UCLA teleconference with Howland on SI story Pt. 2

On living up to John Wooden’s name:
UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland: “I hold Coach in such high esteem. Anybody who knows me or who follows the program knows that – and I also said that nine years ago, when I arrived here, the very first thing out of my mouth at the initial press conference -was that there’ll never be another John Wooden, and I would never purport to ever be able to live up to him, to what he accomplished, and to who he was as a man and as a coach.
“Of course, I strive to follow his ideals, and to try to support that teaching with our players and in our program. I had a great relationship with Coach Wooden, and that’s one of the great blessings of my entire life, both as a coach and as a person for me and my family to get to know him. It was such an honor to be able to talk to him and to learn from him. I just feel so blessed to have had that opportunity. Some of the maxims of Coach – I keep this little book, which he has this little book called “Thoughts and Observations by John Wooden” as a devotional that I look at and read all the time. Be observant and learn from your mistakes and try to improve. And his thing, the number one thing, is always do your very best. And that’s I truly believe that I’ve tried to do and as has my staff, do our very best. And that’s something we’re always imploring for from our players, whether it be in the class room, on the basketball floor, or in their lives.”

On his lack of involvement outside of practice/games:
Howland: “If you talk to my former players, and that may be the opinion of a specific player. No one came forward and said that they said that. But if you talk to former players, my former players, whether they be here, UCLA, the University of Pittsburgh, Northern Arizona, an assistant at UCSB, I would think over the last 30 or 31 years, that actually would not be considered to be accurate. That’s hurtful. I feel like I’ve got a great relationship; one of the great joys of coaching, for me, has been and continues to be the relationships I have with so many of my former players, that I stay in close contact with them and their families, from all those years past. And to me, that’s one of the great joys, having those relationships and the love you have because of being involved in athletics, and the closeness that brings to teams and to relationships. So, yeah, to answer your question, I didn’t agree with it.”

On allegations of physical abuse by players to players and managers
Howland: “The instances you are talking about in the article had to do with hard fouls and cheap shots. Never was there any, during my watching and being there for every minute of every practice, an assault or that I felt it was prudent that there was some kind of assault going on. Often times in the heat of battle, elbows are flying or guys are being physical. And yes, a cheap shot is different than a closed fist punched in someone’s face. Or directed at someone. So there’s varying degrees of your question. Anything I felt was something that was serious in nature, obviously I would always bring it to Dan and to my superiors and I would deal with it first hand, whichever players were involved.”
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UCLA teleconference with Howland on SI story

Ben Howland’s opening remarks:
”Obviously this is not a great day for our program, and of course for me. As I said yesterday, I knew some of the details of the Sports Illustrated story, but did not read the entire text until late last night. As you can imagine, I was surprised by some of the assertions that I had no knowledge of, were simply untrue or were taken out of context. I’m responsible for this program and everything that happens in it and if there’s any need to make changes, I’ll make them. I’m proud of our current and former players and our coaches, and I’m confident in where we’re going as we head forward.”

On personally changing since the Final Four run:
Ben Howland: “I’m pretty much the same person. You’re always trying to improve as a coach as you are as a player. Something that I preach to my players constantly is that you never stay the same. You’re always trying to improve and get better. So I hope that I would actually be a better coach than I was during that three year run of Final Fours.”

On what has changed:
Howland: I’ll tell you this, I’m very proud of our team. We’re talking about the last three years, and two of the last three years, we’re going into the last weekend of each season, one game behind the leader with a chance to win the conference, so we’ve been right there. But we didn’t go to the Final Four. And again, our expectations at UCLA are very high, the highest in the country. We want to win championships, and championships are what UCLA’s about, having won the most championships as a basketball program, or even as an entire athletic department. And, so I understand that, and that comes with the territory of being the coach here at UCLA.”

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Lorenzo Mata tweets in support of Howland

Former UCLA center Lorenzo Mata, a three-time Final Four veteran, took to Twitter to opine on the Sports Illustrated piece. Here is his feed.

1) Whoever the Snitch is talking bad about UCLA Bball and Ben Howland really must have no life… Coach Howland is a great coach and even

2) Better person, if it wasn’t for him I would not b the person I am today. He’s a Winner and he knows how to WIN

3) The players don’t have the winners mentality and are not mentally tough and they choose to party instead of winning, they’re not serious

4) If you are at UCLA basketball and want to WIN then be serious and take care of responsibilities, set ur priorities straight!!! SACRIFICE!!!

5) Be smart with decisions you make, Coach Howland can only do so much to help, its up to the players to sacrifice time and effort to WIN

6) UCLA Basketball has to be represented and respected highly… these kids have no heart and no will to win and to sacrifice for the TEAM.

