UCLA fans have a lot on their psychological platters right now. Not only are they doing their best to forget the last four years of Ben Howland's tenure, they must also wrestle with what it means that a coach run out of Iowa in the same spring UCLA went to its second of three-straight Final Fours was just appointed as Howland's replacement. So my apologies, Bruins fans. I don't mean to pile on, but I would like to recount my favorite Howland story of the past season.
On Saturday, March 2, after UCLA completed a season sweep of Arizona, Howland made a
startling blatantly obvious statement: Freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad had just played his final game in Pauley Pavilion:
"That was his last game in Pauley, no doubt about it," Howland said. "I'm very much a realist now. I knew going into this deal that this was a one-year deal, and it should be. He's a lottery pick. He's a top-five pick. When you have that going for you, it is absolutely the right thing."
Pretty straightforward stuff, right? Howland knew the deal when he signed Muhammad, whether he knew Muhammad's father, Ron Holmes, had shaved a year off his son's real age or not: After eight months, the kid was gone. Holmes had spent the better part of a decade grooming his son for NBA riches. Of course he was going to leave for the NBA at the first possible moment. And there's nothing wrong with that! Let's just be real about it.
But for some strange reason I still can't fathom, Howland's
startling blatantly obvious statement about Muhammad's draft decision generated at least some minor local controversy. When asked, Muhammad handled it well. "I never said I'm not coming back even though I know I'm in a pretty good position draft-wise," he said. "But I'm looking at our team next year and we could be really good. I'm just worried about this season right now and whether I want to come back or not -- that'll be after the season." Within a couple of days, it got to the point where Howland actually had to apologize at his next news conference, if less out of necessity than optical preference:
"I'm sorry that I even -- I'm sometimes too honest because it would have been better to have answered that question differently the other day because I've never discussed it with Shabazz," Howland said. "It's just kind of obvious when a kid is a lottery pick that they're going to be going to the NBA in this day and age."
But, but ... wait! He might come back! Don't make the decision for him, Ben! Let kids be kids! Loud noises!
The Pac-12 co-freshman of the year on Tuesday announced the news that had been expected since he arrived in Westwood: He's leaving to enter the NBA draft.
And ... fin.