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Will Ben Howland’s recruiting class solve UCLA’s problems?

Apr 11, 2012, 11:09 PM EDT

UCLA v Arizona - Quarterfinals Getty Images

Shabazz Muhammad had plenty to say during his national television appearance to announce his commitment to UCLA.

In addition to confirming earlier reports that he would be headed to UCLA, Muhammad said the reason he wanted to go to UCLA was the “challenge” of rebuilding the program after “how bad they were” in recent years. He said he wanted to get them back on top, he commented on their record 11 national titles and he talked with Kyle Anderson about what it would be like to team up for the Bruins.

But easily the most interesting comment that Muhammad made during the ESPN U broadcast was this: “Hopefully we can sell out Pauley.”

It’s not a secret that UCLA has had issues with attendance of late. That was the case prior to last season, when the Bruin’s attendance was dreadful thanks to renovations at their home court, Pauley Pavilion, that forced them to play home games at the LA Sports Arena 17 miles away. In a game against Pepperdine in late November, one of the nation’s blue-bloods only managed to attract 34 students.

If anything, that is the difference that this year’s recruiting class is going to make.

Howland has brought in two of the nation’s consensus top three recruits in Muhammad and Anderson. He also landed top 75 recruit Jordan Adams and is in the running to bring in top 30 big man Tony Parker, a haul that would, at worst, be the nation’s second best class. There are still question marks littering this roster. Can Kyle Anderson run the point on a full-time basis? How much will Howland have to rely on Larry Drew? Is there enough perimeter options on the roster? Will Joshua Smith be in shape? Are the Wears actually any good?

And while it may take some time to answer all of those question marks fully, what is clear is that this recruiting class will bring the excitement back to Westwood and, hopefully, help to sell the tickets. Before Muhammad’s commitment was even official, a hoops-loving friend from Southern California messaged me about how excited he was for this group and how he would be attending more than just one game next season.

That, more than anything, is likely the reason that Howland has received a stay of execution as the head coach of the Bruins.

Remember, were talking about a coach who, reportedly, was running a program where members of the team thought that he was allowing one of their teammates to intentionally injure them without repercussion. That’s not exactly high-praise for a head coach.

This group will, at least for one season, help to erase those memories and the fact that Howland’s been unable to build on the success his program had from 2006-2008, when they made three straight Final Fours. The question is whether or not  the wins last. Is this a turning point for the UCLA program or has Howland managed to recruit his way into a pair of one-and-done superstars that will be a temporary solution to a much bigger problem?

In other words, will Muhammad and Anderson buy Howland the time he needs to fix the issues within his program, or are they the bandaid used to mend a broken arm?

Whatever the case, it’s not crazy to think that Howland’s job depends on it.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

  1. barroomhero80 - Apr 12, 2012 at 12:24 AM


  2. 1historian - Apr 12, 2012 at 6:57 AM

    UCLA has won 11 titles. 10 of those came between 1963 and 1975. Then John Wooden retired and things have never been the same since. UCLA used to stand for something honorable and decent with John Wooden at the helm – those days are long gone.

    • Rob Dauster - Apr 12, 2012 at 7:02 PM

      Pretty sure that the John Wooden era was one of the dirtiest in the history of college basketball. Google Sam Gilbert.

  3. gq2scoops - Apr 12, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    How bout another question of Shabazz’s recruiting? It’s blatantly obvious that his dad Ron Holmes pimped out his son Shabazz and Adidas is footing the bill for UCLA top prized recruit…It’s an absolute shame that this kid went to a program which plays a complete opposite style of basketball than which he prefers…It’s a shame that even with consecutive losing seasons and a PR nightmare halfway thru the season talking about how bad the UCLA program has gotten behind the scenes, that they still will end up with a top 3 recruiting class…Why doesn’t the NCAA step up and start lighting fires??? It can’t be anymore obvious Howland sold his soul to keep his job…Even with all this talent, his style will keep the handcuffs on these kids and will likely lead them to go pro after next year or some kids will transfer out just like so many have the last few years.

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