A recruiting class ranked by many as second in the country, which included a recruit who was considered by most as the best in the nation.
An overall record of 25 wins and ten losses for the 2012-2013 college basketball season.
Which included a ten-game winning streak from December 8th to January 17th, while only having a losing streak of two or more once.
A regular season championship in the Pacific-12 Conference with a record of 13-5.
Being ranked in the AP Top 25 for quite a bit of the season.
Beating your main competition in the conference, whose ranking was in the top ten much of the time and higher than yours all year, not once, not twice, but three times - including in the conference tournament semi-finals.
An appearance in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament Finals.
A berth in the NCAA Tournament.
For about 98% of the basketball teams in NCAA Division I, a resume like that would be cause for celebration, lionization, and much praise and spotlights to the team and particularly the coach for doing such a marvelous job.
UCLA is not among that 98% as Ben Howland, who achieved all of the above things over the past five months, is now the former coach of this basketball program, for this simple reason:
Whether it is unfair or not, what Howland did as the head coach of the Bruins this season – and for the past ten seasons – was not enough.
Indeed, despite all the good things that happened, it was a consensus among the suits in the UCLA athletic department that it was time for a change in culture, informing Howland on Sunday that his services were no longer needed and giving him a parting gift of $3.5 million for his troubles.
The good things that were achieved with this team having already been mentioned, let’s describe the bad events that defined the UCLA Bruins on the basketball court in their 94th season; the things that ultimately led to Howland’s demise:
1. UCLA not only suffering their worst loss of the season in their last game, an 83-63 blowout at the hands of the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the NCAA Tourney, but also enduring similar humiliations to teams such as last-place-in-the-Pac-12 Washington State, a USC Trojans squad that was under an interim coach and finished below .500, and to a Cal Poly team that’s not even considered to be good among its mid-major peers.
To add salt to those wounds, both losses to USC and Cal Poly were at home in the new, freshly renovated, state-of-the-art Pauley Pavilion (more on issues regarding the new Pauley in a bit)
2. Quite simply and frankly, these Bruins couldn’t rebound!
They were beaten up on the boards by their opponents for the vast majority of their games, Kyle Anderson being the only Bruin whose rebounding average was above seven at 8.6 rebounds per game.
Indeed, UCLA lacked the bangers inside that would have made a big difference as among the two truly big men that they had in November, one (Joshua Smith) is now at Georgetown after being unable to do what he needed to do to get in appropriate shape so he could make a substantial contribution, his weight being an issue for the entire time he was in Westwood, and the other (Tony Parker) was overwhelmed at the speed of the college game and was simply not ready to be a dominant force or to contribute in any real way, spending the whole year more or less riveted to the bench.
3. As for the renovated home of these Bruins, Pauley Pavilion saw only five crowds that were above 11,000 in the 18 games that were played in that building, which displeased athletic director Dan Guerrero and the rest of the powers that be at the Morgan Center on campus as it became clear that the fans, boosters, and alumni were unhappy with the team in general and Howland in particular, feeling that his deliberate style (this season notwithstanding as UCLA improved their scoring pace from the previous year) was boring and not worth watching.
What is interesting is that when looking at the individual players’ final statistics, one wouldn’t really find anything wrong as some good numbers were put up.
Shabazz Muhammad, the top recruit in what turned out to be Howland’s last class, led the team in scoring with 17.9 points a game and was second in rebounding at 5.2 per contest, making the All-Pac-12 first team and winning the conference’s Co-Freshman of the Year honors in the process, but…
The day that he signed I, and pretty much everyone else in Bruin Nation, knew that he was only going to be in Westwood a year and – as sure as I’m sitting here writing this – he was going to be an multi-millionaire on his new NBA team come this summer.
Putting it another way, John Wooden can come back from the grave and be named the next UCLA coach, and that wouldn’t convince Muhammad to stay a Bruin for his sophomore season.
What’s more, Anderson, who was likewise a highly touted freshman and had a good season, could join Muhammad in the NBA Draft this June; it wouldn’t surprise me if he declared.
Jordan Adams, another member of that stellar class along with Muhammad, Anderson and Parker, was thought of by many as the real glue that held the Bruins together as much as Muhammad if not more, finishing second on the team in scoring at 15.3 points per game; it was not a coincidence that UCLA suffered their only losing streak of the season – didn’t win any more games, actually – after he broke his foot in the conference tournament semis in Las Vegas.
Travis Wear was the other Bruin who averaged in double figures, at 10.9 points a contest. He did his usual decent job in his supporting role on the floor, but along with his twin brother David that’s the most one can expect from him as anytime those Wear twins are expected to carry the load, the Bruins are in trouble as that is something that they are just unable to do.
Having broken the school record for assists in a season and averaging 7.3 dimes a game, Larry Drew II performed beautifully at point guard as he assumed the role as UCLA’s floor leader and did a spectacular job. It’s a shame that the North Carolina transfer is a senior and has played his last game as a Bruin.
Next season, to state the fairly obvious, is very much up in the air as the Bruins must, before they do anything else, find a coach.
Speculations have abounded about Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart, Butler’s Brad Stevens, and even Andy Enfield, the coach of the ultimate Big Dance Cinderella Florida Gulf Coast, being lured to Westwood, but there’s one thing that I know for certain:
For the previous seven seasons – up until 2003 – UCLA had as its basketball coach someone who was a buddy-buddy type, Steve Lavin; an ultimate player’s coach whose teams reflected the lack of discipline that resulted from his lassiez-faire approach in their play.
Howland was the opposite of that, a gruff, Bob Knight type who was unpopular with his players and many others in the program and in the athletic department due to his mean, taskmaster style.
On a scale of one to ten, one being the ultimate buddy of a coach and ten being a heartless dictator on the level of Simon Legree, Lavin was about a two while Howland was around a nine and a half.
This Bruin basketball program needs to hire a head coach who’s around a five – someone who is caring and likable but who can also crack the whip when necessary.
Whoever that next coach will be is anyone’s guess, but if he does turn out to be a five, good times will loom ahead for UCLA hoops; even if they do lose all of their recruits to the NBA or to another school as there are reports that Parker may transfer.
One way, or another, it will be a new UCLA Bruin team come November of 2013.
What kind of new UCLA Bruin team that will be?
We’ll find out in eight months.
A WOMEN’S BASKETBALL UPDATE/REVIEW OF THE 2012-13 SEASON:
Cori Close, in her second year at the helm, did a fantastic job as her Lady Bruins finished 26-8 overall with a 14-4 record in the Pac-12, which was good for a solid third place behind California and perennial national power Stanford, whom UCLA lost to in the finals of the Pac-12 Tournament.
The Bruins, seeded 3rd in the Oklahoma City regional of the Women’s NCAA Tournament, lost in the second round to Oklahoma, 85-72, to end their season.
Among the team leaders were Atonye Nyingifa, whose 11.6 points per game average led the Lady Bruins, Alyssia Brewer, who was the leading rebounder at 7.7 boards a contest, and Markel Walker, who finished second on the team with her 10.6 points a game average.
If Close can put together some top-notch recruiting classes in the next couple of years, the potential and prospects for UCLA Women’s Basketball greatness will be sky-high.