Every Wednesday for the spring and summer, we will do a Wednesday hoops story. The first two (I think) will be a bit different. For right now few things divide UCLA fans like the Basketball team. It seems that some people have jumped back on the Ben Howland band wagon as if 2009-12 did not happen. While others are so demoralized by the last four seasons that they are refusing to believe that the other shoe is not about to drop and certain the program will fall apart. It seems difficult to find a middle ground.
For this week I will focus more with a glass is half full approach, next week half empty. Right now seems like one of the problems of Ben Howland in recent years has had MAY be fixed and that of course is recruiting. For years Bruins Nation has bemoaned the loss of Kerry Keating, an ace recruiter who helped key UCLA's
recent last set of final fours. Achilles put it strongest writing a while back:
And I think this staff is particularly lacking.
In Pittsburgh, Howland had Jaime Dixon. At UCLA, he thought he'd have Dixon, until Dixon was retained by Pitt and so he brought in Kerry Keating . These two are not just "any" assistant coaches. There were recruiting specialists and that quality made them or someone like them absolutely essential to Howland's chance of success.
. . . Both were excellent scouts, not only of the obvious, star players, but also of the ninth and tenth grade players who were up and coming. They both had the ability to project where a 15 year old would be in a couple of years. It's not easy as some 15 year olds are fully formed both physically and skill wise and they stand out. But they aren't going to get any better. The trick is spotting the baby-faced kid who's still growing and developing.
. . . The recruiting failures, IMO, get mostly laid at the feet of Garson and Duncan. After asking a lot of questions of people who know and who follow this stuff more closely than I do, I've concluded that these two lack the vision, the organization and the people skills to effectively recruit players and they lack the guts and balls to direct Howland towards the right recruits, even if they could identify them and form the necessary relationships. Duncan in particular is a disappointment because he was thought to be Oregon's great recruiter and he was brought in to replace Kerry Keating.
As of right now, it seems that problem has been fixed. I say seems because one class does not a good recruiter make and we have not even seen this class play yet, but it does seem that Assistant Coaches Phil Matthews and Korey McCray did their jobs very well. But let me start by saying Matthews did not get Shabazz Muhammad this year, he worked on it since the day he started:
Saying it was a three-year process to land Muhammad-who led Bishop Gorman High to three Nevada state titles in that span-Howland gave credit to assistant coach Phil Matthews and to Anderson, who had signed with UCLA in the fall.
By bringing in Shabazz Muhammad, Matthews is doing what he said he would when he was hired back in 2010(emphasis mine):
"Ben doesn't need help coaching," said Mathews. "My main focus is to get the best players available for him to coach, the players that can get him back to the Final Four. That's my job."
Recruiting the best recruit since Kevin Love is certainly earning your paycheck.
While Matthews delivered the biggest, KoreyMcCray also came through with two recruits
First-year assistant coach Korey McCray's relationship [with] Tony Parker and Jordan Adams was a factor in their decisions to sign with UCLA. "Korey McCray has done an incredible job recruiting both from his home state," coach Ben Howland said. "We're he not on staff, we wouldn't have gotten either one of those kids."
Cynics may say that Adams was already considering UCLA. Fine. But all must agree that Parker came only because of the work of McCray. And this was a "heavy lift" to get Parker to come because it was not just to come to UCLA but to leave his family and Georgia, which as we saw in his announcement is a culturally different place. Personally, I never believed it would happen. McCray deserves credit.
But the recruiting has not ended. One class, no matter how good, does not make Matthews and McCray successes. UCLA must get a PG for the class of 2013. And a top target is the number one player in the state of Washington, Zach Lavine:
LaVine dropped 39-points in a variety of ways on MLK (2011) day in Seattle. He has a slight frame, but he has very long arms and plays much bigger. He is a lengthy scoring point guard with a slick handle and a quick release on his jump shot.
Early signs are UCLA is doing well with Lavine, according to this Google slug on a Bruin Report Online story behind a firewall:
Zach Lavine, 6-1 CG, Bothell (Wash.) High. Apparently UCLA is doing very well with him. He's a huge get for the Bruins, since they lack guards overall in
(By the way, this shows the fun of reading recruiting stories, in three different stories Zach's height is listed as 5'11", 6'1", and 6'3".)
The last couple years of recruiting have been chaotic. With late adds of players (Matt Carlino and D'End Parker)to fill emergency needs that did not work out. Hopefully this is on the way to being fixed. Of course the verdict is out until these "fab four" incoming freshman come play.
But with the incoming class and early signs on the Lavine recruitment there is some reason for optimism on recruiting going forward.