Ranking the Top 10 Most Influential UCLA Bruins of Ben Howland's Era
UCLA owns the most successful Division I collegiate sports program with a nation-leading 108 team national championships.
The Bruins men’s basketball program is also the most decorated Division I program with a record-setting 11 national championships. This number is boosted largely thanks to coach John Wooden, who won 10 titles in 12 seasons, including seven straight (1967-1973).
Coach Jim Harrick returned the Bruins back to title land in 1995; however, UCLA has found itself in another title slump since then.
Ben Howland replaced Steve Lavin as head coach in 2003 and has done an admirable job keeping the Bruins relevant and competitive. In his eight previous season, the Bruins have reached postseason play six times, which includes three consecutive trips to the Final Four.
Howland’s teams are known for their tenacity and aggressive style of defense. Here is a list of the most influential players of Howland’s time.
10. Joshua Smith, Center
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The headliner of Ben Howland’s 2010 recruiting class has definitely received vitriol from fans and coaches; however, he remains the current face and hope for Bruins basketball.
When motivated, Joshua Smith has shown flashes of being the most dominant player of the Howland era. His size and strength are unparallelled and have been evident in all his games against Arizona State; however, his struggles with consistency and conditioning remain an issue.
Whether Smith starts or comes off the bench, his interior presence and physical impact must be felt for the Bruins to have any legitimate shot at contending.
If Smith decides to return to UCLA for his junior year, he will undoubtedly have to shoulder more responsibility and more of the scoring load.
In his first year, Smith averaged nearly 11 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.03 blocks per game in less than 22 minutes of action, earning him a spot on the All Pac-12 Freshman Team.
It’s also safe to say that the Bruins' postseason hopes are heavily reliant on their center’s development and maturation.
9. Jrue Holiday, Guard
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After graduating from Campbell Hall in North Hollywood, California as the 2008 Gatorade Player of the Year, Holiday was widely regarded as a top-five recruit.
Although a natural point guard, Holiday spent his only year at UCLA playing the 2 spot. With senior Darren Collison playing the point, the two formed one of the stingiest backcourt duos that UCLA has ever seen.
Holiday started in all 35 games he played for the Bruins—averaging 27 minutes, 8.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game, earning him Pac-10 All Freshman Team honors.
His best game was against Florida International, where he scored 20 points on 8-of-8 shooting in only 19 minutes of action. His ability to run the offense and play off the ball allowed the Bruins to have two ball-handlers on the court at all times.
Holiday’s departure from Westwood marked the end of Howland’s "elite" guard recruits.
8. Alfred Aboya, Forward / Center
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A four-year letterman that arrived in 2005, Alfred Aboya epitomized the mold of a Howland-brand player with hard work, hustle and grit.
Although it took him four years to crack the starting lineup, he made the most of his time. Aboya rarely took a bad shot and took great care of the ball, shooting 54 percent from the field and averaging less than one turnover (0.78) per game for his career.
During his final year, the Cameroon native averaged nearly 10 points and six rebounds while providing the Bruins with a physical interior presence. His patience and effort earned him spots on the All Pac-10 Honorable Mention Team and Pac-10 All Defensive Team.
Aboya is also tied for most games played in UCLA history with 142.
7. Josh Shipp, Guard / Forward
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One of Howland’s favorite and longest tenured players. After playing his freshman season in 2004, Josh Shipp redshirted his sophomore season due to a nagging hip injury that required surgery.
Upon his return the following season, Shipp was immediately given back his starting position—which he maintained until the end of his career.
During his five years in blue and gold, the Bruins qualified for the NCAA tournament each year.
The former Fairfax High School star ended his collegiate career with 1,254 points—good enough for 32nd all-time on the school list.
During his tenure, he accumulated All Pac-10 First Team (2004), All Pac-10 Second Team (2009) and All Pac-10 Honorable Mention Team (2007, 2008) honors.
The years of Josh Shipp definitely provided Howland and Bruins fans some of their best rides.
6. Jordan Farmar, Guard
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Jordan Farmar came to Westwood in 2004 after three successful years at nearby Taft High School of Woodland Hills, where he was named Los Angeles Times Player of the Year and was a McDonald’s High School All-American.
In his rookie year, Jordy averaged 13.2 points (first among freshmen guards), a team-high 5.2 assists and shot a team-high 80 percent from the free-throw line.
During his only returning year, Farmar led the Bruins to the national championship game, scoring a game-high 18 points and contributing two rebounds, four assists and two steals in a 73-57 defeat to the Florida Gators.
The former Taft star left UCLA with All Pac-10 Honorable Mention Team (2005), All Pac-10 Freshman Team, All Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, All Pac-10 First Team (2006), Pac-10 All Tournament Team (2006) and NCAA Final Four All-Tournament Team (2006) honors.
He was one of only four players to be considered for the John R. Wooden Award, the Bob Cousy Award and the Naismith Award for that season.
5. Kevin Love, Center
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Arguably Howland’s most prized recruit came from Lake Oswego, Oregon. Love graced UCLA with his presence for one short year, and it was no surprise when he bolted for the NBA draft.
Love started at center for a program that had reached the Final Four in consecutive years and led the team in points (17.5) and rebounding (10.6). He led the Bruins in scoring in 17 of their 39 games, while shooting 55.9 percent from the field, which included 35.4 percent from behind the arc.
