Howland Teleconference on Muhammad

Ben Howland talks about the commitment of Shabazz Muhammad, what impact this recruiting class can have next year, and whether he's done with the 2012 class yet...

Q: How are you?

A: I couldn't be better. So needless to say, I'm very happy right now.

Q: How much of an impact can a guy like Shabazz Muhammad have in his first year?

A: I think he's going to have a tremendous impact. He's a special special talent, and has so many attributes that help our team. No. 1, he's physically strong enough right now to be an impact player right away, because he's 220 pounds, 6'6, and long. And is a great scorer. Shooter, scorer. And he's an outstanding foul shooter. I think he's a very good rebounder, and he's a winner. He won three straight championships, and he was the unanimous most valuable player from every national player of the year award this year. The last one to do that, if I'm not mistaken, was Kevin Love. And this is our third national player of the year, Jrue Holiday being the other, and obviously you look at the impact those players had, Kevin and Jrue, and they were huge. And Shabazz undoubtedly is going to have a very impactful season as a freshman."

Q: When did you know he was coming? Did he tell you this a while ago?

A: No, you know what, we've been recruiting Shabazz and Ron Holmes and Fay Muhammad three years now. And so this was a long process. We felt good about it for quite a long time. When you go back to their roots, you know, Ron and Fay are both Southern Californians and their families are here. Fay is arguably one of the top 3 women athletes in the history of Southern California. She was a starting point guard of a Final Four Long Beach State team, and she just missed the Olympic team both as a basketball player and as a sprinter for our track team. She is an unbelievable athlete. Her brother played in the NFL, you know, played for Fresno State and then played in the NFL for a number of years. And she's just a great athlete. And Ron was an outstanding guard at USC, and was a very good basketball player. His son, Shabazz, is a product of the two of them and Ron's tutelage, being a former Division I player and has been one of the main driving forces as to why this kid is where he is right now.

Q: Where does he project to play in college?

A: Well, he's going to play the off guard, or the small forward position, either one.

Q: He mentioned it being a big challenge to bring UCLA back to the top. Is that something you were selling him on?

A: Absolutely. We have not been where we wanted to be the last few years, and we want to be champions. And we've been, in my tenure here, to the Final Four, and we want to get back there again. And it was fun to watch Kyle Anderson and Shabazz on TV together tonight. I was sitting there going "Wow." It's amazing to have two of those kids. And then you add Jordan Adams. And we're hoping, and praying, and working hard to add at least one more recruit here before this recruiting period is over."

Q: How much do you think Kyle's lobbying helped you in this thing?

A: No question it was huge. And I'll be honest with you, I think that Shabazz's interest in UCLA initially encouraged Kyle when Kyle signed. But you can see how close they are. These guys connect on the floor. I mean, it's a close friendship. In other words, what's great for me is the kids recruiting each other. That's the best kind of recruiting in the world. In fact, I'll tell you what, after Shabazz's announcement, he called, and I got to be on the phone with him right after, and he put Kyle on the phone, and the first thing I said to Kyle was, "Not only are you a great player, you are a great recruiter." It was so fun. Those are obviously two of the best players in the country, and you know, the timing of going back into new Pauley, and I feel we have a really good nucleus that returns next year. I'm excited. I'm very excited about that. I think that our players, since we've returned for the spring quarter, have done a great job. Tonight, having Shabazz, the No. 1 player in the country, commit to us, and sign his letter of intent, was absolutely just a spectacular day for our team and our program, and all Bruins fans.

Q: What was the biggest factor in getting both Kyle and Shabazz?

A: Opportunity. These kids are looking at UCLA as a great opportunity to come and help us rise right back to the top where we expect to be. They've been on this campus multiple times. That campus and the university sells itself. It's such a great special place. The education is second to none. The quality of the people that are in our program that will be working with them, you know, the professors, the support staff, and the academic support, everybody is just tremendous, and all did a great job in helping to recruit this young man. I really believe that having the new Pauley coming on line, and having what is essentially a brand new facility that we'll be moving into this coming Fall, is a huge factor for these kids.

Q: During your recruiting, did you discuss with Shabazz how long he plans to spend at UCLA?

A: No, I really haven't. But it's realistic to think that he could be gone in a year, and max two years. That'll be determined ultimately by both he and his family at the appropriate time. Just like any player that's that highly thought of.

Q: Looking at the team now, how do you think the talent level compares to your Final Four teams?

A: I like our talent level. Right now, as we move into next year. But we want to continue to add to this team. And we'd like to add at least one more, and try to improve our depth. But I like our team. It's hard for me to (compare it to the Final Four teams). I was watching Russell Westbrook tonight in a tough loss to Clippers, and he was pretty special. We've had some really good players. But I really like this group and we're going to have a nice blend of, I think, some really solid veterans that are really working hard to improve right now, along with a great influx of freshmen that are among the best entering college this coming year in the country.

Q: How much were you selling these kids on your ability to get them to the NBA?

