Friday, March 30, 2007

Press Conference Notes Final 4: Ben Howland

By Bruin Basketball Report

Q&A with UCLA Coach Ben Howland

Q. When you take a look at this grouping of teams, do you see this
as being a very competitive Final Four? If you do, how come?

COACH HOWLAND: Well, I think you look, there's a 1-2, 1-2 again
match-up in the semifinals of the national championship. That speaks to
how outstanding a job was done in terms of picking the field and how it
was seeded.

We had to go a -- I'm speaking from our own experience -- a very tough
road just to get to this point, to beat Weber State, who had a great
year, to win over Indiana, who is very, very well-coached.

Kelvin Sampson does an incredible job. We were up 16 in that game. Had
to fight back after having the game tied late in the game. To have to
match up and face my very best friend and old team, University of
Pittsburgh, Jamie Dixon, was very difficult. A great team again.

Then to go through Kansas. Kansas is definitely the best team we've
played to this point and now we're on to I think the best team we'll
have played all year in Florida.

You look at the other side of the bracket with Ohio State, who has had
just an incredible season. Especially when you consider three of their
top four scorers are freshmen.

Lewis is an outstanding senior who made the big shot against Xavier.
Their freshman class has to be the best in the country obviously with
big Greg inside and Cook. I just love Conley, Jr. He is an unbelievably
good point guard. He plays like he's 30 years old when I watch Conley

On the other side, Georgetown, I'm so happy for John Thompson, III. His
father, who I had a chance to get to know having been in the Big East,
knowing the tradition of the Big East Conference. He is a great
teacher, John Thompson, III.

I think Pete Carril, you go back to the old school, Pete Carril is
truly a genius in college basketball. His philosophies you see how not
only at Georgetown, but you've seen the NBA over the last decade both
in Sacramento with the Wizards right now, a different number of teams
that employ that offense.

We all thought of Princeton being the slow-down offense. If you employ
it at the NBA level, these are the highest-scoring games. It's about
passing, moving out the ball, cutting, knowing how to play without the
basketball. It's really fun for a coach to watch.

My hat's off to John Thompson, III and Georgetown to be back in the
Final Four, their first one since '85. I'm sure they'll be in here
quite a few more times in their future the way they're recruiting.

Q. Noah and Horford are such dominant, big players. What kind of
approach do you take when you're trying to get past guys like that?
What attitude do you want your big men to take in the game?

COACH HOWLAND: Well, we know we're up against the two best big guys on
the same team in the country. When you say "guys like that," there just
aren't guys like that. I mean, they're obviously a rarefied duo. I
can't think of another one in recent memory that has two lottery picks,
because they are both NBA lottery picks when they decide to come out
either this year or a year from now.

Everybody thought, for example, Noah would come out last year. I just
really think it's special that he's having so much fun in college,
doesn't need to do it financially to help his family, that he came back
to have fun and stay a Gator for another year. He would have been the
No. 1 pick.

Horford has a dad who is a pro, former pro player. Tito is a great guy.
These guys, their fathers were former professional athletes. They have
a special framework and point of reference that's probably unique
compared to most other kids. They're big, tough, strong, physical,
skilled, great passers.

One of the things I think when you see a good basketball player, if you
see someone who is a good passer, he really -- you can't be a good
passer and not have a good understanding. Good passing skills,
understanding of the game, correlate. I love Coach Wooden's philosophy:
If you're a good offensive player you that definitely be able to be a
good defensive player.

They both defend. You go to the Florida team, they're shooting 53% on
the year from the field. They're shooting 40% from three on the field.
42.3 in the last 22 games.

The way I look at things, when you shoot 40% from three, that's like
shooting 60% from two 'cause you're making 12 points on 10 shots. You
throw out their threes, you just look at the shots that they attempt.
Inside the three-point line, they're shooting 59.8% as a team. This
team in reality is shooting 60% from the field on the year. They're
holding their opponents to 40%. That's a 20 percentage point
differential. They outboard their opponents by seven boards a game.
That is domination. They lead the country in points margin of victory
over their opponents.

I mean, this is an incredible team. This is one of the great basketball
teams in college basketball, in history. You have to give it to 'em.
They would be the first team to win back-to-back championships since
the Duke teams in the early '90s. So we know we're facing a very, very
daunting challenge starting with their big guys.

They play inside out. They also have great guard play. Brewer is
another kid who will be a top draft pick when he decides to go to the
NBA. I love Green. I love Green. I remember coaching against his father
as an assistant at UC Santa Barbara when I worked for Jerry Pimm. That
guy is a great point guard, so tough. He's continued to improve his
game. Humphrey may be the best shooter.

If they weren't playing here right now he'd be winning the three-point
contest. I guess they had it yesterday. He's shooting 49% from three
over the last 23 games, which to me is like shooting about 75% from

So they have a great team. Richard comes off the bench. Hodge comes off
the bench. Those guys would start for most teams in the country. We've
got our hands full.

Q. You've already alluded to this is the year of the heavyweight,
the four of you here plus Kansas and Carolina. The six teams are all
dominated by non-seniors, with the exception of Lewis, Butler. It's and
underclass year with terrific freshmen in the first year of the NBA
rule. Is this the face of college basketball for the near future at

COACH HOWLAND: Yeah, I think that rule is in place. It
obviously helps college basketball from the standpoint of having the
star players, the last 10 to 15 years would have gone straight into the
pros right out of high school.

