The Ben Howland reclamation project is a Hollywood story we've seen before. Star experiences great success. Success leads star down a dark path to rock bottom. Star resurfaces, new image, as successful as before. Just different.
Howland's story is not yet complete this season, but the final chapter has quietly begun in the last few months and Howland is on his way to saving his job and his reputation.
The Bruins have won nine games straight and sit atop the Pac-12. An NCAA tourney berth looks likely. And, hey, no one has transferred in weeks!
Most importantly, Howland has started to remind us that not that long ago he took three straight teams to the Final Four.
The ugly stuff is well-documented. If you haven't read it, the story that ran last year in Sports Illustrated will get you mostly up to date. Howland allowed too many bad seeds in. He lost control. In the case of Reeves Nelson, he allowed the pursuit of winning get in the way of the principles he had built his program on. He messed up. Big time.
But UCLA was smart to give him a second chance.
Great coaches adapt, and that's what Howland is doing this season. Those Final Four teams won with suffocating defense. UCLA finished in the top three in defensive efficiency for three straight years, according to KenPom.com. This year's version ranks 109th.
This team is winning because of the great ability of Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams and the Wear twins. Once Muhammad was allowed to play, he was noticeably out of shape and not as explosive as he had been in high school. Lately, Muhammad has shown that ability with a recent run of six games where he scored 20-plus points five times.Travis Wear and David Wear have finally started to show their potential and great mid-range games. Adams give the Bruins a long-range shooter—he's shooting 35.4 percent from distance. And Larry Drew II is finally orchestrating an offense and not trying to be someone he is not.
Much like their coach, they are proving themselves. It's no coincidence that it took some time for a team that had its best player, a freshman, start the season ineligible. Let their success be a reminder to not rush to premature conclusions in November, as we love to do in college basketball. The team you see in March will not be the one you saw lose to Cal Poly.
Howland still needs to get this team to become more consistent on defense. And he still needs to prove he can win over time again. If he has another span of three years that sees UCLA miss the tourney twice and finish with a losing season, then maybe UCLA should move on. If too much drama finds its way back to Howland, then maybe it will be time to move on.
The final chapter is certainly not ready for print. Just don't be surprised if patience leads to a happy ending.