Baby Bruins v.2: Comparing UCLA’s Situation Now to Top-Ranked Class of 2008

Posted by EJacoby on April 25th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

With the news on Monday that top unsigned big man Tony Parker is headed to UCLA next season, the Bruins now have a super-stacked recruiting class for next year that should give Ben Howland’s squad a great chance to become elite right away. Recall that last week we discussed that bringing in an elite recruiting class doesn’t necessarily result in program success, with one of the highlight examples being Ben Howland’s #1 class of 2008 Bruins. That UCLA team brought in the top recruiting class and also had some returning veteran talent, but the team badly failed to meet expectations (some of the roots of UCLA’s transgressions were recently highlighted in a popular Sports Illustrated article in late February). Fair or unfair, the 2012 class and next year’s team is going to have to deal with comparisons to those 2008 Baby Bruins, at least until it starts to win. This time around, though, their coach’s job is on the line too. Let’s take a quick look at how the two classes and situations match up, and why UCLA fans should have no reason to expect a repeat performance this time around.

Now That Tony Parker Signed with UCLA, the Bruins Have Huge Expectations Again (Photo: Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Back in 2008, UCLA was coming off of three straight Final Four appearances, one of the best runs of team success of the past decade for any program. Bringing in the top recruiting class that offseason was no surprise, and that group of freshmen was expected to continue the long tradition of winning in Westwood. Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee, and Drew Gordon were part of a group of five top-50 recruits who were quickly dubbed the Baby Bruins, players who “were famous before they played a game,” as the SI report claims. The freshmen also got to play alongside some returning veterans, most notably senior All-American Darren Collison. But UCLA was unable to win with this group right away that season nor during the next four years. Instead of stacking up Ws and bringing home banners like the previous groups led by Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo and Kevin Love, the Baby Bruins never made the Sweet Sixteen in four years and failed to make the NCAA Tournament twice. The disastrous chemistry on the team throughout this period led to players fighting and transferring, and it all ended up in far more losses than anyone expected. UCLA entered this offseason really in need of a talent (and attitude) infusion.

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SI Story Highlights UCLA’s Downfall Through Ben Howland’s Shameful Lack of Control

Posted by EJacoby on February 29th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. 

The historic UCLA basketball program is in a shocking lull right now, and Sports Illustrated magazine has an upcoming feature story on why it’s not just because of poor performance on the court. George Dohrmann’s piece has been released on SI.com for an early look, and it is a must-read for all the telling details and anecdotes about the Bruins’ culture from the past five seasons. We’ll give you our reaction to the investigative piece and why coach Ben Howland might not last another season in Westwood.

Here's The Magazine Title Page of the Upcoming Story in Sports Illustrated (SI App)

Mike Moser, UNLV’s star player and the nation’s sixth-leading rebounder; Chace Stanback, the Runnin’ Rebels’ second-leading scorer with the nation’s seventh best three-point shooting percentage; Drew Gordon, New Mexico’s dominant forward and double-double machine; and Matt Carlino, averaging 13.0 points and 4.7 assists for BYU. What do they all have in common? Each of these players was once a highly touted recruit for coach Ben Howland at UCLA before transferring from the program to become star players elsewhere in the West. The departure of these four players is one of the reasons why the Bruins currently sit in sixth place in a weak Pac-12, looking at missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years and just four years removed from a run of three consecutive Final Four appearances. The feature story in Sports Illustrated set for publication later this week details why these players left campus, what kinds of unfortunate treatment other former players received, and how UCLA has struggled so badly recently, referencing mainly the ignorance of head coach Howland towards detrimental player actions.

Dohrmann’s piece, which includes interviews with over a dozen former players and team managers, highlights a general culture of recent disarray surrounding the Bruins’ basketball program. Dohrmann’s interviewees offered “a detailed inside account of how seemingly minor problems, if left unaddressed, can quickly sabotage even a storied program led by one of the nation’s most respected coaches.” The piece details how Howland, though incredibly knowledgeable of the game, fostered poor relationships with his players both on and off the court. The coach ran practices with a double standard, often ridiculing lesser players for mistakes they made while letting similar errors slide when made by stronger players. The reason, as some in the article suggested, was that Howland was afraid of upsetting star players to the point that they might transfer or leave for the NBA as soon as possible. Off the court, players would go out of their way to avoid Howland, such as one player opting to take the stairs if he ever saw the coach waiting for an elevator.