His list of achievements in one year include (but are not are not limited to): Consensus All-American Team, AP All-American First Team, Pac-10 First Team, Pac-10 All-Tournament Team, Pac-10 All-Freshman Team, Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and Pac-10 Player of Year.
The 2007-2008 season saw UCLA finish with a 35-4 (.897) record—the highest single-season winning percentage of Howland’s entire coaching career.
Love could literally change ballgames with the flick of his wrist.
4. Russell Westbrook, Guard
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Similar to the way they were drafted in 2008, Russell Westbrook finds himself one spot ahead of Kevin Love on this list.
The two-year letter winner spent his freshman year as Darren Collison’s primary backup (averaging 9.0 minutes per game), only to be thrust in a starting role the following season.
As a sophomore, Westbrook averaged nearly 34 minutes, 12.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
His freakish athleticism and energy made him one of college basketball's best on-ball defenders—allowing Howland to exercise his aggressive style of defense.
Westbrook’s tenure at UCLA resulted in two Final Four appearances.
In his final season in Westwood, he earned All Pac-10 Third Team, Pac-10 All-Tournament Team, Pac-10 All-Defensive Team and Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
During the NBA lockout, Westbrook even went back to school, working toward completing his degree.
3. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Forward
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The son of the elected village chief from Cameroon, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, started each of the three years he was at UCLA and provided the interior toughness and hustle needed to match the suffocating guard play.
As a freshman, he led or tied for the team-lead in rebounds in 27 regular season games—averaging a team-best 8.2 rebounds.
Luc Richard averaged 8.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.3 steals in 107 collegiate games. His 775 total rebounds rank 15th all-time at UCLA.
His accolades also include an All Pac-10 Honorable Mention (2006-2008), Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and Pac-10 All Freshman Team.
He was also the first UCLA player in 34 years to start in three straight Final Fours since Bill Walton, Keith Wilkes and Greg Lee (1972-1974).
2. Arron Afflalo, Guard
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Arron Afflalo is known as Ben Howland’s first UCLA recruit, and it sure was a good one.
Afflalo came to Westwood in 2004, along with Farmar and Shipp—only to declare for the NBA draft two years later; however, Afflalo later decided to withdraw his name, in order to return for his junior season.
As a true freshman, Afflalo was asked to start every game and be a leader on a team that rostered five freshmen. His averages of 31.3 minutes per game, 10.8 points, 2.2 assists and 3.3 rebounds were enough to earn him spots on the Pac-10 All Conference Freshman Team, honorable mention on the Freshman All-American Team and the Irv Pohlmeyer Memorial Award—which was a team award for Outstanding Defensive Player.
Although Afflalo continued to carry his reputation as a defensive stopper all the way to the pros, he led the Bruins in scoring with a 15.8-point average during his second year. As a sophomore, he started 38 of 39 games and came off the bench only on Senior Day.
In the year UCLA lost the national championship game, Afflalo was the main defender on Gonzaga’s then-Naismith and Wooden Award finalist Adam Morrison.
During his third and final year, Afflalo led UCLA to another Final Four appearance and earned Consensus All-American First Team, Pac-10 First Team and Pac-10 Player of the Year honors.
Afflalo was a three-year starter for the Bruins and boasts career averages of 32.7 minutes, 14.8 points, 3.5 boards and 1.9 assists in 104 total games.
He ended his collegiate career with 209 three-pointers made and 560 three-pointers attempted, good enough to rank second all-time at UCLA.
Due to his tenacity and strength on the wing, you would usually find him guarding the opponent’s best perimeter player.
1. Darren Collison, Guard
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Darren Collison came to UCLA in 2005 as a four-star recruit from Rancho Cucamonga, California.
Collison is exactly what you look for in a collegiate athlete and would’ve excelled in any program. He stayed all four years and is tied for most games played in UCLA history with 142.
After spending his first year as Jordan Farmar’s primary backup, he started 35 games the following season, earning himself All Pac-10 First Team and All-American Second Team honors. During this season, he had averages of 33 minutes per game, 12.7 points, 5.7 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 2.2 steals, while shooting 47.8 percent from the field, 44.7 percent from beyond the arc and 81 percent from the line.
In his junior year campaign, he would go on to start in 32 of the 33 games he played in. His season averages remained nearly identical, but he wound up setting UCLA’s single-season three-point field goal percentage record by making 53-of-101 tries (52.5 percent).
His awards for this season included All Pac-10 Second Team, All-American Third Team, Pac-10 All-Defensive Team, and he was a Bob Cousy Award finalist.
Collison’s final season resulted in another All Pac-10 First Team and All-American honorable mention, yet that might have been the most disappointing finish in his collegiate career, the season ending in a second-round defeat.
It is no coincidence that Collison’s tenure at UCLA coincided with Howland’s most successful years. During his four years at school, UCLA advanced in the NCAA tournament each year, twice losing in the Final Four and once in the national championship game.
His 1,639 points rank 16th all-time at UCLA, while finishing fourth all-time in three-point percentage (43.5 percent), third in free-throw percentage (85.1 percent), fifth in assists (577) and second in steals (231).
Collison’s leadership, consistency and accountability make him the most influential player of the Howland era, as he proved to be the motor behind the Bruins’ aggressive style of man-to-man defense.