The Bill Plaschke Farce

Is Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke really this in the dark, which would be a phenomenal accomplishment in itself, or has he created some brilliant, contrary persona? The evidence from this week is just too overwhelming...

Bill Plaschke has finally exposed himself.

In his two recent columns on UCLA basketball in the Los Angeles Times, Plaschke has gone so far with this "I'm-a-completely-in-the-dark-imbecile" persona that it's now certain it's a farce.

No one who has attained such a reputable and prestigious station in the sports journalist universe could be this naive and obtuse.

It has to be that the Bill Plaschke-idiot persona is by design, a construction, intended to rile up readers and sell newspapers. I mean, how many times can Plaschke be on the wrong side of fact and truth? He has to be doing this intentionally – setting himself up as a clownish figure for any sports fan with an average amount of knowledge to be able to recognize his stupidity. As T.J. Simers tries to set himself up as an ass, Plaschke must be trying to set himself up as an imbecile.

Is he just pulling one over on us? Is he actually some sort of genius, like HBO's Larry David or talk radio's Phil Hendrie?

Here's all the evidence from this week that proves Plaschke is an idiot. It's just so overwhelming that it can't be true. You decide.

First, the all-time classic ignorant comment in his first column this week: "An Earl Watson-to-Jason-Kapono alley-oop." Now, if you were buying into this Plaschke-is-a-moron theory, so much is crystalized about Plaschke in that simple description. It illustrates how little Plaschke has watched UCLA basketball, how little he knows about the program, how little he knew about Steve Lavin, and how little he generally knows. Anyone who watched a few games over the last several years would know that there would never be an alley-oop thrown for Jason Kapono.

Many columnists are at least sly in hiding the fact they don't know much about the program or the sport they're writing about - but not Plaschke. He's like a bad message board poster -- he's so enamored with his own writing and point of view he hasn't thought twice about what many of his descriptions are indicating about himself and his lack of knowledge. Plaschke just doesn't show the limits of his knowledge, but his fearlessness in exposing his ignorance. It's almost as if he's on the witness stand, and someone is making him testify and expose himself and his glaring lack of knowledge.

Plaschke then also takes quotes from Lavin and uses them as if they're gospel. Giving ink to Lavin is just his lazy attempt to try to find controversy. It has to be. If he wanted controversy, the truth and the facts might have served him better – but of course, that would demand Plaschke actually making a couple of phone calls and getting out of his armchair rather than relying on the word of a former coach that anyone who is involved in college basketball knows was a once-in-a-lifetime aberration. You'd have to be a semi-decent journalist to be a columnist for the Times, and being in the same city as UCLA, wouldn't the truth about Lavin inadvertently fall into your lap after a while? As a sports journalist, you'd have to intentionally shield yourself from stories about Lavin to be this in the dark. All it would actually take is one phone call to an informed source – and Plaschke would hear the overwhelming evidence of how Lavin being UCLA's head basketball coach was a farce on the level of Gerry Faust coaching Notre Dame football. It was the equivalent of a frat boy running one of the most storied programs in college basketball. It's the plot of a National Lampoon movie. Plaschke would have discovered the more controversial truth that actually explains the performance of this team this season: how far Lavin drove this program into the ground. Given that, no quality journalist would give Lavin the ink.

In his article today, Plaschke once again puts his sports ignorance on the pedestal for everyone to see. He writes: "By imposing his conservative style on a team clearly not suited for it, did Howland just waste six months of everybody's time?" Plaschke, perhaps because of the two games he did watch in the Lavin era, obviously doesn't recognize a well-coached team. Anything that resembles coaching to Plaschke looks "conservative." He's probably correct, though, in a back-handed sort of way – that good, strong basketball fundamentals are not clearly suited for players that were weaned on Lavin's lack of discipline and fundamentals. Establishing fundamentals and discipline, and instilling them into Lavin's players, though, is perhaps the best thing that has happened to this program in years, and perhaps the best time spent with the last six months. And if there was ever a way of getting as much out of this team as possible, the strict, tough emphasis on fundamentals and execution was the only way. With a team far less talented than it was last year, if any coach would have allowed this team to run up and down the court and not adhere to some strict discipline on both the offensive and defensive side, we would have been looking at 4 or 5 wins total.

But if Howland had done that, I'm sure that Plaschke would have been harping on Howland not instituting any discipline or fundamentals and being essentially as bad as Lavin (Well, maybe not, since Plaschke obviously thinks Lavin was a pretty good coach, citing his opinion so often. Or at least, that's what he wants us to think, that sly dog).

Plaschke writes that this team is the "most disappointing Bruin team in four decades." He gets this from citing that it's the lowest scoring UCLA team since 1960, and the first time since 1960 that UCLA hasn't had a player on the all-Pac-10 first team. Again, these are some mind-boggling extrapolations from Plaschke. Even Simers, who sits in his in-the-dark armchair as much as Plaschke, at least has a little actual sports acumen to conclude that the reason behind this is UCLA has its least talented team since 1960.

