Ben Howland on Tuesday:
BH: fire away. Questions?
Q: your thoughts on the all-conference selections?
BH: I was just really disappointed, miffed, stunned that Jordan Adams wasn't on the All-Freshman team. I couldn't believe it. I felt hurt, sad, stunned, miffed. I mean, if ever there was a kid… you know, he's the 8th leading scorer in the conference on the year. He leads the conference in steals in conference games. Third overall. He's our best wing defender. I was watching our… we don't know if we're playing ASU or Stanford so I'm watching the ASU game last night [Monday] that we played and I'm watching the Stanford stuff tonight [Tuesday]. He made so many big shots during the year for us. He's part of the PAC-12 championship team. [audio difficulties] I put him for All-League. He was nominated for All-League. I really appreciate Sean Miller's [Arizona head coach] post today that I saw that was shared with me that he was equally stunned he didn't make the All-Freshman team. He voted for him for All-League, and I appreciate that. And I always take, when I do it, I take the voting for these kids very seriously and wait until the conference is completely over. I mean, so people are already putting in their ballots, returning their ballots before the conference is even complete which I don't relate to. But that being said, I thought that that was really an injustice. I was very happy for both Larry [Drew II] and for Shabazz [Muhammad] and for Kyle [Anderson] to all be named to PAC-12 All-Conference. I felt very good about Shabazz being name co-player of the year for the incoming freshmen. You know, all of that is nice. I mean, it's all about how the team does. I did reminder our team that the coaches voted Russell Westbrook third team all-league in March of the same year. 3 months later, he was the fourth pick in the draft. You know, so you take everything with a grain of salt.
Q: you surprised that Shabazz didn't get the player of the year? You talked Saturday…
BH: well, Larry could've been a candidate as well. That's what one of our coaches said. Typically, what I do, is I always look to the winning team so that's why I wait until the season's over because I always think that players are #1 evaluated on making your team win. And when you're talking about the all-time greats, it's all about "[Michael] Jordan as 6", "Kobe [Bryant] has 5", "LeBron [James] has 1". For me, Bill Russell has 11+2. It's why I say it's Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic [Johnson], Jordan and Kobe as my all-time greats. It's all about making your team win. Like for example, it's why I voted for [Kaleb] Tarczewski for the all-freshmen team from Arizona because he started every game on a team that's 13 in the RPI and [audio difficulties] our league. The bottom line is it's what your team does that's most important, and our players understand that.
Q: what are the challenges of going into a 3-games-in-3-nights scenario?
BH: well, just take it one game at a time. We hope it becomes 3 games in 3 nights but we've got to get past our first opponent. So we will start practice tomorrow [Wednesday] at 1:15PM, stretching. Start shooting. Some offensive work, sets-wise around 2PM. And hopefully the game is over by 2:15 and we know who we're playing so that we… when we get to how we're going to defend our opponent, we actually know it's going to be either Arizona State or Stanford. And they played one time, Stanford won at Tempe in a very tight, contested game. [John] Gage [Stanford F-C] had a great first half. I think he had 14 [points]. Stanford played fantastic which you have to do to win on the road, especially down there. [Arizona State] had a really good home campaign this year. I think they were 17-2 or something like that. No, they were 15-4. A hard place to win down there in Tempe.
Q: Ben, the loss at Pullman [Washington], where do you put that in terms of thinking that maybe this team is peaking at the right time and then you have that loss there. What are you thinking about that?
BH: in what context again?
Q: well, I want to ask you do you feel like this team has come together? Sort of peaked at the right time?
