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UCLA Hired a Coach: A Mixed Reaction to Steve Alford

If anyone is suited for a pressure job like this it’s Steve. He grew up dealing with pressure. Anything about Indiana basketball is pressure. In addition, the University of New Mexico takes their basketball seriously. He’s not the kind of guy who will shy away from what expectations are about at UCLA. He’ll handle this with dignity, class and he’s ready for this. -Dan Guerrero


Well, UCLA and athletic director Dan Guerrero hired a coach.  Before dissecting the choice, I’d like to welcome Steve Alford to the Bruin family. We’ll do our best to give you the kind of patience that we showed Howland during his first few years, but the fact is that this is a fanbase that badly needs to win. You need to restore UCLA to where it belongs – as a top program in college basketball. A program that wins, year in and year out. A program that is a destination for the right recruits, especially from the West Coast. I sure hope you’re the right man for the job.
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UCLA-USC Football Preview

Growing up in Southern California, the UCLA Bruins stood a chance every year to beat the hated U$C Trojans. I have memories of Bruins teams that went to the Rose Bowl (getting crushed by Wisconsin) and squads that consistently produced NFL starters (not simply kickers). Those days are long gone, and since Y2K infected all of our computers and wreaked havoc on the global economy, UCLA has had a crap football team. We hired a boring/awful coach in Karl Dorrell, let him have the reigns for way too long, and felt comfortable with simply qualifying for one of the lower tier Pac-10 bowls. 
Then we decided, “Hey maybe we should aspire to something beyond the Sun Bowl!”, and instead of hiring a qualified replacement, threw away another half decade on Rick Neuheisel. 
But now, only 10 games into the Jim Mora era, the Bruins stand on the precipice of being relevant once again.

Mora has taken a squad of physical youngsters and has created, by all accounts, a “tough” team. The youth of the Bruins cannot be overstated with a red-shirt freshman quarterback in Brett Hundley boldly leading the way. On more than one occasion this year, Hundley has stared down a 4thquarter deficit and rallied his boys back to victory (watch this drive this kid is good enough to play on Sunday). Mora has been helped by a pair of fantastic veterans in Jonathan Franklin (UCLA All-time rushing leader) and Joseph Fauria (6’7” touchdown machine) as well as a new playing surface on the practice field. Franklin and Fauria have given Hundley the options he needs to establish a true spread offense, and the new turf has kept the Bruins remarkably healthy this season.

On the other side of town, things could not be going worse. The golden boy quarterback Matt Barkley decided to come back for one final year to break every offensive record in the book, win a national championship, and bring the Heisman back to U$C for the first time since Reggie Bush*. Instead, the season has been a series of embarrassing headlines for Lane Kiffin and the supposedly “non-cheating” incarnation of the Trojans. 

First came Kiffin’s assertion that he would not vote for his own team to be top ranked in the coaches poll, only to do so. The USA Today Sport Coaches Poll Administrator ultimately revealed Kiffin’s vote in order to “protect the poll’s integrity.” Next came a spat with a local reporter Kiffin banned for two weeks for reporting an injury to kicker Andre Heidari. There was some jersey trickeration that many thought violated the spirit of NCAA rules. But the final nail in the “integrity coffin” came last week when it was revealed that a student manager for the team deflated footballs during the Oregon-USC game in order to give Barkley and his receivers an advantage. The manager was fired and Coach Kiffin maintains the coaching staff had no involvement. These incidents, on their own and at any other school would probably not be signs for concern. However, in their first year back from a postseason ban levied by the NCAA for violations during the Bush era, USC is seeing its reputation once again tarnished bit by sordid bit.

All of these incidents could have been swept under the table (or at least ignored by much of Los Angeles) if the Trojans were winning games. But they have been losing when they were largely expected to win, including contests to Stanford and Arizona on the road.  Granted, Stanford and Arizona both have strong squads this season, but the Trojans have the talent and depth to handle those conference foes. 

