TAMPA, FL - MARCH 19: Head coach Ben Howland of the UCLA Bruins and his players look on from the bench in the final minute of the game against the Florida Gators during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at St. Pete Times Forum on March 19, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. Florida won 73-65. (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Yesterday I found myself intrigued by CBS Sports basketball guru Gary Parrish's article discussing the recruiting knocks on UCLA and Ben Howland. From an objective standpoint, it's all unfair considering he's only pumped out NBA starting point guard after NBA starting point guard, and looking at the past decade, the discussion even forced me to rank them No. 1 in being the new Point Guard U since the year 2000.
What's fair is fair, and the criticism of UCLA is not. The Bruins have been regarded as a slow-down, defensive-oriented team ever since Howland took over for Steve Lavin, however, the stigma goes deeper than that. Statistics never show just how good some of the players that run through UCLA will translate to the NBA game. The knocks, per Parrish:
They say Howland's style of play doesn't let prospects "show their talents" offensively?
They say his defensive-minded approach isn't fun.
They say he's hard to play for.
But that hasn't stopped UCLA from winning following the downturn of the Arizona program. Even in the final Lute Olson years and before his ugly stepping down, the Bruin teams that went deep into the tournament would stomp all over the Wildcats before doing so.
With Sean Miller now in place at Arizona, the most intriguing aspect of the rivalry comes in how Miller and Howland can recruit against one another. They're relatively in the same grounds, and the Wildcats have pulled out some pretty good recruits from the Los Angeles area already. While Miller has continued to go hard on the recruiting trail on the East Coast, there's bound to be some battles for big-time players out west.
So that's what it comes down to. Howland's insistence that he's teaching guys like Jrue Holiday and Russell Westbrook NBA fundamentals despite their uninspiring numbers and play on the court turned out well. Like Howland, Miller doesn't want to play zone, which is both a characteristic of them wanting players to be accountable, but also a necessary part of learning the NBA expectations.
"I think one of the things that helps our guys is that they go into the league knowing how to guard," Howland told Parrish. "NBA coaches don't want to play guys who are going to go in there and screw it up defensively. Our guys learn how to stay in front of their own guy."
On the offensive end of the floor however, is where the two coaches differ. Miller wants to push it by using transition basketball when the other team is most vulnerable, then switch into a motion offense in the halfcourt. Howland's system, in the recruiting world, is used as a turnoff by his opponents. Miller's system is more fan-friendly, not to mention stat-friendly, but still he's at a disadvantage if he goes head-on with the Bruins with top players out west.
How will Miller recruit against someone with more success in NCAA basketball, more success in sending players to the league?
Derrick Williams' No. 2 pick helps, but the answer could come soon. I expect other Darren Collison situations arising -- you know, when Arizona didn't offer Collison and regretted it for four years and as Josh Pastner recently admitted, beyond. The first in the upcoming line of UCLA vs. Arizona recruiting battles is of course 2012's best overall player, Shabazz Muhammad.
UCLA and Arizona appear (kind of, maybe, who knows) to be two of the frontrunners for Muhammad, and his recruitment should he pick either will end up being huge momentum for two teams looking to get back to the Final Fours that fans around the respective teams expect. It'll also be huge momentum in a struggle for Pac-12 supremacy.
Above all, the future between the two schools is set for drama in the recruiting world. And come gametime, expect bitterness over offers that never came to motivate and chips on shoulders being as harsh as open wounds.