BH: well, I think if you look at our team… how we played here down this stretch. And we've bounced back from tough defeats during the course of our season. At Cal, then turn around and win at Stanford, win at ‘SC. Then beat the Arizona schools. To lose such a crucial game on the road, Wednesday night, where we really… and again, I take full responsibility for how poorly we played Wednesday. And part of it was when Travis [Wear] got hurt the day before we played ‘SC at ‘SC, sitting for about a 2 week period, we didn't have any contact in practice. I just didn't feel like… we already had a guy out, now if we get someone else out, and now we're down to 6 guys. And so I was very hesitant, and that really weakens you. You play how you practice. We had our best practice of 2013 on Friday in Seattle. And that directly correlated to how we performed and played the next day. There was a toughness that is necessary to win against a good team on their home floor. So that being said, there's no more days off for practice around here. If someone gets hurt, they're going to get hurt. And if they get hurt, there's someone else that will come in and play. Because ultimately, that if we're fortunate to get through a few of those games…
Q: if you win 2, 3 games this week, play well this week, where do you think you should be seeded in the NCAA Tournament?
BH: you know what? I'm not even going to venture to guess that. What we need to do is take care of what we can control and that is our game at noon on Thursday and then move forward from that point. And whatever happens, happens. It's such a… Our goal obviously is to win the conference tournament. I think if we did that, it would give us a good chance to be seeded in the West. I'm more worried about making sure that we're seeded closer to home than I am with 4, 5, 3, 6, or whatever we are. But we control that based on how well we perform.
Q: how does the fact that you guys are considered kind of a lock to make the Tournament as opposed to some other team that might need a win in this PAC-12 Tournament?
BH: well, there's 5 teams in our team that are a lock to get into the tournament. I don't think there's anybody that, you know, of the teams that received a bye, plus Colorado, that aren't already in. That's a done deal no matter what they do. But you also have the potential for another team to win the tournament which means they're going to have to win 4 games in 4 days which Colorado did a year ago. And in my opinion, the teams that have the best chance to do that is one of the two teams that we're going to play, the winner of that Stanford-Arizona State game. Those 2 teams, if you look at RPI and look at what they've done, they're the closest to being that sixth team out of our league. So we know that we're playing a team on Thursday at noon that is playing with that exact mindset: that they have to win this game to get into the Tournament. And that's kind of how ASU was when we played them here the last time. You know, [Joe] Lunardi had them first/last team out, last team in, first team out or whatever it was at the time. Now it's even more heightened by the fact that yeah, it's pretty clear, you have to win the [PAC-12] Tournament if you want to go to the NCAA [Tournament]. So that's what we're going to see, and that's what makes this tournament so compelling.
Q: is there a danger that one of those 5 teams that are a "lock" might not get in if someone…
BH: I don't feel that way. I think that they're all a lock regardless of what happens.
Q: Coach, what are some of the difficulties that can come with young players returning home to play like Shabazz will do in this game?
BH: I think he'll do fine. We have players that live here in LA. They're at home. I don't believe it's a big deal at all. I think it's exciting for him. You know, he's returning home the conquering hero. He led this team to the PAC-12 championship in the regular season. He's a projected lottery pick. He's a freshman-of-the-year in the conference. But nothing is amazing for anybody there. They've seen this kid all their life.
Q: do you think it might motivate him more?
BH: yeah, I think it'll be fun for him. To be at home.
Q: your thoughts on moving the tournament from LA?
BH: I think it's a great move. I think that… everything that Larry Scott [PAC-12 Commissioner] has been doing has been absolutely well-thought out and thoughtful and very very smart. People want to go to [Las] Vegas. I mean, when I was in the Big East at Pitt, everybody was so excited about the Big East Tournament because you're going to New York City. There's plays. There's restaurants. There's things to do. Vegas has got… there's nightlife. And all the things that so many adults enjoy. People love to go to Vegas. It's going to be a happening. This ticket, in this league, 3 years from now, will be one of the most difficult tickets in the country to get. It's going to be… people are going to… and that's what you have to have. I've always believe and I've said it before, you've got to have it at the same place every year. You have to have it in Vegas every year. People are going… 5 years from now. 10 years from now. They're used to going. They've been going every year. They can't wait to go, "it's so much fun." "Even if our team loses, we can just hang out and have fun in Vegas. We don't have to worry about changing our flight and come back early. Rather stay. It'd cost more to change the ticket." It's going to turn into a total happening. For sure. And for us, we're not in LA but everybody's used to driving over there. 15-20 years from now, we'll have that rail done by now, and we'll be able to hop on the speedrail. So I think it's a great thing. I couldn't be happier.
