UCLA basketball has suffered a tumultuous off-season. Just short of a whirlwind, Steve Lavin's tenuous tenure as top dog in Westwood finally totaled in March - when first year AD Dan Guerrero pulled the plug. It was a 7-year ride where each season could have been measured in dog years given the intense pressure and scrutiny a UCLA head coach receives. Despite the difficulties, Lavin didn't do too badly for a coach who began with a second assistant's resume.

"> UCLA basketball has suffered a tumultuous off-season. Just short of a whirlwind, Steve Lavin's tenuous tenure as top dog in Westwood finally totaled in March - when first year AD Dan Guerrero pulled the plug. It was a 7-year ride where each season could have been measured in dog years given the intense pressure and scrutiny a UCLA head coach receives. Despite the difficulties, Lavin didn't do too badly for a coach who began with a second assistant's resume.

">

2003 Pac-10 BB Preview: #8: UCLA

<p class="txt">UCLA basketball has suffered a tumultuous off-season. Just short of a whirlwind, Steve Lavin's tenuous tenure as top dog in Westwood finally totaled in March - when first year AD Dan Guerrero pulled the plug. It was a 7-year ride where each season could have been measured in dog years given the intense pressure and scrutiny a UCLA head coach receives. Despite the difficulties, Lavin didn't do too badly for a coach who began with a second assistant's resume.</p>

Head Coach: Ben Howland (first Year)
Assistants: Donny Daniels, Ernie Ziegler, Kerry Keating
Website: www.uclabruins.com

2002-03 Pac-10 record: 6-12 (finished tied for 6th; 8th seed); 1-1 in the Pac-10 Tournament
2002-03 Overall record: 10-19

2002-03 Highlight: After their first losing season in 55 years, senior Ray Young ended his UCLA career with a dominating performance, single-handedly leading the Bruins to two wins over the Washington schools in their last Pac-10 regular season games. The wins gave UCLA a final chance at saving the nightmare season by slotting them into the #8 seed in the Los Angeles-based Pac-10 Tournament. Young, playing point guard due to injuries and desperation, pushed the Bruins past the #1 ranked Arizona Wildcats before finally losing to Oregon in the second round, 75-74.

Best UCLA Quote from last year:

"Actually I ballooned up to 226 last year, and I lost 30 pounds to get back to my college playing weight," Lavin said. "If nothing else I will be the best-conditioned unemployed head coach in April. So that's one positive aspect that's going to come out of this season. It makes my parents happy because now I'm less likely to have a coronary in my early 40's."

- So said lame-duck UCLA head coach Steve Lavin mid-season when speaking about his tenure in Westwood. Coach Lavin had been asked if he had lost weight amid all the pressure.

Key Losses:
Jason Kapano 6'8 213 (16.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.0 apg, 39% from 3-point) - departing senior
Ray Young 6'4 210 (10.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.0 apg, 40% from 3-point) - departing senior
Andre Patterson 6'7 (7.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg) - dismissed for academics on April 10th after sophomore season

Recruiting Class:
SG - Brian Morrison 6'2 184 Jr - transfer UNC - played in 60 of 61 games at UNC in two seasons
SF/PF - Trevor Ariza 6'8 200 Fr - Westchester HS, Los Angeles CA - Cal-Hi Sports CA Player Year

Projected Starting Five (returning starters in Bold):
PG - Ryan Walcott 6'1 180 Jr (3.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 3.3 apg) - Led the Bruins in assists in 2002-03
SG - Cedric Bozeman 6'6 197 Jr (7.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.2 apg) - Injury-riddled in first two seasons
SF - Dijon Thompson 6'7 195 Jr (14.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.8 apg) - second leading scorer in 2002-03
PF - Trevor Ariza 6'8 200 Fr - Westchester HS, Los Angeles CA - Cal-Hi Sports CA Player Year
C - Ryan Hollins 6'11 215 So (5.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) - played strong second half as starter

