UCLA Basketball: How Did Coach Ben Howland Pull off This 2012 Class?

Trevor MedeirosCorrespondent ISeptember 5, 2012

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 19:  Head coach Ben Howland of the UCLA Bruins looks on against the Florida Gators during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at St. Pete Times Forum on March 19, 2011 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

So just how did Ben Howland manage to snag the second-best recruiting class (according to Rivals) this past spring when he lured prized prospects Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker to play for him this upcoming college basketball season?

We may never truly know the details behind this epic act of recruiting. Then again, maybe we soon will.

Turns out that at least one very powerful institution—the NCAA—has its doubts as to whether Howland recruited these stud players legally. I’m sure for months, UCLA’s doubters have been asking the question of just exactly how Howland pulled off this impressive recruiting class.

Now, it appears they have the ammunition they need to degrade Howland and illegitimize his efforts. Many are automatically going to declare UCLA guilty before the NCAA even hands in its final verdict in this situation.

Isn’t it ironic that in a country where we declare accused criminals innocent before they’re proven guilty that we do the total opposite as sports fans when prominent figures are being investigated?

It’s very ironic, and quite frankly, it’s a shame.

During the NCAA’s probe into Muhammad, Anderson and Parker’s recruitment to UCLA, many critics will resort to laziness and assume that Howland didn’t play by the rules in this situation. They’ll point to the fact that the Bruins have missed the NCAA Tournament in two of the past three seasons under Howland’s watch.

Naturally, such decorated high school basketball players wouldn’t be bothered with such a downtrodden program unless they were being paid off, right? That will be an easy argument for pundits to make.

The problem with this is that it’s only speculation, never mind the fact that they’ll be completely ignoring Howland’s accomplishments before UCLA’s recent struggles on the court. Pittsburgh’s basketball program was virtually dormant before Howland laid the foundation for a quality Panthers team that Jamie Dixon oversees today.

And Howland had similar results when he originally turned around UCLA to the tune of three-straight Final Four appearances just a few years ago. But since then, Howland’s Bruins have fallen on rough times.

This includes a pointed expose piece on some ugly aspects of the UCLA program published by Sports Illustrated last year. Still, I find it hard to believe that Howland has lost his coaching touch so much that he’s had to resort to illegal recruiting tactics.

That’s why, until this investigation is over, I’m giving Howland the benefit of the doubt when asking just how exactly he pulled off this gaudy recruiting class.

Unfortunately, in the court of public opinion—where often you’re guilty until proven innocent—many have likely already sealed Howland’s fate.