Q: since this is a town where adults can go do things that adults can do, are there any rules you're going to employ with your team?
BH: it's just the same-old, same-old. We're very structured with our time. Our guys won't be running around hanging out in casinos. We're on a business trip. But for our fans and the families of the players and all the people that come to enjoy the different activities that are available in Las Vegas, both for adults and kids, it'd be great.
Q: so you don't feel the need to institute the rule about staying away from the table or reminding them to stay away from the table?
BH: I mean, if you're 21, you can pull a lever. If you're not, you can't.
Q: Ben, can you talk a little bit about the journey that Muhammad has been on from the beginning of the year, not even knowing what was going to happen, to now where he's one of the best players in the league?
BH: yeah, it's an incredibly adverse ride. Not only because of the issues with the NCAA but also just all the injuries that he sustained. From his ankle in the summertime which kept him out for over 2 months to his shoulder early in the season. God, I was so afraid that it was like a torn labrum after it happened. There was pink eye to his groin. I mean, there's been issue after issue. And to have to deal with the uncertainty of not knowing whether they're going to clear you or what's going to happen. He handled it so well. I mean, he's such a great kid. And such a wonderful family. You know, I mean, their family is really really close, and they're very nice people. And both Ron [Holmes] and Faye [Muhammad] are from Southern California. Very successful people. And great parents. And all 3 kids are wonderful kids.
Q: is there anything particularly you've taken from or learned from coaching a team that is so young? Kind of prone to maybe slip up sometime like Washington State or other games during the season?
BH: anytime you have youth, you have things that they're going through for the first time. We're taking kids that have never been to Pullman, never been to Seattle. It's all first-time experiences. So they've done a great job. But there's always adversity in a season. We're here in LA so it's dramatized even more because we're in the land of Hollywood. We're in the land of the Lakers and the Clippers. And you know, just all the drama that takes place within professional sports. I think when you're a college team and a team that's very much in a pro town, I think there's a definite carryover to how kids are treated. It's not the same level of scrutiny or drama probably at a college town as it is in this town. But they get used to it.
Q: why do you feel that this team has been able to step up in the big moments?
BH: because we've got really good players. And they're very competitive. And they're used to winning. We talked about, coming in, Tony Parker, 4 straight state championships, Kyle Anderson, 93-1 in high school, Jordan Adams was 86-2 in high school. Shabazz, multiple state championships and used to winning. The [Travis and David] Wears from Mater Dei. They're used to winning. Larry Drew at Taft High School. Used to winning. So that's the bottom line. They're really good players. Norman Powell. His high school team was a really good high school team. Used to winning.
Q: Ben, where does this… considering all the adversity you've went through, Shabazz at the beginning of the season, you've lost 2 players in the middle of the season, what does this championship mean for you?
BH: well, they're all special. Someone asked that up in Seattle, I can't remember who. But every one is special that you win as a coach because this is something… and you know, the regular season is over now and now we're on to the funnest part of the year. But in terms of winning a conference championship, that's something that those kids will all share the rest of their lives. And you don't have perspective on that as an 18, 19, 20 year old, but when they're 40, it'll be fun for them to be able to really reflect upon how special it really is. I think that the reflective part is years down or years away. To really appreciate it. It's like, you see when the former players come back and are around, there's so much joy in their hearts because this was the greatest time in their life, being a part of this program and playing for Coach [John] Wooden and playing for the different coaches, [Gary] Cunningham or Larry [Brown]. All the different players that come back for Coach [Jim] Harrick. But all those guys, grown up, they come back… you don't appreciate how special it is until you're older and you have a chance to look back and reflect. It's like, "wow, that was unbelievably special." So it's always wonderful.
