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The Stars are Aligning for UCLA Basketball and Coach Howland

Ben Howland and Josh Smith should have more time together this summer than ever before.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Ben Howland and Josh Smith should have more time together this summer than ever before. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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This weekend the new freshman arrived on campus to begin going to summer school and UCLA Basketball practice. Their coming not only signals a new era of UCLA Basketball, it also a new era for NCAA rules that benefits UCLA basketball. The new rule allows players to practice with coaches:

College basketball coaches are now allowed two hours of practice with their players per week during the summer after a rules change in January. Players must be enrolled in summer school and the NCAA limits the total length of the workout period to eight weeks. . . . Previously, coaches were not allowed to conduct summer practices. Players now are allowed to participate in eight hours of staff-supervised workouts per week, with six of the hours being limited to strength and conditioning.

With likely two freshman starting next year and a whole new backcourt this extra practice time could be crucial. This is just the first of many things that are breaking Howland's way. For years Howland has been complaining about lack of practice time in order to get the team ready for the season. There is evidence to support Howland as for the last three years Howland's teams have finished much better than they started. It is undebatable fact that Howland's teams have started terribly the last three years:

  • 2011-12 stated 2-5, rest of the season 17-9
  • 2010-11 started 3-4, rest of season 20-7
  • 2009-10 started 3-7, rest of season 11-11

There are a number of reasons for those bad starts but one of them is a lack of practice time before the season. In addition to needing the time to learn Howland's complicated offensive sets (remember some schools do not even run plays, it is one of the factors of playing for Howland that helps prepare for the NBA), it also allows time to develop team chemistry.

But more practice time is just the first of many breaks Howland is receiving this season versus the last couple.

Here is a short list of the many things going Howland's way this year.

1. Josh Smith staying on campus.

Josh went home to Washington last year and, to put it mildly, enjoyed too much home cooking. 6 hours or strength and CONDITIONING work a week could do him wonders. We hear conflicting rumors on his weight. Regardless the key is if he starts getting in shape now for October great and, if not, Tony Parker will be getting a number of minutes with the "first" team early.

2. No unexpected losses due to players leaving early.

Jrue Holiday and Malcolm Lee leaving early and according to Howland unexpectedly hurt UCLA. While there is reason to question Howland's surprise in those cases, this year no one left early.

3. Pauley

Whatever you want to call last year's roadshow while Pauley was being rebuilt, it was an example of the gross incompetence of Athletic Director Chianti Dan Guerrero. On what planet did he think playing most home games at a decrepit old arena rejected by our arch-rival and football-first school USC was acceptable? Chianti had other options but instead sentenced UCLA to playing games in front of few students and fans next to our rival's campus in as demoralizing an atmosphere as possible.

Home court makes a huge difference in college basketball. This year with Shabazz and the freshman class coming to anoint the reopening of Pauley, the UCLA home court advantage should be real and substantial.

4. National Recruiting

One of the more unique excuses for the recent problems is the relative down nature of California High School basketball resulting in slimmer pickings for recruiting. To his credit and that of his staff, Howland has really turned that problem around with an amazing national recruiting effort which is seemingly continuing with the recruiting of Zach Lavine.

For 2012-13, UCLA has more potential talent on its team than it has had in years. No longer will UCLA be forced to play undersized Centers (2009-10), have a lack of depth (2010-11), or have to play small (2011-12 with two point guards and an undersized three starting). UCLA 2012-13 is the deepest and most talented team since 2007-8.

5. The China Trip

UCLA has a unique advantage in 2012-13 in that it will have 10 extra practices in preparation for a trip to China to play exhibition games. As gbruin detailed, UCLA got help from PAC 12 commissioner Larry Scott to make this trip happen.

In a very real sense this week marked the beginning of almost continuous practice for the 2012-13 basketball season. This marks the earliest start for any UCLA team during Howland's tenure as UCLA coach.

If you are an UCLA Basketball Coach Ben Howland apologist (or Howler which Bruins Nation is not), you can make excuses for the recent problems. However, even the biggest Howler has to admit that there can be no excuses after this season. The stars are aligning for Howland and UCLA basketball in way that should ensure a great season.

Go Bruins!