December is here and the end of 2012 is near. 2012 has been a year of unmet expectation for Los Angeles teams except for the Galaxy and if no one watches are there really any expectations? The Angels were expected to be the class of the American League with the addition of Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson but missed the playoffs entirely. The Dodgers acquired $270 million dollars in salary from the Red Sox to make a scary lineup card that also managed to miss the playoffs. USC football entered the preseason as the #1 ranked team and currently stands 7-5 and unranked in every poll. Someone playing Devil’s Advocate might suggest the Kings did well this year by winning the Stanley Cup but they had no expectations at all!!! They entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the 8th seed in the West and were underdogs throughout. The Kings happened to have the hottest goaltender and whoever has the hottest goalie wins the Stanley Cup 9 out of 10 times. The Clippers and Lakers combined to win ONE game after the first round in the 2012 playoffs. The Clippers are looking good so far in the season but just snapped back to reality after an awful road trip. The Lakers on the other hand look flat out lost. Speaking of lost has anyone found Pau Gasol’s “big boy pants”? I understand it must be hard to find pants that fit if you are 7 feet tall so maybe he can find them in the clearance rack of Ross in New York (or wherever he gets rumored to be traded/scapegoated to). The subject of basketball sadly leads me to the latest and last victim of being over rated and over hyped in 2012: UCLA Basketball. (As a Bruin, it pains me to write this article)
UCLA entered the 2012 season with the number one recruiting class in the nation and expectations of the Final Four. UCLA has had a terrible last few years including missing the tournament twice in 3 years and there definitely was a buzz in Westwood when October came around. Pauley Pavilion was going to be open again and the Bruins had depth and talent led by Shabazz Muhammad. Muhammad was the #2 ranked player in the country and is a projected top 3 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker, Jordan Adams were also Freshman studs who would bolster the roster that included Travis Wear, David Wear, Larry Drew II, Josh Smith, and Tyler Lamb. Practices began and the Bruins had a trip to China but Anderson and Muhammad had not been cleared by NCAA because of potential recruiting violations. Anderson was cleared shortly after China and Muhammad injured a shoulder during practice and figured to be cleared by the time he recovered.
The Bruins entered the season ranked #13 in both the AP and USA Today poll because of the clouds on Anderson and Muhammad but were a clear consensus to rise when those players were ruled eligible. The Bruins re-opened Pauley Pavillion with a route of Indiana State (without Larry Bird) and the chants of “Free Shabazz” were heard when Flea, the bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers performed the National Anthem with a shirt that read “Free Shabazz Muhammad”. The expectations for the Bruins were at its peak since Kevin Love and Russel Westbrook left, because of rumblings that Muhammad would soon be cleared. The Bruins needed overtime to get past UC Irvine but not much was made of it because new teams tend to struggle at first until they have time to gel. The Bruins followed up the squeaker with a blowout of James Madison and then news broke that Shabazz was free!!!!! Sadly that was the peak of the season.
UCLA entered the Legends Classic undefeated and ranked #11 with their full team and a game with Georgetown. The winner would play the winner of Indiana vs. Georgia. Indiana entered as the #1 team in the country and the potential matchup of Cody Zeller and Shabazz Muhammad would have been great for fans and NBA scouts but the dream matchup didn’t happen. The Hoosiers defeated Georgia while the Bruins lost to the Hoyas in Muhammad’s collegiate debut. UCLA barely snuck by Georgia (a team predicted to finish last in the SEC East) in the 3rd place game the next day.
The Bruins still needed to come together but still had large expectations for the year. They expected to get things back on track when they returned back to Westwood to play Cal Poly Pomona but things didn’t go as planned. The Bruins ended up coughing up an 18 point lead at home to a team they shouldn’t EVER lose to. A team with the talent and tradition of UCLA should not lose to Cal Poly and the severity of the loss was shown as the Bruins dropped completely out of the poll, marking the 2nd worst drop in history at the time. (Kentucky recently just broke that record).
Following the loss, news had broken that Tyler Lamb would be transferring and then 3 days later it was announced Josh Smith would be released from the team. The buzz on campus had faded away and the atmosphere at Pauley Pavilion had not been the same since opening night. The Bruins beat Cal State Northridge but the offense didn’t look great and it was clear the players were not happy about rotations even with a victory. The Bruins played San Diego State in the Wooden Classic on Saturday and lost for the third time already. The chants had turned 180 degrees from “Free Shabazz” to “Fire Howland”.
This is the make or break year for coach Ben Howland with the #1 recruiting class and home arena, and so far it looks like this will be the last season with Howland on the sidelines . The excuse for the Bruins is a team of Freshmen needs time to gel and figure it out so they can click by March. Past Kentucky teams full of Freshman, started off hot and finished hot including last years teams that won the NCAA tournament. John Calipari gets it done year after year with a great recruiting class so why cant Howland? This is the second top ranked recruiting class of the Howland era and neither have panned out. This season is far from over but as Rasheed Wallace likes to say “Ball Don’t Lie” and the ball doesn’t seem to be saying book a trip to Atlanta for a Final Four run UCLA.
The sports of Los Angeles in 2012 reminds me of my favorite scene in (500) Days of Summer when Tom Hanson is going to the party that Summer invited him. The left side of the screen are the expectations of Tom Hanson had in his mind of how the night was going to go and on the right side was the reality of the nights events. “Tom believed that this time his expectations would align with reality.” Sadly just like Tom, Los Angeles Sports expectations and reality didn’t align. Maybe 2013 will be better.