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 Blockall 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.
Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be rolling out our profiles of several of the top expected prospects in the 2008 NBA Draft. Figuring that we’re not the only ones who’ve thought of this, we decided to enlist some help by asking several of the best school-specific bloggers in the land to give us the up-close-and-personal profile of the players they’ve spent all year watching. For example, we probably watched Kevin Love play 15 times this year, but we were limited by his games that were on national television and other competing games at the same time. These bloggers know these players – their strengths, their weaknesses, whether they become Black Mamba or channel C-Webb in the clutch, and what kind of team they would best fit with at the next level.
With that said, our next submission is from the most excellent UCLA blog, Gutty Little Bruins. Apparently Andy over there came off a female-induced hiatus to hook us up with some Bruins info . Here is their post on the strong-wristed Kevin Love.
Anyways, Rush The Court asked me to do a preview of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook for the upcoming draft. They also asked me to make it accessible to non-UCLA folks, so if it sounds like I’m talking to you like you’re an idiot, its not deliberate. Anyways, here is Kevin Love. Enjoy.
To say Kevin Love was a bit hyped up out of high school is kinda like saying like Kirstie Alley is a bit overweight.
One fateful night, Former UCLA Assistant Kerry Keating gave UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland a call and told him he was watching Kevin Love play for the first time. He told him that the Kevin Love he was watching would easily start for UCLA. Howland thought that was pretty impossible.
After all, Love was just a high school freshman. Even as a frosh, coaches all over the country salivated at Kevin Love and would continue to do so until he finally chose a school. Last year, Roy Williams offered a scholarship to only one player. Yep…K-Love. Of course, we all know that Kevin Love ended up attending UCLA…but not before he was named the Gatorade National Male Athlete of the Year, the #1 player overall in the country by ESPN, and the #1 center in the country by both the Rivals and Scout recruiting networks. The guy had a lot of expectations…and the fact that he met, or exceeded these expectations is testament not only to his skill level, but to his character.
You don’t have to follow UCLA to know that Kevin Love is a pretty spectacular basketball player. You probably do have to follow UCLA to know how much he’s improved. Earlier in the season when games would go down to the wire, Howland would opt to put in Lorenzo Mata in over Love. While Love obviously had a superb offensive game, his defensive game needed work and was actually a primary reason why Love chose to go to UCLA. As the year went by, Howland stopped subbing in Mata when a defensive stop was needed, as Love began to show that he had made the necessary improvements. His footwork, focus, and anticipation all improved. Love was also extremely disciplined, with a knack for getting in his opponent’s face while not fouling. His blocks per game average also made a noticeable increase. Before the end of the year, he was giving future first round draft picks Brook and Robin Lopez fits on the defensive end (not to mention the offensive end).
People look at Kevin Love and for some reason, they like to emphasize his shortcomings. If he was 3 inches taller, he’d probably be the first pick of the draft (and as a center, not as power forward). A lot of people lament his supposed lack of athleticism. While those arguments have some merit, there is another pretty big deal that people outside UCLA don’t seem to understand. Yes, they know that Kevin Love’s offensive game rivals the polish of NBA veterans. Yes, they know that despite the fact Love played center at UCLA, he still could drain the 3 and nail his free throws, even achieving the second highest 3 pt. percentage of UCLA’s starters. And, of course, they know Kevin Love’s outlet passes cure cancer (props to whoever came up with that one).
Watching that video will add at least 5 years to your life. But do they know that Kevin Love absolutely works his ASS off?
Kevin Love will do whatever it takes to be as successful as possible at the next level. Just look at the dude try and grab a rebound and you’ll understand. If his coach suggests that Love should lose weight, just name the weight. If a trainer suggests that Love focus on improving a particular part of his body, Love will be in the weight room before the sentence is finished. If there is a particular part of his game that needs work, you might as well give him the keys because Love will be the first and last person on the court.
Kevin Love has a complete game. He’s got the post moves, the outside shot, the strength, the defense, and the effort to make it big in the NBA. That’s why his stock is soaring and some are projecting him to go in the top five. Trust me. Kevin Love will be around the league, barring injury, for quite a while.