Q: With Ben Howland’s job a question mark, how does this impact the status of the commits and recruiting going into next year? Would an Elite Eight save Howland’s job? Why haven’t we heard any details about his job security after that one initial rumor. Is it because we are winning?
A: Yes to the last part. There’s no way Howland gets canned midseason now after the seven-game streak Shabazz and Co. just unleashed. If the team makes an early tournament exit, then Howland will probably be gone along with Shabazz. It would be impossible to fire someone after an Elite Eight unless he crashed a motorcycle while riding with his mistress. The uncertainty in the meantime won’t help recruitment, but UCLA’s top targets for 2013 are already signed. Zach LaVine is the highest ranked at No. 44, per Rivals.com.
Q: Suppose Tony Parker transfers after this season, as some suspect he will. UCLA doesn’t seem to be recruiting any bigs for next year. How will we compete? To me, it seems the best case scenario would then involve Kyle Anderson staying for his sophomore season and defending opposing power forwards. Finally, does Parker actually not realize that he’s virtually guaranteed a starting spot by his junior year, if he hangs in for one more season coming off the bench?
A: If Parker transfers and Anderson leaves, then UCLA will be in terrible shape. That best case scenario is spot on, especially given that Kyle is already starting to defend the four spot more and more. He’s really learning to use his length well, which is part of what made him such an intriguing recruit in the first place. On the last point, it’s hard to be forward-thinking when you go from McDonald’s All-American to playing 20 total minutes over your last five games.
Q: How do you see the Pac-12 hoops race shaking out and where does UCLA finish in the standings?
A: You can check the new power rankings for more conference-wide analysis, but the Bruins look like the second-best team after Arizona and will probably finish there. Third place wouldn’t surprise me either. Avoiding a trip to Oregon helps.
Q: Do the remaining players feel that the team is better now by Josh Smith leaving?
A: The team clearly is better now without Josh Smith, though that’s due mostly to Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson playing better on offense. I don’t think hypothetically reintroducing Smith to today’s team would make it markedly worse given that he only played 13.5 minutes per game, but an out-of-shape Smith wouldn’t be very useful in a fast-break offense. Players have been pretty diplomatic about his departure though.
Q: Is Ben Howland purposely running this offense, or was there a mutiny? Stanford game seemed like a turn in the opposite direction as he forces them to slow down and play defense. I don’t think this team can do both.
A: Howland must realize at this point that the team needs to run in order to be good, though Shabazz first publicly said they should run fewer plays. The Stanford game wasn’t actually that much slower in terms of tempo; it just got bogged down with turnovers and missed shots. UCLA’s offense will benefit if can force more turnovers, something it does terribly right now. That should tick up as the freshmen get better at help defense. Jordan Adams is coming off a career-high seven steals, which is encouraging.
Q: I attended all but two games at the Rose Bowl this season and didn’t really pay much attention to Ellis McCarthy. How would you evaluate his season?
A: He definitely still needs time to develop, and has also been set back by relatively minor surgeries on both knees in the past six months. His physical tools are such that it would be surprising if he doesn’t end up becoming a good player. For comparison, Owa Odighizuwa really showed some thrilling flashes late this fall after two fairly nondescript seasons.
Q: Are DirecTV customers going to have to accept the fact that this year is a no-go with the Pac-12 network? We can all read the statements on both party’s sites, but is there anything below the surface we should know?
A: I haven’t reported on this situation very closely, but Larry Scott clearly doesn’t think the conference has any concessions to make. He consistently points to the fact that several other carriers have it as evidence that the Pac-12 isn’t doing anything wrong. Sorry I’m not of more help here.
Q: Regarding Pauley, there is an article I read and famed architect Frank Gehry looked at our plans and said that if you got 10 sports architects to look at the plans they would all conclude that the plans were flawed. Did they fix these alleged flaws? What is the consensus in the architectural industry regarding Pauley.
A: I think you’re referring to this LA Times piece from 2009. Frank Gehry didn’t express anything nearly that dramatic then, but did contact the UC on behalf of Richard Bergman — the volunteer fundraising committee chair who was ousted because he disagreed with the proposed design. Gehry and Bergman worked out at the same gym.
He (Gehry) subsequently contacted UC officials, saying he thought UCLA had “slipped away” from addressing the arena’s most pressing needs.
“I just thought I should write the [UC] president because of Richard’s concerns,” Gehry said. “I was trying to help him make his point.”
Michael Hallmark, one of the designers of Staples Center and an early consultant in the Pauley redesign, did say this: “It’s just a very convoluted plan. I would be shocked if you didn’t get 10 sports architects to all render that viewpoint.” His concerns revolved mostly around poor crowd flow. That hasn’t felt like a problem from my own impressions walking around the arena.