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Parker to UCLA Thoughts: The Pressure Heats Up on Ben Howland


So the Tony Parker announcement open thread was one of our most hilarious threads ever on BN. That's saying something because we have been around for seven years with tons and tons of open thread fun. The sense I got from reading the thread that the announcement of Parker to UCLA was a surprise to many UCLA fans. I get that.

However, in some ways Parker to UCLA was not much of a surprise. It was a matter of timing and now the question will focus on whether Ben Howland will be able take advantage of the short term media relations bump, by producing a UCLA caliber season that will set up our program for long term success. No one really knows the answer.

Shabazz to UCLA was always a done deal. There was no question around it. I think it is not unreasonable to speculation that after the ugly article in the Sports Illustrated which exposed Ben Howland and UCLA administrators as completely out of touch, Howland's only way out for the short term was to land Shabazz and Parker. Shabazz was coming no matter and getting Parker was pivotal for Ben, because at least for the short term it is going to make casual fans forget how he has failed to land an elite true point guard recruit for four straight years (getting left over from UNC doesn't really count).

The concern is how Howland went about it. There are people out there already talking - and thoughts are not comforting, if you care about the integrity of this program:

SportsbyBrooks is not the only one. But let's emphasize that we don't have anything more than speculation at this point. There is not a shred of evidence that anyone at UCLA has violated any NCAA rules. However, Howland was pretty candid about how he got the Parker (and Jordan Adams) "commitment" done (going the AAU route):

Parker joins his former AAU coach, Korey McCray, now a UCLA assistant. Parker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that McCray is "like an older brother to me, and he has been looking out for me for a long time."

Howland said that McCray was key to landing Parker and Adams, who is from Lawrenceville, Ga..

"If he weren't on staff, we wouldn't have gotten either of those kids," Howland said.

How long any of the four will remain is to be seen. UCLA has had nine players jump to the NBA early, three after their freshman seasons.

I don't really have a problem with Howland using the AAU route to get elite recruits as long as he is making sure UCLA is strictly operating with NCAA rules and parameters and not screwing up his relationships within the local prep scene. We hope he is following all the NCAA rules because we are not going to tolerate if we hear stories about any shady business around these recruits.

What should worry everyone here is whether this model of plucking recruits from AAU circuits because of a former coach's connection to Georgia is sustainable for UCLA. We will see how it works out as Howland is going to be under intense pressure to not just produce a mega season next year, but also line up another stellar recruiting class, with PG commitments lined up this fall.

For now Howland is soaking in the national attention like this post from ESPN's Eamon Brennan:

Indeed, according to our Recruiting Nation experts, Parker's addition gives UCLA the No. 1-ranked class in the country to date. Naturally, that is still subject to change. (If No. 7-ranked Anthony Bennett chooses Kentucky, for example, Calipari could leapfrog right back to the top of the list.) But as it stands today, Howland's is the nation's best recruiting haul, and easily the best of his tenure.

How that talent -- which includes No. 2-ranked Shabazz Muhammad and No. 5-ranked Kyle Anderson -- congeals with current Bruins players is yet to be seen. The biggest mistakes of Howland's career came just after he recruited top classes filled with questionable character types (Drew Gordon and Reeves Nelson are the biggest lingering examples) that imploded his team's chemistry, sent talented players running transferring for the hills and cratered the program's standing among prep coaches and AAU types. Howland deserves blame for much of these woes. But with Muhammad, Anderson and Parker? It's too much talent. The Bruins are almost guaranteed to be good, or at least massively improved over their disappointing performance in the past three seasons.

With Parker on board, the Bruins' return to prominence -- or back to something resembling what we think of as "UCLA basketball" -- is very much in motion. For Howland, his team, and dispirited UCLA fans everywhere, the timing couldn't possibly be better.

Even our friends at SeaofBlue - SBN's wonderful Kentucky blog - took note of how once again four years of irrelevance UCLA is looking strong:

It is definitely good news for the Pac-12, and arguably for college basketball in general, that UCLA is looking strong next year. After this year, where the entire league was virtually irrelevant nationally, it only provided an exclamation point on the idea that a weak UCLA generally means a pathetic Pac-12. With Arizona also having a powerful class for 2012, it looks like the Pac-12 may see a resurgence to national prominence in 2013 after a pretty bleak 2012.

For UCLA, it has been a four years of irrelevance right on par, and arguably even worse, than Kentucky's descent into darkness between 2006 and 2009. If they don't return to the light this year, and in a pretty big way, we'll almost certainly be seeing a new head coach in Westwood, and possibly a new Director of Athletics along with him.

We couldn't agree more.