have him fully healthy and ready for a fresh start in 2012. Remember even Hundley himself was open to a red-shirt season back in spring.
Anyway those are some thoughts to chew on this am. I will leave you guys with a poll and let you chime in the comment threads.