Interview with Ben Howland

It's the first day of school at UCLA -- and the first day of individual workouts for the basketball players. We spoke with new Head Basketball Coach Ben Howland about his experience so far as the Bruins' coach, recruiting, his plans for the team and the future...

We sat down and spoke with Ben Howland recently to get his impressions on a variety of subjects as UCLA's new head basketball coach.

BRO: You've been on the job for almost six months. What have been some of your initial impressions of being the head coach at UCLA? Has it been what you expected - and has there been some things that were unexpected?

Howland: "The program has such a following. There is such great love and enthusiasm for UCLA basketball. It's special, so in many ways it's what I expected. One of the highlights since I've been on the job was having a get-together with about 60 former players and managers to meet the new staff. Coach Wooden was there, and that was great.  You got a great sense of how much people - the former players and anyone who has been associated with UCLA basketball - care about the program. It's exciting to be a part of one of the richest traditions and histories in college basketball.  

"There really hasn't been that much that was unexpected. Anytime you move families, establish new residences, it's mostly tedious and takes work, and there are things you might not expect. We're lucky that we have good wives." 

BRO: You required that your coaches lived close to campus...

Howland: "I did stress that with the staff, to have all the coaches close to campus. I tried to do the best I could to get the coaches financial help so they could be close to campus. The school's administration was very supportive. That was, though, a big thing for me. I didn't want the staff living a long ways away. I've done it before at other places and it wears on you. I intend for my staff to spend a lot of time here on campus and it's better if they're close."

BRO: Three of the tasks you've had since last spring were hiring a coaching staff, the spring workouts and recruiting.   First, concerning the hiring of the staff -- did you have a plan in how you built your staff?

"Initially when I took the UCLA job I wasn't sure about the status of Coach (Jamie) Dixon [Howland's former #1 assistant at Pittsburg who is now the Panther's head coach). I wasn't sure what would happen with Coach Dixon.  I was hopeful that what happened would happen, that he'd get the Pitt job, but I was holding a position for him as that decision was being made.  So, initially there was some unknown there.

"I then went about building a staff with priorities.  I wanted to get coaches on my staff who could recruit at the national level as well as the local level. We have to do a great job recruiting Southern California and the West, and it was critical to get someone like Donny Daniels, who I feel could really be successful recruiting in the West and I feel very comfortable with. I'm very lucky to have gotten Coach Daniels.  He's so well respected and liked, and is such a good coach, from every aspect.  So, that was a huge get.

"Ernie Zeigler was with me at Pitt and understands how we do things. He not only brought a Midwest recruiting background, but, as a former AAU guy, has good relationships in the AAU world. Kerry Keating has done a lot of national recruiting and on the east coast and has good contacts and ties. So I think we have a great, well-rounded staff, with east coast ties, which I have myself, and a good basis in the west, which gives us a great balance in recruiting.  It gives us a good chance to recruit the west well and then be able to branch out and get some recruits nationally.  So, from a recruiting perspective, I feel I have a great staff, and you know how important that is to be successful.

"Also Chris Carlson, the Director of Basketball Operations, and Doug Erickson, our  Administrative Assistant, are excellent.  They're very good additions also, and all of them are extremely motivated, hard-working and driven."

BRO: What was your impressions of the spring workouts with the players on the roster?

Howland: "There were some things to get excited about. Dijon Thompson has a lot of ability. He's very good at putting the ball in the basket. He also worked hard at the weights during the off-season. He had a good summer in the Say No League, too, and has been generally doing a very good job since last spring from what I can see.  I was excited about Mike Fey. I think he did a good job in spring, worked hard, was coachable and was aggressive. He has an upside based on what I saw in spring.  I was pleased with Ryan Hollins, and excited about two things with him. He has toughness. Even though he's slight of build, he's real tough. He takes a hit and keeps coming at you. I like his toughness and athleticism. Those three guys to me stood out the most."

BRO: How were you received in the recruiting world as the UCLA head coach this last summer?

Howland: "I've been very pleased with the reception the entire staff has received, especially from the local kids. You know, I can't comment specifically on players, but I'm very pleased with how our recruiting is going. During the spring and summer, it was very exciting.   I know that we're going to work really hard on recruiting and I have a great staff to do it. I can't emphasize enough about how happy I am with my staff, especially in regards to recruiting."

