The sputtering Ben Howlands took yet another hit today in a season that is quickly turning into a nightmare for the bluebloods from Westwood. UCLA announced this afternoon during the coach’s regular press conference that starting center Drew Gordon, one of the few bright spots on the team so far this season, will be transferring. It’s no secret that Gordon and Howland had gone at each other over the last year-plus since the player’s arrival on campus, but this particular decision appears to have been precipitated by a quiet two-game suspension from practice that the coach levied on Gordon earlier this week (Andy Katz states it was for “conduct detrimental to the team“). According to his father, even though the suspension may have been the proverbial straw, Gordon has different ideas about how to best utilize his talents, citing an “up-and-down” system other than the methodical Bruin offense as a better fit. To which we say, did Drew Gordon ever watch UCLA play prior to committing there? An up-and-down system it is not, nor has it ever been, under Howland. As for where he’s headed, other than stating that transfer to another Pac-10 school was out of the question, there is no obvious leader for Gordon’s services (he hails from San Jose in NorCal).
Gordon was a member of the nation’s deepest and strongest recruiting class in America in 2008, with five players ranked in the Rivals top fifty. But we honestly have trouble remembering a class that has been a bigger bust than this one. The reason that UCLA took three losses in the 76 Classic last weekend is directly attributable to the fact that the core of sophomores that remained — Malcolm Lee, Jerime Anderson, J’Mison Morgan, and Gordon — haven’t lived up to their billing. The fifth member of that class, Jrue Holiday, had a lackluster freshman season (9/4/4 assts) before heading off to NBA riches. But it has been Gordon among the remaining four who has shown promise as the most efficient player on the UCLA roster this season, averaging 11/5/2 blks and shooting 57% in a little under 25 minutes per game. With the loss of Gordon, who was one of the only post options at Howland’s disposal, he will have to hope for support from freshman bigs Reeves Nelson (7/5 in 15 MPG) and Brendan Lane (3/2 in 9 MPG) unless J’Mison Morgan (2 pts and 1 reb all season) can find the game that had national powers Kentucky, Louisville and much of the SEC and Big 12 recruiting him two years ago. Given the obstacles that UCLA is already facing this season, we’re just not convinced that the Bruins can turn things around to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive year.