Perhaps the most telling loss of the sea

Requiem for Boom Dizzle

It’s hard to describe how deflating it was to watch Baron Davis destroy his knee this week against the Heat. I have been replaying it over and over again in my head over the last few days. Watching him plant his foot and then just collapse. Anyone who saw it knew that it was a major injury immediately, potentially career-ending. Sure enough, news came out that he tore his ACL/MCL along with a partial tear of the patella tendon. He’s 33 and will surely miss at least next season, but a recovery at 34 seems unlikely. If this is it, there is no doubt that Baron, aka Boom Dizzle, BD, and the Original Insane Beard (sorry James Harden), has left an indelible mark on the NBA and the sports world at large.
As an LA native and UCLA fan, I’ve been a huge fan of his for the last 15 years, since the day the young phenom stepped foot in Westwood. In high school, BD was a McDonald’s All-American and Gatorade National Player of the Year who also happened to win the Slam Dunk Contest. To say that he was exciting in college would be a tremendous understatement. Baron Davis was a freak athlete, a dynamic force on the court, and an unbelievably creative playmaker. He possessed an intangible star quality while dominating at UCLA and was one of the best in-game dunkers I’ve ever seen. Despite an ACL injury in college, he was drafted third overall by the Charlotte Hornets, where I continued to follow his career.
BD spent six seasons in Charlotte where he was twice an All-Star and peaked at 22.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game. Charlotte won a couple of playoff series under his leadership and he had some amazing moments, but Baron left his mark after his trade to the Golden State Warriors. After Don Nelson came on as coach, he put in an up-tempo system designed for Baron’s strengths and served as the perfect outlet for his game. This was where the casual NBA fan fell in love with Boom Dizzle, who was fearless and daring in his role as composer of the chaotic symphony that was Warriors basketball.
Armed with a not quite senile Nelson daring to play small ball and a cast of characters, Baron Davis led his team to a 4-2 first round upset of the 67-win, top seeded Dallas Mavericks. It was the first instance of an 8 seed upsetting a #1 seed  since the NBA changed first round series to 7 games. The highlights still give me goose bumps. Baron Davis averaged 25 PPG and was the clear ringleader of those NBA misfits, whose ranks included Stephen Jackson, Jason Richardson, Monta Ellis, Al Harrington, and Matt Barnes. Afterwards, Steve Kerr called BD, “outrageous…stunningly athletic and creative and explosive.” Although the Warriors fell to the Jazz in the next round, their team, as well as the slogan “We Believe,” will live on in NBA lore (as will this monstrous dunk on AK-47).

This was undoubtedly the peak of Baron’s NBA career, but he spent one more season in Golden State before withering outside of NBA relevance for the Clippers and then the Cavaliers. This year, he resurrected his career for the playoff-bound Knicks, but was out of shape and not able to truly contribute despite a wide-open starting spot after Jeremy Lin went down. Between the injury problems and extra weight he’s carried nearly his entire NBA career, you get the sense that Baron only scratched the surface of what he’s capable of. Still, there’s no doubt he was one of the top point guards in the league in his prime and left us plenty to wax philosophical about.

I’ve always thought Baron was the NBA player I’d most like to be friends with in real life.  Just look at this awesomRead more...

Restoring Hope in Westwood: UCLA’s 2012 Basketball Recruiting Class

“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”
John Wooden

Having been indoctrinated by my father in early childhood, I have been a UCLA basketball fan my whole life and it’s been quite the roller coaster ride to say the least. After winning the title in 1995, UCLA was outed in the first round by Princeton in 1996. Shortly after, Coach Jim Harrick was dismissed for off the court transgressions. Steve Lavin, whose rotations still make me angry nearly a decade later, took over and defined “up and down” in his tenure. His teams consistently underachieved with the considerable talent they had and eventually had UCLA’s first losing season in decades.

Coach Ben Howland took over a program in shambles but rebounded quickly by recruiting talented but gritty, defensive-minded players like Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo, and Darren Collison. In his third season, Howland took these players and started a run of three consecutive Final Fours, something only Tom Izzo and Coach K have accomplished since Wooden. With guys like Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook in the league, UCLA has the best collection of young talent in the NBA. Howland develops players who put the team first and played hard-nosed defense, the kind of players who are able to contribute immediately in the NBA. When nihilistic basketball robot John Hollinger projects NBA performance for college players, he even adds a UCLA coefficient because UCLA players consistently outperform similar rookies from other schools.

Nevertheless, the last three years have seen UCLA regress to a very mediocre basketball team, one that has missed the tourney 2 out of 3 times and been much worse than the quality of the Lavin teams that got him fired. The 2011-2012 outfit figured it out by the end and were a PG removed from being a tournament team and the class of the Pac-12, but people started to wonder what had gone awry at UCLA. Sports Illustrated published an inflammatory article trying to profile a program in serious decay. A lot of people, including me, wanted Howland gone before that article, but strangely that article made me think that Howland needed a chance for redemption and was just a few solid recruits away from legitimacy again.

Honestly, most of the news in that article wasn’t news to me. I knew Reeves Nelson was a trouble maker who got special treatment and should have been dismissed earlier. Same with Drew Gordon. Both were a far cry from Wooden’s showdown with Walton over a haircut, that’s for sure. I was disappointed that Howland had given them exceptions, but the article’s other major allegation was that UCLA players partied and drank like normal college kids, which is not exactly a tenure-ending violation. To me, the most damning criticism of UCLA over the last few years is that the teams have lacked Howland’s grind-it-out mentality and spunk like the Collison-led teams. They even had to resort to playing zone defense! Upon reflection, I realized that the reason why those Collison/Afflalo/Farmar teams were also successful because they had the right leaders on the team. By all accounts, those players set the culture and tone for the program, getting all the other players to buy in and leading by example. In today’s star power driven college game, your best players have to dictate the tempo, not the upper classmen like used to be the case. Simply put, UCLA’s stars were the problem. Howland’s top recruits were the wrong choices, on and off the court, and it destroyed the momentum his program had been building.

