I sat down with UCLA head coach Ben Howland for an extended interview on Tuesday, and here’s the first part…
Jon Gold: Last season at this time, you were 5-7 and now you’re 8-4 in non-conference; are you satisfied?
Ben Howland: “We should be a little better than we are in terms of the record; I was hoping we’d be 10-2, 9-3. You go into the beginning of the season, look at what we had, and we could be. But look, we could be 6-6 right now.”
Gold: You just look around your office – the Final Four chairs, the trophies, the plaques – how important is it to get back there for you? Seems like you need it…
Howland: “It’s my whole life, outside of my family and my God. That’s what I’m working for. It was really frustrating last year. I think we’re headed back in the right direction.”
Gold: Looking back, knowing Kevin Love would be great but only here for a year, or even Jrue Holiday – was that a fair trade? A year of play for a chance at glory? The replacement for Love would’ve been a senior now…
Howland: “The whole thing is trying to win a national championship. That’s why I wanted this challenge and opportunity to be the coach here, because it’s one of the places you have a good chance to do it. We’ve had three chances and came up short three times, but we were there.
It’s not a perfect science. I like the college football situation a lot better; you have them for three years, you know you have them. Even the kids you do have aren’t one fit in one foot out. There are so many things you don’t have control over, and that’s tough. There is a circus going around behind the scenes that you’re not aware of.”
Gold: What will it take for UCLA to get back?
Howland: “You look at last year’s national champion, and they had a trio of seniors, none of them NBA players, but all of them really good college basketball players at the highest level. But I don’t know that Mike entered into it like, ‘This is the plan.’ I don’t think he foresaw that when he recruited those guys – I think two of the three, maybe all three were McDonald’s All-Americans. When you’re in a college town and he has as much control as he does, it’s a little different.”