7) I guarantee its not Coach Ben Howlands life, its the fact the the players don’t take it serious and rather go out and be selfish

8) They all complain about losing but how do you want to win if you don’t sacrifice like we did and do whatever it takes to WIN? We sacrificed

9) and put everything aside because we wanted to be successful 3 final fours in a row was cuz we wanted it and we sacrificed and listened to

10) Coach Ben Howland and he made us Winners and better persons in life. Thanks coach and I know UCLA bball will be at the top soon again

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The Puppy Who Lost His Way

What I’m about to say is one of the most insanely idiotic things you will have ever heard. At no point in my rambling, incoherent response have I even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award myself no points, and may God have mercy on my soul.

Ben Howland is a lost puppy.

George Dohrmann’s wonderfully detailed piece in Sports Illustrated – this one, though I’m sure you’ve already read it – illustrated just how much Howland has lost his way.

Only he can find his way back.

He’s done it before, resurrecting a sagging UCLA program that was coming off its worst season in terms of winning percent since 1946. Two years after inheriting a program that had fallen off, Howland had the Bruins back on track, perhaps even ahead of schedule, in the Final Four for the first of three straight years.

His teams were pillars of defensive discipline, hard-nosed, tough. Angry. I didn’t get a first-hand view of the teams, but it’s impossible not to have caught them even sporadically on TV. Often, during late-March. I actually covered the Bruins’ win over Belmont in the first round of the ’06 NCAA Tournament for one of my first “big money” freelance assignments – for the Nashville City Paper. I saw the same things that everyone else saw: guys who were dedicated to the system, a coach who instilled a set of principles and trusted his players to abide by them and a program that was quite healthy.

It was healthy, of course, only because the two most vital organs were healthy.

The head: Howland, firm and steady, true to himself and his principles. Convicted.

The heart: UCLA’s team leaders, from Arron Afflalo to Darren Collison to Russell Westbrook, guys whose work ethics were beyond reproach.

Even when Howland seemed to go against his identity somewhat with the class of 2007 – Kevin Love, as a one-and-done, was a first for Howland at UCLA (Trevor Ariza was really a Steve Lavin recruit) and Chase Stanback wasn’t, and isn’t, particularly known for his gritty defense – you could easily attribute that being a product of a small class. After all, if Howland had a few more scholarships, he would’ve found the next Luc Richard Mbah a Moute or even the next Westbrook, right?

With Love and Westbrook gone – and also Mbah a Moute and Lorenzo Mata – Howland was faced with a difficult dilemma: He could take advantage of the cred garnered by a rarely accomplished three-year stretch or he could continue to assemble classes with varied talent, from superstar to role player.

Howland took advantage. And then some.

While UCLA’s 2005-2007 classes ranked 13th, 21st and 12th, respectively, the Bruins reeled in the country’s top class in 2008. Five players, 22 stars between them, and they believed it should’ve been 25. They followed with the No. 9 class of 2009.

By Year 2, when all but Jrue Holiday remained – the top recruit, the smartest recruit and the most upstanding recruit of the ’08 class – from the first class and Tyler Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson, Mike Moser and Brendan Lane were added, the cancers had taken hold. Drew Gordon was run out after six games, J’Mison Morgan followed after the season. UCLA finished 14-18, and it was quite the dysfunctional year.

Nelson became a media darling for his tenacity, everyone overlooking the Glare, that scary look that he had all the time. It was a scary look. Fans thought it was just intensity. Clearly, as Dohrmann reported, it was more than that. The atmosphere created by Nelson and fostered by Howland was one of a playground at recess. The bully thrived and the teacher was either too busy – or to afraid himself – to punish.

We thought that Howland had gone back to righting the ship last season, when the Bruins rebounded to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. We thought Howland had reeled Nelson in a bit and with Joshua Smith taking a massive leap in 2012 – instead of just being massive – and the addition of the Wears and two senior guards, UCLA could be back in the Sweet 16 at the very least. The media voted the Bruins the preseason conference favorites, and who could blame them?

Only the culture permeated. And spread.

Over the summer, a UCLA assistant coach told me, I thought in jest, “Watch what happens when Reeves doesn’t start.” I kind of blew it off. Yeah, like Howland wasn’t going to start a returning all-conference player. We all know how that worked out. Nelson was booted less than two months into the season. The Bruins regressed, and now stand at 16-13 with two games left in a season, potentially the second time in three seasons that they’ll miss the NCAA Tournament.

And then, this.

Howland must look at himself long and hard in the mirror. Self-reflection doesn’t even begin to describe the level of ownership that Howland must take for the failures of the program. Because that ownership can lead to the success of the program.

Howland has found out that he is not John Calipari. UCLA fans don’t need him to be John Calipari. They need him to be Ben Howland. The Ben Howland that found Mbah a Moute and Afflalo and Collison. The one that turned good high school prospects into great college players into valuable NBA commodities. The one that can teach defensive principles like Stevie Ray Vaughn taught guitar lessons.

He’ll likely get another chance.