If you want to talk about "the most disappointing Bruin team in decades," maybe Plaschke should write about Lavin's teams, those that were stocked with talent because he inherited a program a year and half removed from a national championship. If you want to talk about disappointing teams, how about the team in, say, 1999-2000, that had five current NBA players on its roster in Earl Watson, Dan Gadzuric, Jerome Moiso, Jason Kapono, and Matt Barnes, and two other McDonald's All-Americans in Ray Young and JaRon Rush. That team tied for fourth in the Pac-10 and couldn't win more than two games in the NCAA tournament, getting blown out by a far less talented Iowa State team, 80-56.

For anyone who knows basketball, that's far more disappointing. Because, as Plaschke fails to realize, it's not just about stats and records. It's about accomplishment given the talent you have to work with. Lavin had truckloads. Howland, right now, has Lavin's mess.

Plaschke then says, "So, low scores and no stars. Hmmmm. Not exactly a recruiting poster."

Is Plaschke writing about Wichita State? Does he not realize that this is UCLA? Recruits see no stars on the roster and think, "Hey, I can go to UCLA and get immediate playing time." Again, another example of Plaschke discussing something he knows nothing about, in this instance recruiting, and specifically UCLA recruiting.

Maybe he should go ask his oracle, Lavin, about recruiting. He's the guy who brought in only two recruits to UCLA's program in the last two years that can play at this level. He's the guy whose name was mud in recruiting circles for the last several years. He's the reason why recruits like Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo, two players who have UCLA written all over them, weren't even considering UCLA, until Howland was hired.

And how can Plaschke continue to cite that Howland gave up on this team? What is his source? His TV? Reading into Howland's tough, fair and honest evaluations of his players? If Plaschke actually wanted to know the truth, he'd actually go spend some time around the UCLA basketball program and see how much this "giving up" translates into sustained dedication to long hours analyzing film, devising new drills, continuing to emphasize fundamentals, teaching new techniques, and finding new ways to motivate. If this is Howland giving up on his players, he did more teaching and coaching in the last month of the season giving up on these players than Lavin did in five years.

Bill Plaschke, the way he obstensibly comes off, is nothing more than a fan, with the extent of his knowledge. And then, on top of it, he's a fan that can be bought. In this new world of sports journalists with an ever-eroding value system toward real truth, there is always blackmail to succumb to and fall back on. If Lavin took you out for sushi in a limo with some hot models one night, that's worth at least a couple of columns defending him. You have nothing else to form an opinion, why not that? Plaschke probably personally likes Lavin better than Howland. Lavin schmoozed Plaschke (Heck, Lavin schmoozed the guy behind the counter at Jack in the Box). Howland, instead of spending so much time schmoozing (Lavin commonly spent his entire day in the office on the phone), actually is coaching. All that stuff like breaking down film, analyzing opponents, making game plans, recruiting, etc.

Toward the end of his article today, Plaschke again ignores basic basketball philosophy and, rather, asserts his ignorance once again. He asks Howland why this team didn't fast break more, and Plaschke is too dense to realize that Howland can't come right out and say, "I don't have the guys to run," while also trying to explain to him basic basketball – that you can fastbreak when you play defense and get rebounds. While everyone else in the press room gets it, our obtuse Plaschke takes that it as an indication of Howland's conservatism.

Then, Plaschke ends his article by laying down the gauntlet. He says, "In this town, it is a promise that best be kept," alluding to the short patience of UCLA fans. The L.A. Times, and Plaschke, in their laziness in finding the real story about the expectations of UCLA fans, has always fallen back on the long-held idea that UCLA fans have too high of expectations and little patience, skewed by John Wooden's success. Of course, why not adopt that theory, since it, like everything else Plaschke advocates, is the easy take rather than the truthful one? In reality, for being one of the top four or five most traditional college basketball programs in the country, UCLA's fans, at this point, have incredibly low expectations. They're not tweaked by John Wooden's shadow, but beaten down by the stench of Steve Lavin – as well as the mediocrity of Walt Hazzard and Larry Farmar, and the problems of Jim Harrick. It's fascinating that the Times continues to cite the short patience of UCLA fans, while UCLA fans are clearly giving Howland time to re-build the program. It's also incredibly ironic that while Plaschke asserts UCLA fans won't be patient with Howland he and the rest of his Times cronies are the only ones showing impatience. This is journalism today – when you're at a loss for material, concoct it. When you need to sell papers, stoke some fires, regardless of the facts.

UCLA fans, yes, lost patience with Steve Lavin, but appropriately so, in due time, based on fact and truth. It was because, having inherited a top five program, with all the accoutrements of talent, Lavin ran the program into the ground, consistently getting worse with every season while he coached. Instead of inheriting a national championship, Howland inherited from Lavin UCLA's worst season in 55 years, and the least amount of talent on its roster in 44 years.

Those are facts. And that's why your initial, knee-jerk reaction to Plaschke is to believe he's a moron, that he'll have to one day come out of his office, realize he doesn't know what he's talking about and have to ask someone who does, and discover that pesky thing called the truth.

But don't get sucked in. This whole Plaschke-as-a-moron farce is too unbelievable. He made some miscalcuations this week and exposed himself as the genius behind the curtain. A Kapono alley-oop. Using Lavin as a source, saying that there were five potential NBA players on this roster. Acting like he didn't get that discipline and fundamentals help a team win. Talking like he didn't know that recruits want to come to UCLA if they can get early playing time. Feigning that he didn't know that fast breaks started with rebounds. Come on. You blew it, Plaschke. No one could be this stupid. You pushed it a little too far.

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