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Friday, October 31, 2014

Ben Howland Admits Recruiting Mistakes Have Contributed to UCLA Downfall

This week is a monstrous week for UCLA basketball. The Bruins are 14-7, 6-3 and ranked third in conference play, and trying to earn a spot into the NCAA tournament. A non-conference win over BYU helps the Bruins’ case for a bid, but beyond that they will have to continue running through the weak Pac-10 to earn a spot in the Big Dance.

The road to the tournament continues with huge games for Ben Howland — home contests against USC and St. John’s. The Bruins have lost four in a row to the Trojans — in basketball no less — and they must beat the Red Storm which is coming off a win over Duke to prove the new error of Bruins basketball is better than the old one. I may be in the minority here, but in some aspects a win over Steve Lavin would be more satisfying to me than a win over USC.

Anyhow, we’ve touched on some of the recruiting issues the program has endured since their reign of dominance in the Pac-10 came to an end. The program went from reaching three straight Final Fours to losing in the second round of the tourney and then going a horrifying 14-18 last year. Some of the best players to enter the program are starring at other schools after transferring (Chace Stanback, Drew Gordon), and that has been frustrating. At the same time, the Bruins were able to steal the Wear twins away from North Carolina and should be on the upswing next season.

Several reasons have been given for UCLA’s immediate downfall — recruiting mistakes, players leaving school early, players transferring, and Howland’s perceived unattractive style. The reality is the problems have been due to a combination of all four issues. Had J’rue Holiday stayed in school beyond his freshman season, the team would have been a conference contender last season. He didn’t, and highly-rated recruits who didn’t develop into quality replacements became a glaring issue for the program.

But there is a paradox that exists: if Howland can’t evaluate talent or secure it, then how did UCLA have all its success under him?

Howland’s defensive emphasis and conservative offensive style was good enough to land players like Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Love, right? But it’s also been a source of complaint from players, and it may have resulted in players transferring away or not coming to school. And given that list of aforementioned players, plus Luc Richard M’bah a Moute, it’s clear that Howland can find gems and sign blue-chippers. But it’s evident with the likes of Bobo Morgan and Jerime Anderson that Howland gets things wrong frequently.

In an article in the LA Times, Howland is quoted as saying “We did a poor job not evaluating them as well as we should have,” in reference to local players Derrick Williams and Kawhi Leonard who are now starring for Arizona and San Diego State.

Hey, a basketball team carries a limited amount of players, so you can’t have everyone and have to make tough decisions. Obviously Howland has missed badly lately and it has hurt the program tremendously. However, he’s also done a good job finding guys like Reeves Nelson and Lazeric Jones. Though the article slammed Howland pretty badly, I wouldn’t call it a hit job the way Bruins Nation did. Did the article tell both sides of each recruiting story? No, but the point is fair — UCLA has fallen off and recruiting is a major reason why.

What the Bruins are missing is the star players who can carry them to deep tournament runs. UCLA has some nice players on the team, but will any of these guys be making starting lineups in the NBA? No way. That’s what Howland needs to bring in for this team to turn things around. Realistically speaking, this squad is only winning because the Pac-10 stinks. If the level of competition were better, being closer to .500 would be more likely.



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