Monday, June 05, 2006

Afflalo, Farmar Put Howland In A Tough Spot

By Steve Bisheff
The Orange County Register

Put yourself in Ben Howland's spot.

On second thought, don't. You wouldn't want to be there.

UCLA's basketball coach finds himself between a rock and a blue-and-gold hard place.

He wants to do what he can for his two sophomore stars, Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo, in terms of the upcoming NBA draft. But at the same time, he wants to do what's best for his basketball team.

The problem is he can't do both.

"There's really not a lot I can do about it," Howland said. "I want what's best for them."

Howland can't say it, but here's what that would be:

Stay in school, gentlemen. Together, you form the finest college backcourt in America. You got a taste of the Final Four last season, making it all the way to the championship game before losing to Florida.

Why would you give up a shot at winning UCLA's first national title in 12 years now? Why throw away the fun and the glamour, the chance to be the big men on campus again?

We all know why. It is spelled m-o-n-e-y.

People, the ones who want to get something out of this themselves, are whispering in their ears, telling them they will be first-round picks or high second-rounders, reminding them they don't need classwork and final exams when they can trade them for making big-time cash and hanging out at glitzy clubs.

Farmar and Afflalo shouldn't listen to them. Another year in Westwood, another season of refining their skills under one of the better teachers in the country, another year to gain experience and maturity, well, that's priceless.

At best, the NBA gurus say Farmar will be a late first-round selection, while Afflalo is no cinch even to be picked in the two rounds of the June 28 draft.

If they stay another year, Farmar could go from, say, a No.27 overall choice to No.10 or 12. Afflalo could vault from the outside looking in to the sweet inside of round one.

Not only would they get more money by waiting, they would get something more important - added minutes. Late first-rounders mostly sit in the NBA as rookies.

Top 10 or 12 picks usually get to play right away.

Imagine how it will feel, guys, in March, while you're sitting on the bench bored every other night, and your old teammates are immersed in the madness of the tournament, playing their hearts out.

Run that through your minds a few times before making your decisions.

Howland has tried to get at least part of that through to the two kids who have been the cornerstones of his program.

"I've been very candid with both of them," Howland said.

"I've tried to show them examples. Brandon Roy of Washington wouldn't have been a first-round pick a year ago. Now he's considered a top-three selection.

"Same with (Adam) Morrison. He probably would have been in the 15-to-20 range last year. Now he's going in the top five. It's not an exact science."

Still, the NBA's siren song filters into the ears of innocent, young athletes. It is their lifelong goal, and after skimping by, barely able to pay for a pizza on a date, a $1.5 million contract isn't easy to dismiss.

Hey, it wouldn't be easy for any us.

But the thing is, the money won't go away. Basketball players usually don't get hurt the way football players do. The risk is minimal.

So why rush? When you're a major star on a campus like UCLA, why give it up before it's necessary?

Farmar and Afflalo have to be thinking about some of this, even as they schedule workouts for NBA teams. Farmer will be seen by the Lakers, Clippers, Suns, Kings and Nets, among others. Afflalo has workouts set with the Lakers, Pacers, Bulls, Cavaliers and Suns.

It has to be exciting, but the clock is ticking.

"The cutoff date is June 18," Howland said. "They have to decide by then."

Howland knows outside sources are a factor.

"They're always around, telling kids they're not getting enough shots and things like that," he said.

Parents enter into it, too. Rumors were rampant around Pauley Pavilion this past season that Farmar's dad didn't think his son was properly showcased in Howland's system.

Howland denies that.

"I think Jordan's parents have been very supportive," he said. "But you have to realize, these kids dream of being an NBA player."

And yes, the parents dream, too.

Howland has been busy enough with banquets and dinners this offseason to help take his mind off the draft. But he can't get away from it entirely.

With Farmar and Afflalo, the Bruins would be a top five preseason pick next season. Without them, they'd be lucky to be in the top 20.

"The whole key to this thing is to try to control your emotions," Howland said.

Right. Let's see how controlled he is come June 18.

(reprinted with permission)


(photo credit: AP)


At Jun 5, 2006, 2:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, let's hope that rumor was not true because we all know and even the east cost bias knows that Jordan Farmar is one of the top point guards in the country. I am glad these kids are being deliberate and I hope they come to the decision they feel comfortable with and one with which they will be at peace.

At Jun 5, 2006, 11:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just another two weeks and they'll have to decide. Pretty certain Arron will return. I think Jordan is pretty much gone...unfortunately - but good for him since he'll probably be a mid-first rounder.


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