Dec. 28, 2004
I was able to see UCLA's rebuilding project firsthand recently. Let me tell you, coach Ben Howland has things on the right track in his second season leading the Bruins. I expect UCLA to be a consistent Top 15 team within the next three years.
Hey, it isn't easy when a program slips a bit. This is UCLA, Pauley Pavilion, the place where the Wizard of Westwood coached, baby! Names like Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton played here, where national-championship banners proudly wave.
In the past two seasons, UCLA went a combined 21-36. That isn't exactly living up to expectations. Consider that from 1967-78, in 12 seasons, the Bruins lost just 24 times.
|Last season, coach Ben Howland's first in Westwood, UCLA went 11-17. But given time, he can rebuild the Bruins.|
Howland is capable of turning things around, and he has the track record to prove it. In his first two seasons at Northern Arizona, his teams went 9-17 and 7-19. But his last three teams each won 21 games, including a near upset of Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament.
Then, at Pittsburgh, after debuting at 13-15, the Panthers went 76-25 in his last three seasons before he took the UCLA job in April 2003. In the 2001-02 season, Howland led Pitt to a school-record 29 wins and he was the consensus national coach of the year.
Last season, his first at UCLA, the Bruins went 11-17 (7-11 Pac-10). This season, they're off to a 6-2 start. Their first Pac-10 game is Friday at Oregon State.
The 12th head coach in UCLA hoops history, Howland is building with solid young talent. He started four freshmen in a 76-64 loss at Michigan State last week. That experience at the Izzone, even though it was vacation time for students, will help in the long term.
Freshman point guard Jordan Farmar has been one of the nation's impact diaper dandies. Another freshman in the backcourt, Arron Afflalo, has shown an ability to post other guards down low. Freshman Josh Shipp displayed nice range against the Spartans, scoring a game-high 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
The future is really bright for the Bruins, with five top recruits arriving next season. Canadian Kelly Wright could be a factor right away. Look for big things from the entire group.
You can get healthy at big-time programs these days if you have something to sell. It helps to have a great tradition, a great campus and the dedication of the coaching staff. Look at what happened in a short time at Oklahoma and USC with their football programs. The same could happen with Notre Dame football.
UCLA basketball fans have to be happy that Howland is leading the way as the program tries to return to its glory days. Bruins fans must preach patience, as good things can come to those who wait!
Dick Vitale coached the University of Detroit and the Pistons before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.