After all of the drama, mediocrity, and disappointment that characterized the UCLA basketball program this past season, what with:
1. Reeves Nelson being dismissed for being an extreme bully,
2. Joshua Smith not playing to his potential because of his weight problems,
3. The program getting badmouthed in a Sports Illustrated article, which unmasked Nelson’s thuggery and painted coach Ben Howland as a tyrannical dictator, and…
4. The team going 19-14, finishing fifth in the Pac-12 after being picked to finish first, and missing the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years the law of averages dictated that something good was bound to happen to Howland’s squad.
That good fortune arrived yesterday in the form of Shabazz Muhammad, considered the top high school shooting guard/small forward in the country and the #2 prep player overall, when he announced on ESPN’s College Basketball Signing Day Show that he picked UCLA over Duke and national champion Kentucky.
The 6′ 5″ swingman from Las Vegas’ (NV) Bishop Gorman High School tops what according to ESPN is the third-ranked class in the country, which includes guard Jordan Adams from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia and point guard Kyle Anderson from St. Anthony’s in Jersey City. Muhammad and Anderson are expected to start for the Bruins in the renovated Pauley Pavilion this coming November and bring a new energy to a team that dearly needs it.
Muhammad is so touted, dominating the recent McDonald’s All-American game, one NBA scout, after watching him work out, told Yahoo.com’s Marc Spears: “He’s the only (high school player) who can play in the NBA tomorrow.”
“Muhammad has the skill level and athleticism to make an immediate impact on the court,” commented Greg Hicks, Scout.com’s West Coast recruiting analyst. “(His) commitment is probably the most important for UCLA since Kevin Love’s.”
Now that UCLA has such a great influx of incoming talent, with 6′ 8″ center Tony Parker still deciding whether or not to pick the Bruins over schools like Kansas, Duke, and Ohio State, it’s up to Howland to not screw this up.
He absolutely cannot stick to his demanding and dictatorial “my way or the highway” approach next season, and needs to adjust his system – at least a little bit – to fit these newcomers so their talents can shine, so that UCLA can win some games and make some real noise in the Big Dance – perhaps even make a Final Four appearance.
Most of all, Howland needs to keep in mind this maxim from the great coach John Wooden:
“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change may be.”
And for goodness’ sake, Joshua Smith MUST come in 15 to 20 pounds lighter if he’s to make any real contributions’ this summer will be the most important in his basketball life.
Signing Muhammad, Anderson, and Adams was a definite coup for Bruin Nation, but that needs to translate to results on the court this coming fall and winter; as good as this class is, it will be expected that at the very least, Muhammad and Anderson will be one-and-done players, so this window that the Bruins have will be a small one.
This class certainly has the ability to help turn things around for UCLA hoops, but time will tell how things pan out in Westwood.