Earlier today, former McDonald’s All-American and All Pac-12 Honors recipient Joshua Smith became the second player this week to be granted a release from UCLA’s basketball program by head coach Ben Howland.
Howland, who has gone an underwhelming 56-43 in the past three seasons, should have had his finger near the panic button at the season’s start.
This lack of success alone would put Howland squarely on the hot seat if not for his previous success in March.
Howland is a victim of the mantle that is UCLA basketball. When buildings on campus are named after a former coach, the expectations are high.
Beyond poor performances, Howland has also had a variety of problems within the locker room that raise questions as to whether he has sufficient control over the program.
Chief among these locker room issues was the scandal involving former Bruins forward Reeves Nelson.
Sports Illustrated published an expose in which they alleged that Nelson engaged in behavior problems that ranged from picking fights during practices with Drew Gordon, who later transferred, and even urinating on Tyler Honeycutt’s clothing.
Howland came under criticism for how poorly he handled the whole fiasco.
Whether Sports Illustrated’s allegations against Nelson are entirely true, he was certainly a bad influence on UCLA’s locker room, and the fact of the matter is that either a lot of these discretions were unknown to Howland, meaning he was not doing his job, or he knew about them and did nothing to stop them.
This negative press came at the same time that Howland watched as several of his talented recruits left the program. Players such as Drew Gordon, Mike Moser and Matt Carlino all transferred away and have seen great success at other schools.
This exodus of players also coincided with a poor recruiting class in 2011. UCLA, normally a powerhouse and proven commodity in the recruiting world, were only able to bring in one player of note—Norman Powell, ESPN’s 52nd ranked prospect in the class of 2011.
This combination of good players leaving the programs and the lack of good recruits to replace them led to poor performances in the Pac-12 and March.
Yes, Howland brought in an extremely talented recruiting class that boasts two, maybe three pro prospects this season.
His baby Bruins have largely disappointed, though, having struggled to win against UC Irvine and losing to a Cal Poly team that had already posted losses to Fresno State and TCU.
After losing two more talented players to transfer, his finger has to be getting even closer to that panic button.
Tyler Lamb and Joshua Smith are not game-changing players within the Bruins team. Both players were stuck behind talented freshmen that came into UCLA’s program this season. Neither has posted incredible stats, and both have largely disappointed in their time at UCLA.
However, their transfers away from UCLA are made significant by the fact that they come during a disappointing stretch in which the Bruins are not living up to expectations.
This recent loss of scholarship athletes makes Howland’s future with the Bruins very much in doubt right now.
With talented young, up-and-coming coaches such as Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart making more noise with less talent, UCLA has to ask itself whether it is time to make a move for a coach that could avoid these problems in the future.
Joshua Smith’s transfer could just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
If Howland does not turn the season around with his eight remaining scholarship players, he will likely be looking for a new job next year.