Again, I've been outspoken on the fact that I don't think it's fair to
not allow a kid to go straight from high school to the NBA. I don't
think it's right. I think I have great respect and love our kids in the
armed services. They can go in the armed services when they're age 18.
You can vote at a young age. You should be able to make that choice.

What I like the idea of that's been thrown out is that if you do elect
to go to college, then it should be a two-year commitment. I do think
that's a good idea. It's somewhat what they do in college baseball. You
can go right out of high school to the pros, as many do. But if you
actually go to college you have to stay for three years.

Football is a different animal because of the fact that it's such a
violent physical sport. I totally agree with what they've done with
football. To throw a 20-year-old out there with the men in the NFL is
irresponsible just in fear for their safety, physical safety.

That being said, to have Oden playing right now, to have Kevin Durant
playing. Kevin Durant, what a special talent he is. What a joy to
watch. What a great player. We're going to have at UCLA next year the
best high school player in the country coming to UCLA, which we're very
pleased about, in Kevin Love.

Kevin Love is a big man at 6'10", 250 pounds, out of Lake Oswego,
Oregon, who will be one of the best passing big men in years, years,
years. Just great fundamentals. UCLA fans are excited about that.

Q.  Can you talk about Luc Richard was going to have a family reunion, but it didn't happen.
COACH HOWLAND: Apparently his dad had to have some eye surgery. I don't
know the exact details. It was in Geneva. His dad is a diplomat in
Cameroon and spends a lot of time abroad, both in Geneva as well as in

Unfortunately, he was not able to make it because of the operation he
had on his eye. He didn't want to worry his son or even tell him about
it for fear he would worry for his health. He didn't even know about
it. He didn't know about it till two days ago. He's fine. He's going to
be okay.  That's why he's not able to make it.

Q.  Can you comment on Luc's growth as a player and as a person as he's played so far from home and really excelled?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, first of all, as a person, you couldn't have a
finer person. The person is a big part of why he's the great player he
is. He is so disciplined, so tough, so team oriented, so unselfish, has
a great ability to sacrifice, give himself up for his team. He's an
outstanding student who takes his academics very seriously.

Speaking of his father, first time I ever talked to his dad in the
recruiting process, his dad, I know Luc likes basketball, but that's
not what's important to me. What's important to me is he gets a great
education, which is why his dad signed off on UCLA, because he knows
the value of a UC education and how that is looked upon

But Luc is a player who has grown. He does all the dirty work. He does
so many of the little things that only people can really truly
appreciate Luc are people that really know the game and really are able
to study off the ball things that are happening both offensively and
defensively, the great intensity level that he plays with, the passion.He's a joy to be able to coach.  Feel very blessed that we were able to recruit him to UCLA.

He has not been home to Cameroon since 2003. One of the things that's
going to be really nice is there is a plan for him to go home, see his
family, his friends, this summer when we get out of school in mid to
late June, which both he and Alfred will be able to do this summer.

They've been in summer school the last two years. They're way ahead.
They're both, at the end of this quarter, going to be on the three-year
plan to graduate. They're going to be about a year away, maybe four
quarters at most. They've done incredibly well academically in the

Q. I know when you had to play Pittsburgh that was kind of a
difficult situation. Could you reflect on a few years back when you had
to make the decision to leave there to come to UCLA. How tough was it?
I know leaving a program you built, that can never be easy.

COACH HOWLAND:  No, it was tough.  That was four years ago just about here in another couple days that I came to UCLA.  We loved Pittsburgh, number one, my wife and I and our children. Had a
great experience there. My daughter's graduating from the University of
Pittsburgh in April. I'll be back for her graduation on the 28th, which
I believe is a Friday, from the nursing school at Pitt, which is a
great, great medical program. She's doing wonderfully. Her name is

I've been very, very happy she stayed in Pittsburgh and finished her
degree there. She was a freshman there my last year. Really it's been a
dream come true to come back, for me to home. My mom and dad were
living, lived in Santa Barbara, when I came back to UCLA. That was
something that was very important to me, to be closer to family and

But also just the fact that UCLA has always been the dream for me. As a
child, watching the Wooden teams play with Dick Enberg doing the call.
Each and every replay game on KTLA back in the day at 11:00. You know,
watching those teams as I grew up as a young player, idolizing all the
players, wanting to be a player, not being good enough to play at the
level of UCLA.

Then as a young coach. That was always to me the pinnacle job: UCLA.
That was the dream job since a kid growing up following it. So to have
that opportunity was a once in a lifetime thing. There's no way I could
pass it up.

Would have been very happy to have stayed at Pitt the rest of my
coaching career had it not worked out. Loved the people there. You
know, what a great family and setting it has. Very proud of what the
great job that Jamie Dixon has done, continuing the program, which just
finished again its sixth straight year in the NCAA tournament, and four
out of six years in the Sweet 16. That program's on very solid footing.
I'm very, very proud to have been a part of helping that. Especially the most important part is hiring Jamie Dixon, how we got it going to begin with.

(photo credit: AP)



At Mar 30, 2007, 2:55:00 PM, Anonymous BruinFan said...

Dan Guerrero - U r da man!
Thanks for the article BBR!!
For those of us living in the best city in the best country, we don't u get your season tix 4 next year and b part of the Dynasty.
I'll see everybody at Q's in Santa Monica at 2pm!

At Mar 30, 2007, 3:12:00 PM, Anonymous Jon W said...

We are so very fortunate to have Ben Howland as our coach. In ten years, I think we'll be looking back at the dynasty he created here in Westwood.
Go Bruins!


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