After all the futility that the UCLA Bruins have gone through in basketball this season, the most positive thing that I can say about this hoops squad can be summed up in three words:
It is over.
Bruin fans will no longer have to suffer through games such as 20-point blowouts at the hands of Portland (of all people!), Washington, and USC.
They will no longer have to sit through humiliating losses to Mississippi State and two local mid-major teams that are supposed to be glorified scrimmages, and guaranteed wins each and every year: Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State.
And they will no longer have to endure such madness as players airballing free throws and putbacks, putting up brick houses with their jump shots, or having opponents create highlight reel dunks, which has all happened with Ben Howland's Bad News Bruins this year.
Not to mention a key post guy who was actually playing well, Drew Gordon, quitting the team and transferring to New Mexico amid much acrimony; would you believe he ended up fourth on the team in minutes and points (11.2) per game?
And he only played six games!
Quite a sad comment on the Bruins' efforts this season.
Having assured themselves of only their third losing season in 55 years, it would be easy to point fingers, assign blame, and single out scapegoats. It would be easy to make excuses, such as the fact that UCLA was rocked by the early departures of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, and Jrue Holiday.
However, even though players such as Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee failed to pan out at point guard, and Nikola Dragovic was absolutely horrid at times, shooting only 38 percent for the season (I'm SO glad that senior's gone!), I won't put the blame of the Bruins' Charlie Brown-like woes solely on them.
Or anyone else, for that matter.
I must be honest: I felt that the season, for all intents and purposes, ended on Jan. 16 at Pauley Pavilion, when crosstown enemy USC scored their biggest win in their history over UCLA in that building, 67-46, in a game where the Bruins seemingly didn't even try, letting the Trojans run all over them and push them around on their home floor.
From that point on, I knew that the players just didn't have it; I began to look toward next year then.
Shockingly enough, there were some Bruin bright spots on the hardwood.
Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt played well and were effective on the boards, especially Nelson, who was a beast. They will undoubtedly be impact players next year, particularly if Nelson's corneas hold up; he needs to wear goggles from now on.
Though you can't mistake him for Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, and he certainly wasn't the type of go-to player who could win games for you, Michael Roll had a very good senior season at forward. He led the Bruins in field goals, assists (if you can believe that), and three-point percentage (46 percent), and was the Bruins' top scorer at 13.5 points a game.
Plus he was named to the All-Pac-10 Conference's first team. To that I say, "Well done."
I am sure that many folks are wondering about UCLA's prospects for 2010-2011.
They have to be better, because they can't get much worse.
One can say that some of the Bruins' best players are not in Westwood yet; Lazeric Jones, a well-regarded junior college transfer from Chicago, will take over at the point. Tyler Lamb, a guard from Santa Ana Mater Dei High, and Josh Smith, a 6'9" giant weighing over 300 pounds, will get an excellent chance to earn playing time.
If I were them, I would be very excited about stepping into a situation like UCLA's, where they can contribute right away, and help turn things around quickly; that's the position these new players will be in.
Will those newcomers, along with Nelson, Honeycutt, Anderson, and Lee, be able to lead the Bruins back to respectability?
Though I am confident they will win more than the 14 games they won this year, it remains to be seen whether or not this failure of a campaign is a mere one-year bump in the road or the starting point to a long rebuilding process.
I certainly hope that it will be more one than the other.