Posted by AMurawa on March 1st, 2012
- With the big Sports Illustrated critique of Ben Howland’s handling of the UCLA program dropping on Wednesday, it was a day heavy on reaction to that story. First and foremost, UCLA officials, including Howland, athletic director Dan Guerrero and chancellor Gene Block all responded with disappointment to the article. Howland responded by taking responsibility for the program and noted that he would make whatever changes needed to be made, but Guerrero held out the possibility, in a separate teleconference, that he might not have the coach back to make those changes, saying that he will reassess the situation after the season. Both admit that some mistakes were made within the program, but Guerrero says that by and large, these were isolated incidents restricted to just a few players.
- A handful of former UCLA players responded to the article by coming to the defense of their old coach. Lorenzo Mata-Real described Howland as a demanding coach who was there for his players when they needed him and who did well to prepare them for life after college. Michael Roll placed the blame at the feet of the handful of players who “didn’t want to do what was necessary to win.” And even Josiah Johnson, who left the program furious at Howland for having slashed his minutes as a senior, now says that his coach was just trying to foster an environment of accountability.
- Lastly, while there was plenty of concern that the negative press surrounding the program might negatively affect recruiting, key recruits confirmed their continued interest in UCLA. Top five recruit Kyle Anderson, who has already signed a letter of intent with UCLA, reaffirmed his commitment to the program on Wednesday, while the nation’s #2 recruit, Shabazz Muhammad, confirmed that UCLA was definitely still in the mix. However, Muhammad’s father, Ron Holmes, did mention that the issues could be concerning when the final decision is made. More importantly, on the Muhammad trail, was a bombshell on Wednesday that the NCAA is looking into potential eligibility issues with the recruit. Muhammad has had connections with a couple financial advisers – Benjamin Lincoln and Ken Kavanaugh – and that both men may have given improper benefits to the high school senior. It is alleged that Lincoln paid for some of Muhammad’s unofficial visits to college campuses, while Kavanaugh helped fund his AAU team. The NCAA has alerted all of the schools who are still actively recruiting Muhammad, that although they are free to continue doing so, he may wind up ineligible to compete at the college level. While this story may not get the national run that the SI piece did, in the end, it may be more damaging to Howland’s future.
- Enough on UCLA for now, onto Washington and their chances of earning an at-large bid on Selection Sunday. In his weekly Bubble Watch, Andy Glockner took a look at recent teams with similar profiles to the Huskies’ and found that half of the six he looked at did not receive an invitation. Of the six teams he looked at, only one was from a BCS conference – California in 2010. That year the Golden Bears won the conference title with a 13-5 record, but had no top 50 wins and just three against the top 100, similar numbers to what the Huskies will have next Sunday. However, unlike the Huskies, that Cal team had an RPI of 20, significantly better than Washington’s will be.
- Two years ago, after Washington State finished their season at 16-15, the program turned down an invitation to the College Basketball Invitational – that third postseason tournament that began in 2008. This year, however, head coach Ken Bone is already making it clear that should the CBI come calling for the Cougars (who are currently 14-14 on the season), they’ll be more than happy to listen. Part of the reason the team turned down the invitation in 2010 was that the team was worn down at the end of the year and didn’t have the passion to continue playing. But this year, on a team that expects to have six significant contributors back next year, the team is still working hard and the extra stretch of the year would give their younger players a chance to continue developing. Now, it’s just a matter of Washington State finishing strongly enough to catch the eye of the CBI.