BRO: What's your philosophy for recruiting for your first recruiting class - the 2004 class?

Howland: "Well, we'll have four or five scholarships total to give. It remains to be seen how many. I feel it's important to get your perimeter situated for the future. You have to have good guards to be good. Ideally, with this class I'd like someone at every position. That would be ideal."

BRO: How different do you feel it will be recruiting at UCLA? Will you have a different philosophy recruiting at UCLA than at Pittsburgh?

Howland: "Having been at a UC school as an assistant, I'm familiar with how you have to watch and stay on top of the academic side of the program and in recruiting. To be successful at UCLA it's critical that we get both good players and good students. That's key for us here. We have to be involved with the top-100-national type of player here, but also have to recruit good student athletes. 

"And talking about rankings, I don't get caught up in player rankings and never have. At Pittsburgh I had many guys who weren't ever ranked in the top 50 nationally as a recruit, but we were a top ten team in the last two years.  Sometimes kids are more motivated when they're not ranked so highly. This pertains to getting good quality kids and student athletes, too. We need to be involved with the best overall, cream-of-the-crop student athletes in the country.  Those are the kids, by the way, that are really fun to coach anyway.  In fact, I will say that about the current roster we have; they're a really nice group of kids."

BRO: How is Cedric Bozeman?

Howland: "He was cleared to play, which was great news. I've been pleased that he worked really hard in the weight room. He's been dedicated to building up his strength after the injury. One of my biggest points of emphasis is weight lifting. I think it cuts down on the instances of injury."

BRO: How have the players responded to your emphasis on weight-lifting and strength?

Howland: "It's going to take some time. A couple of the guys have bought into it and some haven't. The teams that do buy into it overall have an advantage. Look at the best teams in the Pac-10. Since Mike Montgomery has been at Stanford they've had big, strong guys that take advantage of being stronger than their opponent. It's no mystery. Strength and size are important and an advantage." 
BRO: When do the individual workouts begin this fall?

Howland: "We start on the 25th of September (today), the first day of school. We're able to work with the individual players each for two hours a week. So the way we do it is to work with four guys at a time in one-hour sessions, twice a week."   

BRO: What will be the responsibilities of your coaches in practice?

Howland: "Once we start practice, the way I break it down typically is into two groups - posts and then everyone else.  Donny Daniels will probably work with the posts. That would be Hollins, Fey, Josiah Johnson and John Hoffart.  But Coach Daniels can also work with the guards. We'll probably get T.J. Cummings to also work with the posts at times, and Matt McKinney. Then Coach Keating and Coach Zeigler will work at the other end with the other players." 

BRO: Give us an overview of the offense and defense you will run at UCLA, the style, philosophy, etc.

Howland: "On defense it's not going to be too different from what we did at Pittsburgh: Man-to-man defense, try to do a good job in transition, emphasizing doing a good job of preparing for our opponent, playing smart, defensive basketball, contesting all shots and not allowing more than one shot. On offense, we want to push it at every opportunity.  The more easy buckets you can get the better. Our defense has to help start our break to create those opportunities.  So, we'll try to get a lot of easy opportunities, and then we'll run a lot of different sets, be unselfish and take good shots in our half-court offense."

BRO: Do you feel Pauley Pavilion needs to be renovated - and in what kind of time frame?

Howland: "Renovating Pauley is something that has been talked about since I've taken over here. It's been discussed a lot. It's a great facility, with an unbelievable history. It has an aura about it. It's a great situation to have Pauley, and then be able to have it updated. I'm sure it will happen down the road. I don't know what the timetable is for it. That will depend mostly on finances, but I'm sure there will be some upgrades made."

BRO: You've had the get-together with former players, and also have made references to getting UCLA's basketball legacy of former players more involved in the program. Why do you feel it's important?

Howland: "There are so many great former UCLA players, I just want our players to be able to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge and experience of those former players. I think all of the players that came before them are a big resource.  I know and understand how special it is to be a UCLA basketball player or coach. I want our players to understand and realize that same honor, have pride in wearing that uniform and know that it's a special honor.  Who better to exemplify it and teach the kids about that honor than former players."

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