College bas

Bracket Advice: Do You Dawg

This time of year, everyone is a college basketball expert. Everywhere you look, there are talking heads that know exactly what your picks should be within your pool.

I am no expert.

I just love college basketball. I watch way too much college basketball. I will watch even more of it this weekend as the tournament begins and most of my life falls by the wayside (I plan on having the CBS basketball song stuck in my head until mid-April).

Since everyone is an expert, and everyone has their own pool, I am going to provide my advice for how to strategically succeed in your office/family/friends pool.

I believe there are three major strategies when it comes to NCAA brackets.Read more...

UCLA Reaction: Howland and Guerrero Must Go

I was not shocked to read the article by George Dorhmann yesterday in Sports Illustrated. Many Bruins fans have been waiting for this expose for quite some time. Quite frankly, I am not surprised by many of his allegations and I am a little relieved that the wrongdoings at UCLA did not go as far.

As you may know, Dorhmann and his thorough reporting style have been responsible for the end of coaching careers across the college athletics landscape (most recently ending the memorabilia-for-tattoos fiasco at Ohio State University). His history with UCLA goes back to when he first reported on a scandal involving Baron Davis and then Bruins head coach Jim Harrick. That article cost Harrick his job and ultimately led to years of mediocrity with Steve Lavin, a brief return to the top with Howland, and then back to mediocrity and embarrassment.
I have used this venue before to air my issues with Howland. The article cements my belief that Howland is out of his element amongst superstar recruits at UCLA. I could not have begun to believe that the once firm coaching style of Big-East Ben had eroded to enabling many of his star players both on and off the court. The fact that Dohrmann documented first person player accounts of specific instances where Howland made exceptions/gave preferential treatment to Reeves Nelson (and others), only affirms my thoughts that Howland’s character and discipline have been compromised. I was on board for firing him before the article, and I am even more resolute in that demand now that I know what really was happening behind the scenes.… Read more...

Ben Howland: The Tragedy Of Success In The Pac-12

I like UCLA Basketball Coach Ben Howland. In fact, I would say that I am a huge fan of his philosophy. I love that he employs man-to-man defense as the basis for his entire strategy. The depth of his playbook on the DEFENSIVE end has proved time and again to take marginally successful basketball players (Luc Richard Mbah A Moute) and turn them into valuable NBA assets.

Howland came in like a hurricane. He took over a program that had seen highly touted recruits and basketball players (Baron Davis, Earl Watson) languishing under Steve Lavin (Lavin’s defensive philosophy was him yelling “Hands up!” repetitively at players). Now of course, languishing is relative as Lavin’s players continued to manage their way into the Sweet-16 in spite of his ineptitude (big, non USC word there). His first years on the job were categorized by strong recruiting classes filled with athletic-tough players. By 2005, the Bruins completed one of the most magnificent and gratifying runs in the NCAA tournament of recent memory. I can still vividly remember being a freshman in college in Washington state when the Bruins did the unthinkable, in beating that mustachioed (now 2-time world champion) Adam Morrison. Howland’s tenacious defenders led by Aaron Afflalo and Jordan Farmer literally made a man cry like a little girl on national television.

The beauty of those early years, for a large part, was because of the unbelievable level of success. Going to the Final Four three times in four years, while beating storied programs like Kansas, felt right. There is something natural about UCLA being dominant in college basketball. Ever since the days of Wooden, excellence in programs like UNC, Duke, and Kansas became the norm. Fans in Westwood consistently opined for the good old days where a Pac-10 title was assured, almost like a birthright, for the program that hoisted 10 National Championship banners under Coach. Having such great success under Howland, especially with a system that required strong fundamentals, just felt right.
Another beauty of Howland was that his players weren’t superstars; they were college athletes who graduated (albeit sometimes after a summer of finishing up once in the league). Jordan Farmer, though now an NBA point guard, did not get to the league because of his unbelievable athletic talents. But when Jordan did get to the league, he carried a UCLA education with him. The same can be said of Afflalo, Josh Shipp, and Darren Collison. Call me a purist, but I like it when college athletes you know, graduate college.
That’s when the problems started.
With great success comes greater recruiting. Howland, always known for having a solid staff of assistant coaches who can recruit, broke open the national scene and was allowed access to talent the likes of which he had never seen before. Suddenly, the cupboard is being stocked with players like Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Jrue Holiday. The first signs of tension arose when KLove and Howland bucked heads over the lack of touches going to the double-double beast in the low post.
The KLove team, like the ones before it, went to the Final Four, but it brought Howland into a bold new territory he had never seen before. His star player left for the NBA well before graduating. He also lost Westbrook and Mbah A Moute to the league in one of the most impressive showings by UCLA in the NBA draft since the 70’s (two top 5 picks). All would be well though, because a top notch recruiting class was coming in to save the day…
Enter J’Mison Morgan, Drew Gordon, Jrue Holiday, and Jerime And… Read more...