The already disappointing UCLA Bruin hoops season (2-4, including losses to Long Beach St. & Cal-St Fullerton, with Kansas & Mississippi St. next on the agenda) just became more difficult, as the FireBenHowland watch officially began with Super Sophomore Drew Gordon’s Transfer.
Howland’s failure as Coach, at least in corralling big-name talent within the confines of his program, has been evident for the past two years – which, yes, did follow three consecutive Final Four appearances. The problem is NOT with Howland’s ability to coach. He’s a fine coach; a phenomenal coach, even.
Ben Howland says: I guess you can say UCLA is an “elite” program.
The fact is, though – he is not a UCLA coach; the Bruin program sustained elite status through the decades with athletic, heady players buying into variations of a run-n-gun theme, from Wooden to Harrick to yes, Steve Lavin. What Bruin fans – and Bruin hoopsters – are accustomed to is filling seats at Pauley due to exciting, high-flying basketball befitting of their Blue Chip recruit status.
And yes, Howland can recruit his ass off; he’s had top-five classes during four of the past six years. Howland can also coach. He turned Northern Arizona (who?!?) and Pittsburgh into stronger-than-anyone-ever-expected programs, and he revitalized Westwood with the recent string of successes. That said, his successes came at a price – who can forget UCLA’s plodding, defensively smothering, arduous, grind-it-out playing style that served them so well during the Afflalo/Farmar/Shipp/Matt/Mbah-a-Moute Days? That style of ball does not land Howland any points with the top crop of phenoms that comes out of the L.A. playgrounds each year. And you can completely forget about grabbing the talent on the East Coast.
The “kids these days” don’t want to learn Howland’s trademark “aggressive man-to-man defense” so much as they want to be freed up to run, shoot, score on their way to a one-and-done “career” in NCAA basketball. There’s a reason Studio City’s Jrue Holiday was labeled a disappointment as a Bruin and ended up leaving after one season – he did NOT want to play this kind of basketball. Kevin Love, too – though he bought into Howland’s style, and was a true beast/monster in every regard, one season was enough. “If I want to work more on defense than my growth as a person, student & ballplayer, I’ll go to the NBA” seems to be a mantra, which brings us back to Drew Gordon. He left, simply because he was sick of being hindered by a coach that seems to believe that defense is the only way to win ballgames. “With the talent that’s on the UCLA team,” Gordon’s father, Ed, said, “there’s absolutely no reason for that to happen.”
Even more important, the younger Gordon felt like a bad fit in UCLA’s measured style of play. “His athleticism always has shined more in an up-and-down tempo,” his father said. “That’s not exactly what the UCLA system is about.”
Drew Gordon: Athletic as hell, and note Ben Howland in the background actually looking annoyed that one of his players would leap out of the gym.
The onus may not be fully on Howland, as BruinReportOnline provided some valuable insight into the transfer.
” He had a history of outbursts — against coaches in which he would argue vociferously, and against players. A source says that he was involved in three fights with his teammates, and Howland had warned him that there was no further tolerance of it.
When he was a high school prospect, we had heard quite a bit about him, about how he could be a difficult personality and tough to coach. When we learned that he had committed to UCLA we were particularly surprised, since we didn’t think he was a good fit for Howland’s program. The fact that he picked UCLA and Howland gave us a little hope that, perhaps, he recognized what he needed to make himself a better player.
Now, I’m not saying that Howland is a saint in all this. The way he coaches and runs his program, a player like Gordon was going to be naturally problematic. Perhaps there’s another coach out there that would be able to work with Gordon, adapt to his idiosyncracies, and get the most out of him.”
And that’s what this is about – adapting to the players that will come to your school. UCLA can get recruits even if Bozo the Clown is coaching in Westwood. It’s also about adapting to the times; at a second-tier program with second-tier recruits, defense may be the ONLY way to win games. Once you’re in prime time, though – it’s time to fly. And that’s what UCLA baskeball is and should be about.
Now will Ben Howland get fired? Of course not – he’s a great man and again, a spectacular coach. He’s just NOT the right coach for UCLA.