Key Returning Reserves:
C - Michael Fey 7'0 257 So (2.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg) - 8 minutes per game in 2002-03
SG - Janou Rubin 6'3 192 Jr (2.1 ppg, 0.9 rpg) - Red-shirt Junior who played in 10 games last year)
PG - Jon Crispin 6'0 195 Sr (2.3 ppg, 0.7 rpg, 0.4 apg) - Transfer from Penn St in 2001
PF - T.J. Cummings 6'9 215 Sr (10.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg) - Academically ineligible for fall (could miss 3+ games)
PF - Josiah Johnson 6'8 233 Jr (1.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg) - Red-shirt Junior, son of UCLA great Marques Johnson
PF - Marcedes Lewis 6'6 245 So (1.3 ppg, 0.6 ppg) - Limited minutes,wont play until football concludes
SF - Matt McKinney 6'8 205 Fr (DNP) - Red-shirt in 2002-03; Volleyball Plyr on Basketball scholarship
C - John Hoffart 6'10 250 Sr (0.6 ppg, 0.0 rpg) - Transfer from Cal-Poly SLO; limited minutes in 5 games

Lavin took over initially as an interim coach following Jim Harrick's dismissal during the summer of 1995 for lying about a dinner receipt. To his credit, Harrick bequeathed to Lavin a national championship caliber squad. Unprepared, and new to the intensity of UCLA basketball, Lavin developed his own special technique for falling off the tightrope in numerous regular season games, yet then - year in and year out - managing to climb back on to make it to the Sweet 16. It was nearly a magic show in Westwood each season.

Regardless of the trickery, when former AD Peter Dalis left the Bruins prior to the 2002-03 campaign, the writing was on the wall: the tightrope act had gone stale. It didn't help a bit that the Bruins experienced their first losing season in 55 years. Lavin left the Bruins with 145 wins and 78 losses. He ended his career at UCLA with 5 trips in 7 years to the final 16, a feat that only Coach K of Duke can match. Readers and Pac-10 fans across the country will be pleased to know that Steve Lavin will be serving as an ESPN color studio analyst this winter.

Finding a successor at UCLA was difficult given the financial problems facing the University. Since most media circles seemed to believe that it would take a million dollar contract to attract the kind of coach Bruin fans wanted, the challege to finding the right man seemed purely financial. Facing that circumstance, AD Dan Guerrero did a good job avoiding that problem by holding to a firm salary range. Some of the funding was picked up by Adidas, whom with the Bruins already had an $18.75 million dollar 6-year shoe deal in place, which of course created controversy about how much impact Adidas consultant Sonny Vaccaro had in the hiring process.

On April 2, 2003, Ben Howland, the consensus 2002 National Coach of the Year at Pittsburgh was named UCLA's head coach. Howland, who is indeed a close friend of Vaccaro, brings one of the strongest coaching resumes in the entire country to UCLA, having revived dormant programs at both Northern Arizona and Pittsburgh. In the past four years, Howland achieved an 89-40 record leading the Panthers to back-to-back Big East Titles, as well as to succeeding trips to the Sweet Sixteen. His credentials read like an Oscar winner, and his reputation as a team builder and defensive mastermind are well documented. UCLA fans think he is the perfect man for the job, and some feel that they now have the best coach in the country.

Others agree:

" UCLA hired the best coach in the country," Nebraska Athletic Director Steve Pederson said, the former AD at Pitt who hired Howland originally. "I've never been around a basketball coach like Ben."

What makes Howland special? There is certainly some Indiana Jones in Ben Howland. While he hasn't chased down the Lost Ark quite yet, Howland seems to be able to make the most of whatever he's been given. Unlike Lavin, Howland's turnarounds weren't magical, and his accomplishments at Pittsburgh and Northern Arizona weren't started with a warlock's wand. Howland and his players' successes seem to be characterized by a joint effort balanced with hard work, confidence, and respect for each other. The past two years at Pitt were very impressive as the Panthers rolled to a 57-11 combined record. His 2002 National Coach of the Year honor was a consensus - something rarely accomplished in postseason honors. Howland brings an obvious enthusiasm for UCLA basketball due to his California roots, as well as one of his top assistants, Ernie Ziegler.

