Marching to Vegas: Joshua Smith Will Not Be Joining UsPosted by AMurawa on November 30th, 2012
From the moment it was first rumored, the relocation of the conference tournament to Las Vegas has created quite a buzz among Pac-12 basketball fans. Adam Butler (@pachoopsAB) of PacHoops will be here every week as he offers his unique perspective along our March to Vegas.
With news of Josh Smith’s departure earlier this week, UCLA’s departure numbers since their 2008 Final Four has reached 11 players. Just a week earlier, teammate Tyler Lamb left the team as well. Now I’m not going to turn this into a “UCLA has transfer issues” column. There are thousands of those across the interwebs for three years now. No, college basketball has a transfer issue and the spotlight just shines brightly on UCLA because they’re arguably the greatest program in the history of the game. For that reason, the spotlight shines brighter and it’s quickly turning into an interrogation lamp as Ben Howland has to answer spicier and spicier questions about his spiraling program. I know I’ve already spent an M2V piece examining the state of this program but these days it appears about as volatile and complex as Paula Broadwell’s “unprecedented access.”
So with Smith’s departure we’re disappointed. I wrote about it on my blog, how Josh Smith is our selfish tragedy because we choose to believe we’d never let that happen to us. Me? Squander innate NBA talents? Never! But that’s the thing: Leaders are there to lead and while success is driven from within, great leadership helps you find that desire deep inside your gut. Thus the question is now perpetually being brought up – Bruins Nation kills it – as to what’s going on in Westwood? Stemming from the theories proposed by Bruins Nation, the one that strikes me as most poignant is that it is well-documented that playing for Ben Howland is joyless. Now this didn’t come to me as a tremendous surprise, A) I’ve watched Howland teams for years now and see it myself, and B) I’ve heard rumblings of such. Not a shocker. But Josh Smith’s transfer, among so many of the others, really brought to light the fact that this is a significant concern. Winning masks most everything but at the end of the day, this is a game being played, shouldn’t it be fun? Go ahead and call me an idealist because I most certainly am. I choose to believe my superstars are playing for championships not contracts and kids stay in school a year longer because they love the experience. That’s how I see sport.
Back to Smith. Here was a kid with all the talent in the world and no one could connect with him to tap that potential. He most certainly has let himself down, but so have those around him. Whether he needed a drill sergeant, mentor, or a friend, Smith never got it. To me, this raises the question – perhaps naively – is Ben Howland too basketball-centric? It’s a hyper competitive world we live in and the lines between professional and collegian are being blurred. That’s the difference between a job (defined as having to do something) and amateurism (defined as partaking in an activity as a pastime). And when things become a responsibility, as they tend to in the job world, we can lose site of the why. In the case of college basketball, the why is for fun. While we define fun in so many different ways (competition, winning, exercise, camaraderie, success) it’s at the core of everything we do. Jrue Holliday, by many accounts, was not ready for the NBA. Statistically his one-and-done critics are vindicated. Year one in The League was underwhelming, but he’s progressed nicely. All that said, it was a shock he left UCLA suddenly and much of the Bruins’ struggles have been pinned on his bolt to The League. But again, is it any surprise someone would jump ship on a joyless situation? I mean, that’s why my ex-girlfriends are exes and you don’t get dessert at a work dinner.
At the current rate, the only ones to step out of Howland’s program with success are the one’s stepping into it knowing exactly what they’re getting in to. That’s to say, if you want to do just as the boss says, UCLA is your place. It’s like punching the clock. Unfortunately, the world of recruiting is not as cut-and-dry as saying, “This system fits my style and I’m going there.” Don’t kid yourself. And full circle, we’re back to leadership and point number four of Bruins Nation’s theories: Ben Howland can’t coach. I’m not buying this theory on the surface because that man can coach. You don’t stumble into three straight Final Fours. Ask Mike Montgomery (1), Bob Huggins (1), or Bo Ryan (0). But Howland is proving he can only coach his type of players and that he can no longer identify who those players are.
I don’t have the answer, or at least not an immediate one, or maybe I’m shying away from the writing on the wall. He has the remnants of a talented roster even if it only includes eight scholarship players. If for no other reason than attrition, this group will grow some semblance of comfort with each other and perhaps manage roles and win some ball games. At no point in the season are you going to breathe a sigh of relief that you have to play UCLA. The problem is that in Westwood, you don’t play to get through seasons. You play for banners and that’s supposed to be fun.