After the committees of the NCAA and NIT basketball tournaments made their selections – with, as expected, UCLA’s name not even close to being called in either of them – I felt the same way as I felt at the end of the Bruins’ disappointing football season, which could be best illustrated by what baseball legend Henry Aaron said when he broke Babe Ruth’s all time home run record in 1974:
“I’m just glad it’s all over with.”
Being that Ben Howland’s team finished 19-14, I held a very faint hope that the NIT would extend an invitation, but it was just as well that they didn’t because after all the drama that was UCLA basketball, it was time to pull the plug on 2011-12 and turn the page once and for all as there was enough drama to fill the plot of a daytime soap opera for months:
* Reeves Nelson, who wasn’t playing well anyway, being kicked off the team in December for being, in his mother’s words, “a 14-year old boy in a 20-year old’s body.” And that was before his thuggishness bullying came out to the public in what was the other big drama for the Bruins…
* The recent Sports Illustrated article portraying the UCLA hoops program as one in complete disarray, with Nelson being a thug that went out to hurt and bully teammates and others on and off the court, and Howland being depicted as running the team in a Nazi-like fashion, abusing student managers over the film room not being exactly 76 degrees among other things.
What was incredible about all of this was the fact that the Bruins managed to win 19 games and finish fifth in the conference at 11-7, and that four of its players averaged over 10 points per contest, led by Lazeric Jones’ 13.4 points and 4.3 assists a game.
While “Zeke” had some games where he played badly and was a non-factor, the senior guard turned out to be a rock that did much to try and stabilize the team on the court and did his best to be consistent. For that he gets my vote for team MVP.
The Wear twins, forwards Travis and David, likewise did their best as their averages, 11.6 for Travis and 10.4 for David, weren’t bad, nor were their rebounding averages, 5.9 for Travis and 6.9 for David, which led the Bruins. They both need to get stronger in order to be more effective in the post next year, however, as there were games where they were pushed around in the paint.
Joshua Smith was a bit of a paradox; on the surface, his 10 points a game for the season looks OK, but the 6′ 10″ center’s lack of conditioning and being overweight was what essentially ruined his season from the get-go.
At the heart of the matter was Smith’s, for lack of a better way to put it, laziness as far as committing himself to getting in better shape and improving his skills last summer, which was the root of his problems this year. This off-season will be extremely crucial, as he absolutely must work on his skills in the low post and – more importantly – drop 15 to 20 pounds; if Smith does that, he will be the dominant force in the Pac-12, if not the country, next season.
If Smith fails to commit himself, then he will officially be a bust.
Speaking of next season, now that UCLA’s soap opera, I mean road show as they played their home games in the Sports Arena and the Honda Center, is over with the Bruins returning to a renovated Pauley Pavilion this November, 2012-13 will be perhaps the most important year in the program’s recent memory, as time will be of the essence to turn things around.
That goes for off the court as well as on as Howland needs to reestablish control and discipline among the ranks – and it wouldn’t hurt for him to be less Nazi-like either.
The bottom line here is, if the Bruins don’t make a significant improvement in their record, namely be a contender for the Pac-12 championship if not outright win it as well as make a good run in the NCAA tournament if not make the Final Four, it will definitely be time to start over with a new coach in Westwood.
Meanwhile, personally speaking it would be best for me to forget about this season and look forward to baseball – as of this writing, Major League Baseball’s opening day is in three weeks.