By now you probably know that I am a big UCLA basketball fan. Now that the regular season’s over, now it’s rumor season, and with Steve Alford taking over the helm at the Bruins head coach position, there are tons of rumors and speculation abound!
This time however, I’m going to do something different and assume that readers aren’t that “into” college basketball. It’s one thing being a Laker fan and understanding teamwork, drama, role-playing, and coaching schemes, but it’s a whole different beast when you look at college basketball, considering that many players are looking at college ball as a pit stop in their professional careers.
That’s a huge factor that many people have faulted Ben Howland for, and I understand completely. Politics aside (but I will get into that later), Howland has recruited some of the best prospects in the nation. So what’s the problem? It’s the pit stop mentality – “one and dones.” Sure you’re pulling in big talent, but that’s good for short term results and makes it difficult to establish teams that work well together for more than one year. You get the “star player” mentality coming out and players seek the limelight more than effective, unselfish team play.
Giving credit where it is due, Howland did recruit names like Arron Affalo, Kevin Love, Jordan Farmar, Russel Westbrook, and Darren Collison (who stayed all four years in college and has had an excellent career in the NBA playing unselfish basketball and setting all kinds of assist records for his team).
We do want winners and all-stars on the team, but when you’re able to recruit local talent that enjoys playing at the collegiate level and being a part of the Bruins legacy you can have something special. That’s part of what made Wooden such a great coach. His players wanted to play for him and be a part of the Bruin legacy and family. Sure it’s a different era now, but there is plenty of homegrown talent to be had in California. Not only does recruiting these players create potential 4-year college players, but you also encourage fandom within the state and players to root for who will be around for more than a season. It really helps with engagement and gives the fans reason to come back year after year to watch their favorite players grow and develop skills that will help them in the NBA.
So why has Howland been scouting all over the country when there’s plenty of backyard talent to be had? Some say it has to do with his relationship with AAU coaches in California. The AAU stands for the Amateur Athletic Union – it’s a very popular league which MANY star basketball players have been a part of. Like everything, there are many pros and cons – Michael Beasley of the Phoenix suns spoke out about the AAU in 2009 about the lack of fundamental practice and teaching in the AAU, citing the lack of emphasis on defense.
So Howland reportedly made some moves that were unpopular in the west coast AAU coaching circles that is said to have negatively impacted his recruiting potential. That’s the politics I was talking about before – many people also cite that he’s fairly hard-nosed as a coach and is “old-fashioned,” and that also isn’t going to help much in diplomatic situations.
Hopefully Alford will break the trend and convince some of UCLA’s incoming talent to commit more than a single year of their time to the program. Let’s make Wooden proud and bring another national title to Westwood. What do you think Alford’s strengths are compared to Howland’s? Do you think he’s a good fit as a Bruin? Tweet me @DrBillDorfman #UCLA!