Q: is it the same for you? To be able to look back and appreciate it?
BH: no, I appreciate it even more. Because I am 55 years old. I have a little bit more perspective and also an appreciation of going through tough years and then bouncing back and getting a championship does make it special. We've won 4 of the last 8 PAC-12 championships. And we finished second in 2 of the years that we didn't win. So it's been pretty good.
Q: do you feel like you've proven anything as a coach this year just being able to win the PAC-12 title, especially when you're relying on a lot of youth?
BH: I mean, we expected to win. And that's how it is here. We expect to win it every year. And I think our fans do too if I'm not mistaken.
Q: can you touch on Kyle's season? There was a lot of speculation for… he came in… what kind of role he would fill? He had a lot of skills. A lot of size. What have you been pleased with?
BH: I mean, #1, he's our best rebounder. Phenomenal rebounder. If you look at how well he rebounds the basketball, it's incredible, those passing skills. I mean, he is… by the way, Jordan Adams, we talked about him, Jordan Adams is also top-10 in free throw percentage. In conference games, Kyle has improved his free throw percentage. He's in the top 5, I think. He's in the top 5 or 6 in rebounding. He's in the top 10 in assist-to-turnover ratio and assists. I mean, he does so many things. He's really improving as a defensive player. I mean, Kyle's an incredible talent who I think will really be a special player as he continues to develop his game. He does so many things well. His feel for the game, as we talked about when he arrived here, is really incredible for a kid so young and especially when you throw in that he's 6'9" and his 7-foot wingspan. He has such good passing skills and feel. It's really cool.
Q: are you going to handle player minutes at all differently, given just all the games you have coming up this week?
BH: it'll be similar. Norman goes in… we need to get a few more minutes. We're trying to win it one game at a time. You keep acting like we're guaranteed 3 games. We're just trying to win the next game, whatever the game it is. We're treating it just how we would every other game. You know, there's always time flow, different things that happen during a game, foul trouble, all those things, but yeah, we're just trying to win the next game.
Q: you've got a lot of good point guards here, did you expect Larry to be just as good a distributor, even better distributor than…
BH: and I'm glad you brought that up because no one really asked me about it after the game up in Seattle. I mean, Larry Drew is now the all-time assist leader in the history of UCLA basketball for a single season and that's in the same amount of games as Pooh [Richardson]. Pooh played 31. He played 31. Now, he's going to build upon that record because hopefully we have a number of games left in our season this year. It's incredible what he's accomplished. We talked about this early in the season and just spoke about how he was maligned, coming here. I would think that Larry's proved that he's very deserving of all the support and accolades that he's been given at UCLA. And happy for him to graduate this quarter. He'll be a UCLA grad here in another few weeks. Just really proud for him and happy for him.
Q: he says he wants to be an extension of you on the floor. [audio difficulties]
BH: absolutely. That's what a good point guard is. He's an extension of the coach on the floor. Very unselfish. Very giving of himself. I think he's got a very bright future ahead of him beyond college. He's going to make money basketball for a long time, in-between his rapping debuts.
Q: Ben, how much of a rebound has the conference made this year after what was pretty bad last year?
BH: a huge rebound. And it comes down to the players. We're starting 12 freshmen out of the 60 starters in the conference. And you look at some of the freshmen, I mean, [Dominic] Artis before he got hurt. The 3 freshmen at Arizona. The 2 kids at Oregon. The 2 kids at Colorado. Having terrific years. There's a bunch of them. Tyrone Wallace at Cal. There's a lot of good players in this league. But the freshmen class has really boosted it along with some good players returning. And we've got good seniors too. You look at [Solomon] Hill. I mean, Hill is a terrific player from Arizona. And [Carrick] Felix has had a great year down there in Arizona State. It's just some really great players in this league that are going to play a long time. That's ultimately what it comes down to. There's good coaches, no question, but you've got to have the good talent to make it all work.
Howland's Tuesday Press Conference
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