A: I think that's a big selling point. You look at our players and how they're doing in the NBA. It's one thing to get there, it's another thing to perform. And I can't take credit. I was glad that I've had a part in it. You look at what Kevin has accomplished and what Russell has accomplished, and what Darren, and Arron Afflalo and Trevor, and Farmar, and Jrue Holiday, all these kids. It's really special. Mbah a Moute, couldn't be prouder of, Ryan Hollins. All these kids. It's been incredible. That sells itself, because it's real. I'd love to take credit, but I've been really fortunate. It comes down to the kids who we've been able to attract and coach. The thing that's great about Shabazz is that he's a great kid and he's got a great family. He's really really the total package, an outstanding student-athlete.

Q: Is the next season, with this class and Pauley reopening, comparable to anything since you've been there?

A: No, this is a whole new era. What we've really tried to institute now that we've returned from spring break is a whole new level of accountability for our current team, and I'm really excited about the future as we move forward. And I want to reemphasize that our players that are currently in our program have done just an unbelievable job the last ten days since returning from spring break in every aspect of their lives, from their class work, to on the floor, to their weight lifting, to their diet, everything. I couldn't be happier about where we are directing ourselves right now.

Q: Where's Shabazz as a defender?

A: I think potentially he's a monster. He's just so long and strong, and has good quickness and great strength and explosiveness. That's one of the things that his dad and he and I have talked about a lot. One of the reasons our players have gone from this level at UCLA and gone to the NBA and done so well is that…the difference between the NBA and college is that there's less help-side defense in the pros because of the rules. You have rules that don't allow as much team defense in many respects because of the NBA three second rule for defense, and being above the foul line, etc. And our players have really performed well at that end of the floor, and that really matters at the next level.

Q: You've had some recruiting misses out on the East Coast. What was different this year?

A: One of the things that's a huge plus for us right now is the new television contract that the Pac-12 is entering into next year. Flat out, no question being on ESPN on a regular basis as a conference next year is a huge plus for our program, as it is for the rest of our conference. I think that new Pac-12 package, where every single game from every single program in our league will be televised and available, is huge. And I think that again, the facility coming online and that's a big big deal.

Q: How do you handle the expectations for next year that come with two potential one and dones?

A: Well, it's exciting to have those kinds of expectations that you're putting out there right now. But they're real. We don't want to get ahead ourselves right here. You've got to earn everything that you get. There's nothing that going to substitute hard work, being disciplined, sacrificing for one another, and most important, playing as a team. That's one thing that I love about Kyle Anderson. Here's a kid who's such an unselfish player. All these kids are all about winning. And I'd love to be talking about one more of them in the near future. But it's about winning and making your team win. Kyle Anderson's team, since last year, is 65-0. Shabazz has won three state championships. Jordan Adams went for a quick 44-0 this year, and I think was 41-2, or 42-2 a year ago. That's exciting stuff.

Q: Is Josh Smith committed to definitely coming back next year?

A: Yeah, he is. And he's really working hard right now, and I couldn't be more pleased with the first ten days of this new quarter.

Q: What was your reaction when the actual letter of intent came through?

A: When he announced on television that he was coming, that's when I really really reacted. That's what I was confident was happening, but when it finally happens…and, you know, now it's such a production when it happens with a kid of that stature. The whole world of this technology driven society, where everything is instant and on television, and ESPN U is such a great production. It was really special. I was really touched. And his letter of intent came a couple of hours later, and it had to be faxed, but his word, and his parents' word, that's as good as gold. I never for a second was worried about the actual letter of intent coming across.

Q: Was there a sense of gratification given some of the negative press that's come about around the program recently?

A: I will tell you this, and I have been way too slow to point this out, my staff, No. 1 Phil Matthews, who's in his second year, has done a tremendous job spear heading the recruitment of Shabazz and Kyle and deserves a lot of credit for his great work, and job. And so that's something that I actually should have said from the onset. But my whole staff, I mean, everybody has done a great job with all these kids. And I just couldn't be more happy to be surrounded by such a good group of coaches and people.

Q: Were there conflicting emotions during the time of the SI story, knowing that you had such a good recruiting class on the way?

A: When I'm in the middle of my season, you always have one eye on the future. After the season ended, obviously the hope for the future becomes bigger in terms of everything. And to have it come to fruition today. Again, this was a three year process that has gone on. And I just love Shabazz's family. He's got a wonderful family. Fay and Ron are incredible people. It's really special to have these wonderful families as part of the Bruin family.

Q: Is there a chance you'll build the offense around Shabazz a little?

A: We definitely have to take advantages of his talents. He's a great scorer. He's got a great mid post, low post game. A great runner, a great jump hook. An outstanding three point shooter. I mean, he played down here at the Mater Dei tournament back in February and he had like six threes in the game he played in. This guy can really score and really shoot. And he's an unbelievable foul shooter. [Laughs] That's exciting. He understands where to put the ball when he's at the foul line. It's definitely something we have to take advantage of. I know his future teammates are excited, and I know that the kids he's coming in with are really excited.

Q: It was only a month ago that people were talking about whether you'd have a job at UCLA next year, and now people are wondering how far you can go in the tournament. Is this type of recruiting class that can just change the face of a program like that?

A: Yeah, and it's all about recruiting and players. I've said that in the past, and I think this is going to reinvigorate our recruiting efforts and I'm excited about that. When other kids see the kids that we're attracting, and they're coming here now, I think it's a great thing for recruiting in the future here as we look forward.

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