In considering it further, we can't emphasize it enough: There are just so many reasons it is true, and so many factors that surround UCLA's recruiting of the 2011 and 2012 classes that could profoundly affect the program's fate.
Here's how it works:
First, there are some issues in terms of scholarship availability. UCLA has no seniors on its roster, and has one scholarships open for the 2011-2012 season with the transfer of Matt Carlino and the commitment of Norman Powell from the 2011 class. So, between now and the spring signing period, UCLA is still in the market for a player who could have an impact on the 2011-2012 season.
Then, the question is: Will UCLA have more than one scholarship open? It was already looking to sign someone in spring -- when it didn't have a scholarship open for next fall. There might have been some feeling that Carlino would leave (after the season, at least), but you can also surmise UCLA believes it very well could have someone else leave the program.
Tyler Honeycutt is probably the most likely candidate. It's pretty well accepted that he would strongly consider putting his name into the NBA draft this spring.
Even though he hasn't always been able to do it, Howland has a history of wanting to fill up as many scholarships as possible for the most immediate season. With only nine scholarship players available for the current 2010-2011 season, you can bet that Howland will be even more intent in filling up for next season. The 2011-2012 season is the one where there will be no excuses (however valid they've been) of youth and inexperience; it's the season that every onlooker, fan or sports writer, will be pointing to as the one that needs to be successful for Howland. So, there will be no holding back – it's going to be a case of win-at-all-costs, and having a full boat of 13 scholarship players can only help the cause.
But how do you fill up if you don't know how many rides you'll have open? With one ride open, it means UCLA will be looking very hard between now and the spring signing period to fill that open spot. As of right now, we're not aware of any prospects that UCLA is aggressively recruiting, but they're more in a watch-and-evaluate mode. UCLA did pursue DeAndre Daniels, the 6-7 forward, seriously, but that now looks like the interest has diminished on both sides of the recruitment.
So, taking that into consideration, you then have to project out some likely scenarios.
More than likely, the present season isn't going to be deemed a successful one. Of course, we don't want to prematurely throw it out the window, but if you're reasonably projecting out scenarios, you'd have to say that odds are UCLA won't make the NCAA tournament. With a current RPI of 191, and without many big potential RPI wins on its schedule, UCLA will have to more than likely either win the Pac-10 conference championship or the conference tournament. We haven't even begun Pac-10 play yet so it is far premature to determine how UCLA will do in the conference. But again, we're doing this just for scenario-projecting sake.
If that is so, and UCLA doesn't make the tournament, there's no argument that it will be concluded that UCLA has had two unsuccessful seasons in a row.
That, more than anything, will be the factor UCLA has going against it the most in completing its recruiting of the 2011 class and the 2012 class. Recruits base so much of their decision on what the program has done lately. The three Final Fours that Howland led UCLA to between 2005-2006 and 2007-2008 are fading in the minds of recruits, and they would be replaced by two years of UCLA not making the NCAA tournament.
And remember, 2012 recruits will make their decisions and sign their NLIs by next November, without the benefit of watching the result of the 2011-2012 season. Their decision-making process, and UCLA's recruitment of them, will take place mostly between now and next fall, with potentially another unsuccessful UCLA season fresh in their minds.
So, UCLA looks to be up against it a bit in recruiting for the remaining 2011 class and 2012. And it truly is mis-timed in terms of projected rosters and seasons.
Projecting out, with the way the scholarship numbers fall, it looks like potentially UCLA will have the one season, 2011-2012, to put it back on the map, because it then more than likely will go back to what can only be deemed as a roster with some considerable holes to fill in 2012-2013, and mostly by very young and inexperienced players.
After the 2011-2012 season, UCLA will lose seniors Jerime Anderson, Lazeric Jones and Malcolm Lee, for certain. It'd be a long shot to believe that Honeycutt would still be in UCLA's program for his senior season of 2012-2013, since it's likely he leaves the program after this, his sophomore season. We'd also be surprised if Reeves Nelson is still in the UCLA program for that, his senior season. Those close to the situation believe he'd like to jump early to the NBA, and even though onlookers might not see the viability of that, as we've said previously, sometimes it's not logic that dictates these types of decisions. Regardless of the NBA option, we'll just say we'd be surprised if Nelson is still in the program for the 2012-2013 season.
Then there's Josh Smith, the freshman post. He's improving with every game. If he continues to do so, and continues to improve in terms of his weight and body, it's not difficult to see him potentially jumping to the NBA after his sophomore season.
Let's just project out the most extreme – but entirely plausible – scenario, and UCLA loses all of these players. The guys remaining on the roster for the 2012-2013 season would be:
Let's say Smith and/or Nelson are still on the roster, that's still possibly five or six new players you would need to find in the 2011 and 2012 classes.
But, with the way it all works in terms of signing periods and when you recruit a certain class, UCLA might not be able to (again) know how many it would have to sign by the 2012 class until, well, it's very late in the game. If Smith did go after his sophomore season, you wouldn't know until the spring of 2012, which is more than likely too late to find an impact player in the 2012 class. What if Nelson decides to leave early for the NBA, too, after next season? That could potentially be two open spots you weren't sure you had to fill as you go out and recruit the 2012 class this spring and summer.
But let's just say that UCLA, over the course of continuing to recruit the 2011 class and then the 2012 class, has five recruits as a target it wants to have committed by next November. If you look at the 2012-2013 roster projection above, those five would clearly have a huge impact on how well that year's team performs. And it's pretty clear projecting out that, with or without Smith and Nelson, UCLA will be in desperate need of guards and wings. First and foremost, UCLA is without a point guard, and it would probably need two actually. Unless UCLA finds an impact JC point guard by this spring, or a late-signee impact point guard in the 2011 class (which is unlikely), it would probably be starting a 2012 prospect at point guard as a freshman. In other words, it more than likely needs to find its starting point guard for that season sometime between now and next November. It then also needs to fill out its backcourt depth – and the future of its backcourt, with at least two more (f not three) perimeter players. And while the projected roster looks strong in the frontcourt, all of its frontcourt players are juniors or seniors, and the 2012 class will have to provide some kind of frontcourt answer for when those two classes graduate. That's a lot of uncertainty, particularly at the point guard position, for a season just two years away.
Recruiting between now and next November, also, could be even of higher importance if, say, UCLA's 2011-2012 season is a bit disappointing. In the good-case scenario, UCLA recruits really well to finish off the 2011 class and then the 2012 class by next November, and the 2011-2012 season is a successful one, with a good result in the NCAA tournament that wasn't under-achieving. But the bad-case scenario would be poor recruiting for 2011 and 2012 and an under-achieving 2011-2012 season. That would be a difficult combination of events to recover from, given the recent history of the program on the court and then its projected personnel.
If you're talking good-case scenarios, UCLA achieving an against-the-odds successful 2010-2011 season, such as a Pac-10 conference championship, would work. But, realistically, what if that doesn't happen, and you then actually discount in a disappointing end to the current season? It only emphasizes more how UCLA does in recruiting between now and November as perhaps the biggest factor in the fate of Howland's program.