" I am honored to be the head basketball coach at UCLA and I am grateful to Dan for giving me this opportunity," said Howland, during the press conference naming him as the Bruins head coach. "Having grown up in southern California as a Bruin fan, watching the televised replays of the games was special for me. To now be the head coach of this program is something I dreamed about but never thought possible."

Ben Howland will get his first test when he tries to make sense of the UCLA backcourt, an area where he had no trouble in Pittsburgh because players like Brandin Knight and Julius Page were the starters. Howland has some critical decisions to make immediately regarding who starts and even who plays. For example, Howland's staff has to deal with a likely re-positioning of two juniors, Cedric Bozeman and UNC-transfer Brian Morrison, who came to UCLA with the idea that he'd be playing for Lavin. Both are more suited to be shooting guards but have spent time at the point. In the end, Coach Howland may decide that both are 2-guard's. Howland has a reputation for teaching players how to shoot and how to move the ball, so if the athletic Bozeman can adapt (and finally stay healthy), he might have a breakout year. Morrison will more likely be designated the team's three-point threat off the bench.

Junior Ryan Walcott will move into the starting line-up. Walcott, a part-time starter a year ago, is maybe Howland's only true PG. He is a younger cousin of Mike Bibby, and struggled at times last year after giving the Bruins quality minutes as a freshman. Backing up Walcott will be Jon Crispin, a 6-foot senior who Howland saw play in the Big East at Penn State. Also on the bench will be Janou Rubin, who played limited minutes in 2002-03. This is really a patchwork year for UCLA's backcourt, an interim period, if only because the highly talented Jordan Farmer and Arron Afflalo will be joining the team next year.

On the wing, Howland has increased depth despite the loss of Andre Patterson. Dijon (pronounced Du-jon) Thompson is perhaps UCLA's least-known contributor, but the junior from nearby Redondo Beach can score and rebound with most other wings in the Pac-10. Thompson shoots a respectable 36% from three-point land, and nearly 75% from the charity stripe. He averaged just shy of 30 minutes per game, and his quickness really helps the Bruin offense. Patterson has the kind of long arms that drive opponents crazy. Behind Thompson are freshman Trevor Ariza and redshirt freshman Matt McKinney. Ariza will probably move to the power forward slot while T. J. Cummings works to get his academics in order, but Ariza is more of a combo forward. The only true freshman this season for the Bruins, Ariza certainly knows how to score both inside and out. After Evan Burns' admission to UCLA was blocked a year ago, Ariza's commitment was incredibly important. McKinney is an excellent athlete with trampoline-like jumping skills who is nevertheless still working to become a Pac-10 player. (McKinney might be UCLA's best volleyball player.)

The frontcourt will be shorthanded without Patterson or Cummings, so Howland is hoping T. J.'s academic issues will result in just a three game setback. If so, Cummings will be in the starting line-up quickly. Pasadena native and track star Ryan Hollins has the active lane presence to man the center spot. Hollins can run the court like a deer, and he's got some nifty post moves despite being thin. Some in the press have tabbed Hollins as Marcus Camby-like, lacking only the basketball experience. He's an incredible athlete and has a strong track background.

Behind Cummings (or Ariza for the time being) and Hollins are four inexperienced frontcourt players, including Long Beach Poly's Marcedes Lewis. Lewis won't return until the Bruins are done on the gridiron, and that might stretch into a post-season bowl game. The best of the group might be Michael Fey, a 7'0 Seattle area player who saw some action early last year but who, along with the rest of his teammates, saw his confidence flutter after a loss to San Diego. Fey does have some skills that could be polished, and Howland has always been successful with players like Fey, so he will be the one to watch from this group. Junior Josiah Johnson and senior John Hoffart, a transfer from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo will probably slide back behind the others.

Coach Howland's new staff will be seriously challenged this year. Not only do the Bruins have chemistry problems, they face what seems to be a difficult schedule that includes Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, and St. John's. In actual fact, the schedule isn't as arduous as some want to pretend. UCLA departs from Los Angeles only for the Michigan game in late-December, so 8 of their first 9 games are at home - if you include the Kentucky match-up at the Pond in Anaheim. In years past, Coach Howland has been a notorious soft-scheduler, so UCLA's tradition of scheduling national powers might be softened in future years.

