UCLA Basketball: Now That They're Out of the Tournament, What Now?
Back in November, when the college basketball season began, Ben Howland said that his UCLA basketball team wouldn't have the depth or experience that his previous three Final Four teams had.
After that 89-69 beatdown at the hands of Villanova this past Saturday that ousted the Bruins from the NCAA tournament, people should realize once and for all that he was dead-on right.
Sure, a 26-9 record is perfectly respectable and one that hundreds of schools would love to have had.
However, while hoping for a fourth consecutive Final Four appearance, I didn't feel that we had the go-to players necessary for that kind of run, and to be honest, I realized that by late February, as UCLA was losing to teams like Washington State and having bad stretches.
Putting it another way, let's compare the Bruins' championship teams to this one...
In the late 1960's, as John Wooden was beginning his run of titles, UCLA had a seven-foot fella that was so dominant that the NCAA put in a no-dunk rule just because of him.
Not only did he make games pointless during his Westwood years, he became the all-time leading scorer in the history of the sport as a pro.
Going by the name of Lew Alcindor back then, you may know him by the name he changed to, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
In the early 1970's, the Bruins had a certain redheaded guy that, like Kareem, was so dominant that he also made most of UCLA's games pointless, to the tune of an all-time sports record 88 straight wins. And Bill Walton's made a pretty good name for himself as a commentator to boot.
Even in 1995 UCLA had Ed O' Bannon to carry them to their 11th national championship.
As far as this decade, while the Bruins have had some very good players, there has not been that go-to stud that will win games for you when needed. That will step up and get you that championship the way that Kareem, Bill and Ed did.
That was particularly the case with this year's team. Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, and Alfred Aboya, while solid, were merely good role players who will put up some big numbers once in a while, but as far as being a dominant guy? Forget it.
And while they were perfectly solid defensively, their feet weren't fast enough to be the kind of lock-down defenders that got the Bruins those Final Four spots. The same goes for the rest of the players.
Now that their season is done, what's next for this team, one may ask?
First, people need to realize that next year's edition of the UCLA Bruins basketball team is going to be young. What with only two starters returning, and the bulk of the team being either freshmen and sophomores, to expect a Final Four run in 2009-2010 would be unrealistic.
As for veterans like Nikola Dragevic, James Keefe, and Michael Roll being go-to studs that will lead the Bruins to glory? While they are decent players, excuse me while I fall on the floor laughing.
And Jrue Holiday? Let me take this opportunity to write a short open letter to him:
Jrue, while you are no doubt an outstanding talent, the absolutely worst thing you can do now is to declare for the NBA Draft and go pro. Simply put, you are not ready. While you had some flashes of brilliance at times, there were too many games where you were sub-par.
What you need to do is come back for your second year and take over at point guard, which is your natural position anyway. The team needs your athleticism and leadership there, and you'll do some great things. Please consider this as you decide on your future.
Now don't get me wrong here, UCLA will be very good next season, because of the sheer talent that it has, and that's coming in as Howland has put together another top recruiting class.
It will be a contender for the Pac-10 title, but as far as a shot at the Final Four? I'm thinking 2011.
Provided that everyone stays together and doesn't get hurt or go pro early.
As such, I'll take this 26-9 record, file it as a good-but-not-great season, and look forward to seeing Holiday, Drew Gordon, Malcolm Lee, and J'mison Morgan—Bobo—continue to grow and develop.
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