Reaction to the Sports Illustrated piece has been a mixture of outright shock, righteous indignation and a bit of sadness that a once-mighty program had fallen, but overall the vibe is, “It could’ve been worse.” The Morgan Center is up in arms – they’ve hired a crisis management team – but unless some major catalysts push for change, it’s still a longshot. Howland is not out of the woods by any stretch, his records in 2009-10 and 2011-12 cement his status on the hot seat.

Only he can cool it off.

By most accounts, the players he has either brought in for the 2012 class or hopes to bring in – the already-signed Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, and the up-for-grabs Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker – are not just quality players but quality guys.

This is a tough game, this college basketball thing, and it’s only going to get tougher. It’s on the head coach to maintain a sense of direction, guided only by his compass. Howland did it for a long time. But now…

He’s a lost puppy.

He just needs to find his way.

(pause)

Knibb High Football Rules!

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UCLA’s First Reponse

UCLA just sent out an email that informed us of a midday teleconference, and with reactions from several involved:

From Chancellor Gene Block:

“It is disheartening for our Bruin community to be confronted with the type of assertions contained in the Sports Illustrated story. We take seriously any challenge to who we are and what we are about, and I am confident that any issues in our men’s basketball program will be rectified.”

From Director of Athletics Dan Guerrero:

“I have discussed the Sports Illustrated story with Coach Howland and Chancellor Block and we will continue to address any issues and concerns. Like many in the Bruin family, I am disappointed. That said, I know that we have, and will continue to provide, the necessary resources, education and support for all of our coaches, staff and student-athletes.”

From Head Men’s Basketball Coach Ben Howland:

“Like everyone else, I am always looking forward to improving as both a person and as a coach. I am proud of the coaches, staff and student-athletes in our program, and I look forward to our future.”

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The SI Story

I didn’t feel comfortable posting a link to the article until it officially went live, but here it is : Check it out

I’ll have a column up on it later, but I’m going through some personal stuff that matter more right now.

Post your thoughts to the story here.

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Gelalich named Pac-12 Player of the Week

FROM UCLA:

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. – Jeff Gelalich of the UCLA baseball team has earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors for the week of Feb. 20-26, as announced by the conference office on Tuesday.

Gelalich batted .500 in four games last week, going 7-for-14 with three home runs, five RBI and seven runs. The junior outfielder from La Verne, Calif., totaled a .611 on-base percentage and 1.143 slugging percentage and did not strikeout in 18 plate appearances.

Gelalich captured his first-ever Pac-12 Player of the Week award after belting two homers in a 19-7 win at Cal State Northridge last Tuesday before going 5-for-10 in UCLA’s three-game series victory over Baylor last weekend.

In the Bruins’ 9-3 triumph on Saturday, Gelalich put UCLA on the board with a towering two-run home run in the first inning. He went 2-for-3 with two RBI and one run in that game. Gelalich went 2-for-4 with two runs, including the game-tying run with two outs in the Bruins’ four-run eighth inning, in Sunday’s 8-6 comeback victory.

Gelalich becomes UCLA’s first Pac-12 Conference Player of the Week selection since Beau Amaral earned the weekly honor May 10, 2010, during his freshman campaign.

UCLA returns to action this week, hosting Long Beach State on Tuesday night (6 p.m.) before playing a three-game series at home against Sacramento State from March 2-4.

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AssistINTROS: Eric Yarber Pt. 3

Throughout the week, I’ll be bringing you some of the opening words from the new UCLA assistant coaches. A very energetic group, with a common purpose. We’ll start with new UCLA wide receivers coach Eric Yarber, who came to the Bruins from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

JG: UCLA receivers have seemed to have a case of mistaken identity year in, year out. There has been a lot of griping about “roles.” How do you address that?
“I look at them and I just want them they to be the best THEY can be. If the best they can be is a 40 or 50 catch receiver, so be it. But I want them the best they can be. If they give me everything they can, and they’re doing everything I tell them to do, very coachable, I know I can take them off their mark. Find the buttons to push, what not to push. How he responds to certain kinds of coaching. I’m not going in with expectations. I have an open mind to try to find some guys to help us win some games. Who are going to be the warriors?”

JG: Shifting from the Pistol to Noel Mazzone’s spread, what kind of technique has to change? Is it good to inherit such a young class to be able to break their bad habits?
EY: “I wouldn’t call them bad habits – different offenses have different skill sets, but what I see in them in this offense is we need guys who are great athletes who can beat people in space and one on one. Seeing those guys in high school a couple years ago, all those guys had those skill sets. Jerry Johnson, he was a great deep threat, a great outside guy who could get to the ball, who could run by guys. I saw Devin and Shaq when they were young with a unique skill sets – guys you could get the ball to in space. That translates in this offense. That’s the philosophy and the basis of this offense. If we do that, we’ve done our job.”
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