The primary strength Howland inherits with this roster is that it is the most athletic team he has ever coached. There are a number of players who offer capabilities at multiple positions, so instead of trying to find players that will fit into his ideal system, Coach Howland will have to adapt. For starters, there aren't any 'enforcers' on this squad. Of the many accolades that Pittsburgh received in the past four years, the most important was that they were 'tough'. The Panthers, and Howland's last two Northern Arizona squads as well, never got pushed around the court; if they did lose, it was only to a team that was just as physical.

"I treasure and revel in the history of this program and Coach Wooden. He was the greatest coach in history, not only because of the national champions he won but the way he conducted the program. Players want to be like Michael Jordan. Coaches want to be like John Wooden. But there's only one. What he did was mind-boggling, but I'm not afraid of the challenge. I relish it. I understand what it's all about."

The Bruins will probably employ a defense-to-offense transition-scoring strategy. This team needs to build a belief in their defense, to create an atmosphere of being stoppers. With the athletes UCLA has it won't be hard to sprint up the court to score after a rebound, so changing UCLA into a defensive trapping team will be the primary coaching challenge. Howland's past teams have usually employed a slow-tempo half-court offense, but in 2003-04, in his first season in Westwood, the Bruins may focus on their defense and let the team run when they can. This makes UCLA the huge x-factor in the Pac-10.

That said, Coach Howland won't be doing any of their scoring. I project UCLA as the 8th seed in the Pac-10 Tournament based on my belief that the Bruins will suffer many lapses as they adjust to the defensive schemes of their new coach. They are a talented and athletic group, but that could make it even tougher for some of the players to buy into Howland's new blue-collar system.

If they have any chance of doing a complete one-eighty in basketball style from previous years, the Bruins will have to find a strong floor leader - but in my view that person does not now exist on the roster. To make it worse, the Bruins have a number of players who struggle with shot selection in half-court battles. This could hurt them during the early-season non-conference schedule, and a few losses at Pauley Pavilion could hurt the team's confidence. Combine these factors, and the Bruins could face a tough rebuilding season. In the final analysis, I think the Bruins will finish around the .500 mark.

Just as we all watched the program go through its changes this summer, national media attention this coming season will shine intensely on this storied program, and the pressure to perform will be fierce. Hang on.

©Copyright September 2003, GoCyberBears.com and The Insiders. All rights reserved.

============

CyberBear Staff Writers regularly visit the CyberBears Insider board, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article or about Cal Athletics.

= GreyBear, Webmaster


BearTerritory.net Top Stories

\r\n","mobileBody":"

Head Coach: Ben Howland (first Year)
Assistants: Donny Daniels, Ernie Ziegler, Kerry Keating
Website: www.uclabruins.com

2002-03 Pac-10 record: 6-12 (finished tied for 6th; 8th seed); 1-1 in the Pac-10 Tournament
2002-03 Overall record: 10-19

2002-03 Highlight: After their first losing season in 55 years, senior Ray Young ended his UCLA career with a dominating performance, single-handedly leading the Bruins to two wins over the Washington schools in their last Pac-10 regular season games. The wins gave UCLA a final chance at saving the nightmare season by slotting them into the #8 seed in the Los Angeles-based Pac-10 Tournament. Young, playing point guard due to injuries and desperation, pushed the Bruins past the #1 ranked Arizona Wildcats before finally losing to Oregon in the second round, 75-74.

Best UCLA Quote from last year:

"Actually I ballooned up to 226 last year, and I lost 30 pounds to get back to my college playing weight," Lavin said. "If nothing else I will be the best-conditioned unemployed head coach in April. So that's one positive aspect that's going to come out of this season. It makes my parents happy because now I'm less likely to have a coronary in my early 40's."

- So said lame-duck UCLA head coach Steve Lavin mid-season when speaking about his tenure in Westwood. Coach Lavin had been asked if he had lost weight amid all the pressure.