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Night Line: Another Blemish Jeopardizes Belmont’s At-Large Chances

Posted by EJacoby on December 14th, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

Coming off a 30-win season and returning nine players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game, Belmont was expected to be the next mid-major to make its way on to the national scene this year. After a tremendous season-opening game in Cameron Indoor Stadium in which they nearly took down Duke, the Bruins left a great first impression on the nation. But fast-forward to Tuesday night when the Atlantic Sun darlings lost another close road game (at Middle Tennessee State), and this team still has yet to produce a signature non-conference win on its resume. While Belmont consistently has the look of an NCAA Tournament team, it seems that they’ll have to earn their invitation to the Big Dance the traditional way, by winning the conference tournament.

Belmont Hasn't Held on For Any Signature Wins (AP/G. Broome)

Rick Byrd’s team has now squandered three excellent chances for quality wins, and an at-large bid seems nearly out of the question, regardless of how the Bruins play the rest of the season. Belmont played Duke to a classic season-opening one-point loss, but followed up that game with a poor effort at Memphis in which they allowed 97 points to a team now falling fast. The Bruins held on to beat this same Middle Tennessee State team after two overtimes on November 20, but Tuesday’s rematch saw their opponent come out victorious, 65-62. MTSU  at 10-2 is a  solid team and likely the class of the Sun Belt Conference, so a road sweep of the Blue Raiders would have looked impressive on their resume. Instead, Belmont now can only boast of a split against MTSU and a close loss at Duke as their non-conference highlights thus far.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 11.02.11 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on November 2nd, 2011

  1. David and Travis Wear will be eligible for their first season at UCLA after transferring from North Carolina after the 2009-10 season. This Ben Bolch article focuses on the Wear twins and the roles they will take on with the Bruins this year. David is expected to make the immediate impact early on at small forward because of his jump shooting ability. With David, Reeves Nelson, and Joshua Smith all down low, the Bruins will have the best frontcourt in the Pac-12, if not the nation. Travis and Anthony Stover will spell Smith at the center position. When the Bruins need points they will turn to Travis, while Stover is the defensive/shot-blocking specialist.
  2. If there was a theme for Pac-12 frontcourts in 2011-12, it would be “big.” There are 40 players at 6’9″ or bigger on Pac-12 rosters this season, including 7’3″ Utah center David Foster and 7’2″ Arizona State center Jordan Bachynski. Percy Allen breaks down the bigs of the conference and points out who is excelling and struggling so far this season.
  3. Exhibition basketball continued last night with two games, Humboldt State vs. Arizona and UC San Diego vs. California. We begin in Tucson, where the Wildcats bounced back from their loss against Seattle Pacific last Thursday to defeat the Lumberjacks, 60-51. Arizona still has a lot of kinks to work out, mainly on offense as they shot just 20% from behind the arc. Humboldt State didn’t do anything to help its cause, though, by putting Arizona on the line for 38 free throws. UA only made 22 of those, but that was still the difference in the game. Next up for Arizona is their regular season opener against Valparaiso on Monday night in the Coaches vs. Cancer.
  4. Up in Berkeley, the Golden Bears blew by the UC San Diego Tritons with ease. After a slow ten minutes in which Cal could not find its touch from around the rim, Mike Montgomery’s team quickly pulled away from the overmatched opponent. The lead was only nine at halftime but a 22-4 burst by the Bears to start the second half put away any thoughts of a preseason upset. Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs was the star of the game, leading the Bears with 17 points and four assists off the bench. This was Cal’s first and only exhibition game, and they will begin regular season play against UC Irvine on Nov. 11.
  5. Arizona shooting guard Nick Johnson has drawn rave reviews so far and needs to be on the court more according to his head coach, Sean Miller. Miller has already tried moving senior shooting guard Kyle Fogg to small forward in order to create extra minutes for Johnson, and he is also considering playing Johnson at the point in order to get he and Fogg on the floor together. “We have to look at Nick playing another position if he continues to progress,” Miller said. “But it’s hard to play two positions as a freshman. For the most part, with freshmen, we keep them at one spot.” In last night”s game against Humboldt State, Fogg and Josiah Turner, Arizona’s other fabulous freshman, got the start at guard. However, they all played close to equal amounts of time (Fogg-24, Turner-22, Johnson-21). Johnson and Turner led the group with eight points each.
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