New head basketball coach Ben Howland will have a lot to face when he starts evaluating the situation that was handed to him at UCLA. He'll have to evaluate his own players, determine who can play, who can't. He'll see if he's possibly going to lose some players because of academics. If he does, he could get some scholarships back to give in spring, but would he want to give them out? And then, what are his priorities when he starts recruiting, as he said, on Tuesday?
The process of evaluating his own players will present the big issue of whether players on the roster will return with a scholarship next season. In his press conference, Howland made references to having no scholarships to give this spring, but that doesn't necessarily mean that none will open up because players on the roster choose to leave the program.
It is expected by many close to the situation that Howland will probably have a few scholarships open up this spring. They could very well open up on their own, so to speak, by players leaving the program because of academics. It's also likely that a couple of players could perceive, after being evaluated, that they're not going to get playing time and wish to leave the program.
That would leave you to think that Howland could possibly give one or more scholarships this spring. But it could very well be fairly unlikely, even if scholarships are available.
Given the state of the program, and that UCLA is coming off the worst season in its last 50 years, Howland will probably recognize that he doesn't need to find quick fixes to try to turn around the program immediately next year. He will be able to show marked improvement next year and still get approval from the UCLA community just by improved coaching. And improvement from the season the UCLA community just witnessed wouldn't be difficult. So, instead of bringing in a JC player who isn't elite and could possibly give you 10-20 minutes, Howland could save any scholarships that open up this spring. Given that he doesn't have to win big next year to still live up to expectations, Howland very well could think that he needs to hold off on giving scholarships to players that could give him marginal help in the short term. He might think that he would want to keep the scholarships and give them to players that will be part of a longer-term building process. Rather than possibly take a marginal academic JC player to try to get a relative quick fix, it might serve him better to do it right – get the elite high school player that has good academics and helps build your program over the next five years.
Losing players on the current roster would be a blow, relative to who it is. There are reports that Andre Patterson could be in academic trouble, which would be very regrettable. Patterson is a player that could be integral in rebuilding the Howland program, and would fit in well on a Howland team, being athletic and consistently playing hard. Losing T.J. Cummings would also hurt next year's team, but being a senior next year, it wouldn't impact the long-term prospects of the program. Even though Cummings has suffered criticism by UCLA fans, all in all it would probably be good if Cummings returned, since he would be a large part of next year's team and regaining his scholarship, being a senior, would only give Howland the added option of bringing in a player this spring, which, as we analyzed above, might not be that critical.
The fact that signed prospect Trevor Ariza hasn't qualified academically is another concern. Ariza, while his body and style of play doesn't give him a defined position, is a level of talent that UCLA does need to bring into the program under Howland.
It's been speculated that players such as Josiah Johnson or Ryan Walcott could potentially chose to give up their scholarships, walk on, or leave the program. There is also a possible scenario that both of them having redshirted could present. It could be feasible that Johnson and/or Walcott agree to retain their scholarships for another year, which would be their fourth scholarship year. But they could agree to give up their scholarships for their fifth year, which was made available when former coach Steve Lavin redshirted them. It might be a good compromise for Walcott and Johnson and the new coaching staff. Johnson, who is a good student, could conceivably have achieved his degree by the end of his fourth year. If, in fact, either or both decided to give up their scholarship for their fifth year, it would open up those scholarships for UCLA to give to the current high school junior class.
So, more than likely, through all of these potential scenarios, you might be able to expect that Howland will have some scholarships to give this spring. Whether he gives out any might be determined purely by the level of player he'd be able to get. If he can bring in a player that could not only have an immediate impact next season but be the type of player that will have a big impact on the program's longer-term rebuilding plan, it could be possible.
For the high school junior class, UCLA already has two scholarships to give (the scholarships of Jon Crispin and Cummings, who will graduate). But through these various scenarios, you can probably expect UCLA to have more available, probably even four or five.
In analyzing the roster as we've