Key Losses:
Jason Kapano 6'8 213 (16.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.0 apg, 39% from 3-point) - departing senior
Ray Young 6'4 210 (10.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.0 apg, 40% from 3-point) - departing senior
Andre Patterson 6'7 (7.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg) - dismissed for academics on April 10th after sophomore season

Recruiting Class:
SG - Brian Morrison 6'2 184 Jr - transfer UNC - played in 60 of 61 games at UNC in two seasons
SF/PF - Trevor Ariza 6'8 200 Fr - Westchester HS, Los Angeles CA - Cal-Hi Sports CA Player Year

Projected Starting Five (returning starters in Bold):
PG - Ryan Walcott 6'1 180 Jr (3.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 3.3 apg) - Led the Bruins in assists in 2002-03
SG - Cedric Bozeman 6'6 197 Jr (7.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.2 apg) - Injury-riddled in first two seasons
SF - Dijon Thompson 6'7 195 Jr (14.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.8 apg) - second leading scorer in 2002-03
PF - Trevor Ariza 6'8 200 Fr - Westchester HS, Los Angeles CA - Cal-Hi Sports CA Player Year
C - Ryan Hollins 6'11 215 So (5.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) - played strong second half as starter

Key Returning Reserves:
C - Michael Fey 7'0 257 So (2.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg) - 8 minutes per game in 2002-03
SG - Janou Rubin 6'3 192 Jr (2.1 ppg, 0.9 rpg) - Red-shirt Junior who played in 10 games last year)
PG - Jon Crispin 6'0 195 Sr (2.3 ppg, 0.7 rpg, 0.4 apg) - Transfer from Penn St in 2001
PF - T.J. Cummings 6'9 215 Sr (10.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg) - Academically ineligible for fall (could miss 3+ games)
PF - Josiah Johnson 6'8 233 Jr (1.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg) - Red-shirt Junior, son of UCLA great Marques Johnson
PF - Marcedes Lewis 6'6 245 So (1.3 ppg, 0.6 ppg) - Limited minutes,wont play until football concludes
SF - Matt McKinney 6'8 205 Fr (DNP) - Red-shirt in 2002-03; Volleyball Plyr on Basketball scholarship
C - John Hoffart 6'10 250 Sr (0.6 ppg, 0.0 rpg) - Transfer from Cal-Poly SLO; limited minutes in 5 games

Lavin took over initially as an interim coach following Jim Harrick's dismissal during the summer of 1995 for lying about a dinner receipt. To his credit, Harrick bequeathed to Lavin a national championship caliber squad. Unprepared, and new to the intensity of UCLA basketball, Lavin developed his own special technique for falling off the tightrope in numerous regular season games, yet then - year in and year out - managing to climb back on to make it to the Sweet 16. It was nearly a magic show in Westwood each season.

Regardless of the trickery, when former AD Peter Dalis left the Bruins prior to the 2002-03 campaign, the writing was on the wall: the tightrope act had gone stale. It didn't help a bit that the Bruins experienced their first losing season in 55 years. Lavin left the Bruins with 145 wins and 78 losses. He ended his career at UCLA with 5 trips in 7 years to the final 16, a feat that only Coach K of Duke can match. Readers and Pac-10 fans across the country will be pleased to know that Steve Lavin will be serving as an ESPN color studio analyst this winter.

Finding a successor at UCLA was difficult given the financial problems facing the University. Since most media circles seemed to believe that it would take a million dollar contract to attract the kind of coach Bruin fans wanted, the challege to finding the right man seemed purely financial. Facing that circumstance, AD Dan Guerrero did a good job avoiding that problem by holding to a firm salary range. Some of the funding was picked up by Adidas, whom with the Bruins already had an $18.75 million dollar 6-year shoe deal in place, which of course created controversy about how much impact Adidas consultant Sonny Vaccaro had in the hiring process.

