UCLA Basketball has muddled through a three-season malaise.
Ben Howland did not give up on the program, the players or, most importantly, recruiting.
Before it was too late, Howland and his staff hit the motherlode (ESPN).
They not only signed Shabazz Muhammad, the top perimeter player in the Class of 2012, but also Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker and Jordan Adams.
Hope and anticipation turned into overnight championship expectation and assurance. By gaining this remarkable recruiting haul, the CBB hype-machine kicked into instant overdrive.
- Will the hype prove to be too heavy of a weight to carry through this coming season?
- Is it championship or bust in Westwood?
- Will they flourish or flounder this year?
Here are five challenges that Howland and his team need to successfully face if they are going to live up to the build-up in 2012-13.
It's a simple fact of life in sports: Players want to play.
Nobody likes to be parked on the bench. No one wants to work hard in practice only to be forced to take a seat.
The Bruins return six players off of last year's rotation. With the arrival of "The Class," plus Larry Drew II, someone's going to be sitting.
There's only 200 minutes per game to hand out. Players like Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and the Wear Twins will easily eat up over half of those.
Howland and his staff will need to manage minutes well not only to keep fresh legs on the court but to keep a stable of young studs satisfied.
Not only do basketball players want to play, but they also want to shoot.
And, other than in pre-game warm-ups, there's only one ball allowed on the court.
Last year, Tyler Lamb and the Wear Twins took a combined 780 shots.
Do you think that they will be putting it up that much this next season? Do you think that they will get the chance to with big-time scorers like Muhammad, Anderson and Adams arriving?
Something's gotta give, and my guess is that the Fab Froshes aren't expecting to simply defer to the existing players.
Larry Drew II transferred to UCLA, thinking that he was going to take charge of things for his one remaining year of eligibility.
Now, with the arrival of point guard/point forward Kyle Anderson, where does that leave LD2?
Even with all of the talent on the floor, someone has to run the show and distribute the ball.
Before leaving North Carolina, Drew had a good assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2), but he struggled to lead a very talented Tar Heel team. Has anything changed over his redshirt season?
Anderson's ball-handling and passing abilities are well-documented (GoJoeBruin.com). The question is: Is he the guy to be in charge on the floor and make it all happen?
Aren't Josh Smith and Tony Parker essentially the same player—6'10" and three bills?
Space eaters who need to set up on the block to get things done?
With thoroughbreds like Shabazz and the crew ready to roll, do you really want either JS or TP to be clogging the middle on the offensive end?
Whoever created this image didn't do Ben Howland and his staff any favors. Talk about elevating the "Us vs. Them" aspect of this Bruins' squad.
Team chemistry is the biggest issue facing UCLA.
It will help everyone find their role or push everyone to fight for themselves. It will be what brings everyone together or sends each player in their own orbit. It will be the difference between domination and disaster.
Talent and depth are here. What this group of elite-level players needs is a strong sense of TEAM identity.
Should Ben Howland give John Calipari a call and see if he can give him some tips about getting superstar 18-22-year-olds on the same page?
Ben Howland will step up to the challenge/opportunity that is before him.
He will get the new and returning players to come together. He will push this team to play tough defense.
We should see UCLA in Atlanta at the Final Four. And, who knows from there?
The bad news for Ben is that, regardless of how things turn out this season, he will most likely be rebuilding again after several players (Muhammad, Anderson) leave for the 2013 Draft.