On April 2, 2003, Ben Howland, the consensus 2002 National Coach of the Year at Pittsburgh was named UCLA's head coach. Howland, who is indeed a close friend of Vaccaro, brings one of the strongest coaching resumes in the entire country to UCLA, having revived dormant programs at both Northern Arizona and Pittsburgh. In the past four years, Howland achieved an 89-40 record leading the Panthers to back-to-back Big East Titles, as well as to succeeding trips to the Sweet Sixteen. His credentials read like an Oscar winner, and his reputation as a team builder and defensive mastermind are well documented. UCLA fans think he is the perfect man for the job, and some feel that they now have the best coach in the country.

Others agree:

" UCLA hired the best coach in the country," Nebraska Athletic Director Steve Pederson said, the former AD at Pitt who hired Howland originally. "I've never been around a basketball coach like Ben."

What makes Howland special? There is certainly some Indiana Jones in Ben Howland. While he hasn't chased down the Lost Ark quite yet, Howland seems to be able to make the most of whatever he's been given. Unlike Lavin, Howland's turnarounds weren't magical, and his accomplishments at Pittsburgh and Northern Arizona weren't started with a warlock's wand. Howland and his players' successes seem to be characterized by a joint effort balanced with hard work, confidence, and respect for each other. The past two years at Pitt were very impressive as the Panthers rolled to a 57-11 combined record. His 2002 National Coach of the Year honor was a consensus - something rarely accomplished in postseason honors. Howland brings an obvious enthusiasm for UCLA basketball due to his California roots, as well as one of his top assistants, Ernie Ziegler.

" I am honored to be the head basketball coach at UCLA and I am grateful to Dan for giving me this opportunity," said Howland, during the press conference naming him as the Bruins head coach. "Having grown up in southern California as a Bruin fan, watching the televised replays of the games was special for me. To now be the head coach of this program is something I dreamed about but never thought possible."

Ben Howland will get his first test when he tries to make sense of the UCLA backcourt, an area where he had no trouble in Pittsburgh because players like Brandin Knight and Julius Page were the starters. Howland has some critical decisions to make immediately regarding who starts and even who plays. For example, Howland's staff has to deal with a likely re-positioning of two juniors, Cedric Bozeman and UNC-transfer Brian Morrison, who came to UCLA with the idea that he'd be playing for Lavin. Both are more suited to be shooting guards but have spent time at the point. In the end, Coach Howland may decide that both are 2-guard's. Howland has a reputation for teaching players how to shoot and how to move the ball, so if the athletic Bozeman can adapt (and finally stay healthy), he might have a breakout year. Morrison will more likely be designated the team's three-point threat off the bench.

Junior Ryan Walcott will move into the starting line-up. Walcott, a part-time starter a year ago, is maybe Howland's only true PG. He is a younger cousin of Mike Bibby, and struggled at times last year after giving the Bruins quality minutes as a freshman. Backing up Walcott will be Jon Crispin, a 6-foot senior who Howland saw play in the Big East at Penn State. Also on the bench will be Janou Rubin, who played limited minutes in 2002-03. This is really a patchwork year for UCLA's backcourt, an interim period, if only because the highly talented Jordan Farmer and Arron Afflalo will be joining the team next year.

On the wing, Howland has increased depth despite the loss of Andre Patterson. Dijon (pronounced Du-jon) Thompson is perhaps UCLA's least-known contributor, but the junior from nearby Redondo Beach can score and rebound with most other wings in the Pac-10. Thompson shoots a respectable 36% from three-point land, and nearly 75% from the charity stripe. He averaged just shy of 30 minutes per game, and his quickness really helps the Bruin offense. Patterson has the kind of long arms that drive opponents crazy. Behind Thompson are freshman Trevor Ariza and redshirt freshman Matt McKinney. Ariza will probably move to the power forward slot while T. J. Cummings works to get his academics in order, but Ariza is more of a combo forward. The only true freshman this season for the Bruins, Ariza certainly knows how to score both inside and out. After Evan Burns' admission to UCLA was blocked a year ago, Ariza's commitment was incredibly important. McKinney is an excellent athlete with trampoline-like jumping skills who is nevertheless still working to become a Pac-10 player. (McKinney might be UCLA's best volleyball player.)

The frontcourt will be shorthanded without Patterson or Cummings, so Howland is hoping T. J.'s academic issues will result in just a three game setback. If so, Cummings will be in the starting line-up quickly. Pasadena native and track star Ryan Hollins has the active lane presence to man the center spot. Hollins can run the court like a deer, and he's got some nifty post moves despite being thin. Some in the press have tabbed Hollins as Marcus Camby-like, lacking only the basketball experience. He's an incredible athlete and has a strong track background.

Behind Cummings (or Ariza for the time being) and Hollins are four inexperienced frontcourt players, including Long Beach Poly's Marcedes Lewis. Lewis won't return until the Bruins are done on the gridiron, and that might stretch into a post-season bowl game. The best of the group might be Michael Fey, a 7'0 Seattle area player who saw some action early last year but who, along with the rest of his teammates, saw his confidence flutter after a loss to San Diego. Fey does have some skills that could be polished, and Howland has always been successful with players like Fey, so he will be the one to watch from this group. Junior Josiah Johnson and senior John Hoffart, a transfer from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo will probably slide back behind the others.

Coach Howland's new staff will be seriously challenged this year. Not only do the Bruins have chemistry problems, they face what seems to be a difficult schedule that includes Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, and St. John's. In actual fact, the schedule isn't as arduous as some want to pretend. UCLA departs from Los Angeles only for the Michigan game in late-December, so 8 of their first 9 games are at home - if you include the Kentucky match-up at the Pond in Anaheim. In years past, Coach Howland has been a notorious soft-scheduler, so UCLA's tradition of scheduling national powers might be softened in future years.

The primary strength Howland inherits with this roster is that it is the most athletic team he has ever coached. There are a number of players who offer capabilities at multiple positions, so instead of trying to find players that will fit into his ideal system, Coach Howland will have to adapt. For starters, there aren't any 'enforcers' on this squad. Of the many accolades that Pittsburgh received in the past four years, the most important was that they were 'tough'. The Panthers, and Howland's last two Northern Arizona squads as well, never got pushed around the court; if they did lose, it was only to a team that was just as physical.

"I treasure and revel in the history of this program and Coach Wooden. He was the greatest coach in history, not only because of the national champions he won but the way he conducted the program. Players want to be like Michael Jordan. Coaches want to be like John Wooden. But there's only one. What he did was mind-boggling, but I'm not afraid of the challenge. I relish it. I understand what it's all about."

The Bruins will probably employ a defense-to-offense transition-scoring strategy. This team needs to build a belief in their defense, to create an atmosphere of being stoppers. With the athletes UCLA has it won't be hard to sprint up the court to score after a rebound, so changing UCLA into a defensive trapping team will be the primary coaching challenge. Howland's past teams have usually employed a slow-tempo half-court offense, but in 2003-04, in his first season in Westwood, the Bruins may focus on their defense and let the team run when they can. This makes UCLA the huge x-factor in the Pac-10.

That said, Coach Howland won't be doing any of their scoring. I project UCLA as the 8th seed in the Pac-10 Tournament based on my belief that the Bruins will suffer many lapses as they adjust to the defensive schemes of their new coach. They are a talented and athletic group, but that could make it even tougher for some of the players to buy into Howland's new blue-collar system.

If they have any chance of doing a complete one-eighty in basketball style from previous years, the Bruins will have to find a strong floor leader - but in my view that person does not now exist on the roster. To make it worse, the Bruins have a number of players who struggle with shot selection in half-court battles. This could hurt them during the early-season non-conference schedule, and a few losses at Pauley Pavilion could hurt the team's confidence. Combine these factors, and the Bruins could face a tough rebuilding season. In the final analysis, I think the Bruins will finish around the .500 mark.

Just as we all watched the program go through its changes this summer, national media attention this coming season will shine intensely on this storied program, and the pressure to perform will be fierce. Hang on.

©Copyright September 2003, GoCyberBears.com and The Insiders. All rights reserved.

============

CyberBear Staff Writers regularly visit the CyberBears Insider board, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article or about Cal Athletics.

= GreyBear, Webmaster

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