Lunch with Ben Howland

Head Basketball Coach Ben Howland fills us in on the off-season status of the program, the players, recruiting and much more during lunch Monday in Westwood...

Sitting down for lunch Monday with UCLA Head Basketball Coach Ben Howland at Jerry's Deli in Westwood gave us the chance to get caught up with the program in the off-season.

When did the spring workouts begin and end?

"They started two weeks after the season ended. So when we got back from Tucson, they were right in finals. We had finals going on. I always liked to take two weeks off, after that six or seven month grind.  There really isn't anything to break it up, except for a few days for Christmas. I want them to get away, mentally and physically, and just relax. Because when they start up, they're starting up for a whole other year."

So, they took off finals week of the winter quarter and the week after that...

"That's right. It really worked out, unfortunately because we weren't playing, on finals week and then there's the week in between classes. So those two weeks they were off and we came back and started back up."

The NCAA also changed the ruling on what you could do in spring workouts, correct?

"Yes. We were doing more three-on-three and four-on-four. We did some individual stuff, but when they changed the rule you could do three-on-three and four-on-four. You can now have your full team at the workout, if you wanted, all ten guys. You still only get two hours a week, and we chose to do three 40-minute sessions, throughout the week, which is the equivalent of two hours. And really we only have six guys that are healthy, without Cedric Bozeman."

How did the spring workouts go?

"The spring workouts went pretty well. I think that our three freshmen starters showed that they had really grown a lot from the beginning of the spring to the end of the spring. I think they really improved a lot from where they were at the start of the fall to where they were at the beginning of spring, and then improving during the spring. They gained so much experience.  Those three kids in particular gained a lot of experience and they're playing with a lot of confidence. I thought they really looked good. They were probably our three best for the spring. I think Ryan Hollins did a good job this spring. Lorenzo Mata and Mike Fey were both solid. But overall, they did a good job. It was very intense. I was excited about the progress they made, especially the three freshman starters from a year ago."

What's Cedric Bozeman's status?

He's actually seeing his doctor on Tuesday to see what his final clearance is now in terms of what he can do."

He hasn't been cleared to play yet?

"It will be another month or so to play. I think he'll be cleared tomorrow (today, Tuesday) to do everything else."

Have you been happy with his effort at rehab?

"Yeah. It's been very conservatively handled. We're now at the point where he needs to get to the next level."

Getting back to the spring workouts, specifically, how did each individual player do?

"Starting with Jordan Farmar. His body is getting better. He's working hard at it. He's now doing yoga at 6:00 in the morning. He's lifting. He's 182 pounds, which is about where I want his playing weight to be. I think his ideal weight would be between 182 and 185."

And he was 165 when he came to UCLA?

"When he arrived on campus last spring he was 165. He got up to and played last year at about 175.  But then his weigh lifting during the season wasn't as good as it needs to be. We have to do a better job of weight lifting during the season this year, to maintain the strength and size, especially Josh Shipp and Jordan."

How do you do that? Do you leave it to them on their own?

"You have to get a maintenance program. All they have to commit to is three times a week for a half hour, to maintain it during the season. We won't start doing that until November.

"So, I thought Jordan was better at coming off the pick and roll. He got better defensively. He started working out at St. Monica's, with that group of guys, with some of the guys who were getting ready for the draft. Sean May was down there and NBA players like Carlos Boozer. I think that's helped him, too, because now he's hearing it (about defense) from someone other than me. He's getting better defensively. He's got to become a better defender to really reach his potential. Meaning, I want him to learn to dominate the game at both ends of the floor, and I think he's going to do that."

So, you recognized that his defense from last season needed to develop...

"Right. And he has to continued to develop. I think he's started to really get it. And the strength factor really plays into that."

Did you see this spring that his strength allows him to play more physically on defense?

"Right. He's especially better defensively fighting on-ball screens and not getting stuck on the screen, or running into the screen and getting stopped. Taking the punishment. Taking the physical contact."

How about Arron Afflalo's spring?

"I thought Arron had a good spring. He's shooting it better. He still has to continue to work at getting more arc on his shot consistently. He can do it in shooting drills, and they as soon as we go back to playing, boom, he'll go back to that flatter shot. We want him to get consistent in arcing the ball. I thought sometimes this spring he really had outstanding days. He's just so competitive. He wants to win. He's working really hard at lifting, especially his legs. He's getting into great physical condition."

How much does he weigh now?

"215. He's just about right where I want him to be. I don't want him to get any bigger. 210 to 215. He has an NBA body already. For him, it's just continuing to learn to play lower. I watched how low Chauncey Billups gets on his drive going to the basket in the NBA finals. I wanted to point this out to Arron today when I saw him. Billups is strong, low, he can't get knocked off. That's what Arron has to learn to do, get lower on those drives."

How about Josh Shipp's spring?

"I thought Josh was really good in the spring. He's getting better on following through on his shot, and we're there coaching him. We're trying to get him to shorten up his shot. All three of those freshmen actually. Jordan worked on it during the year and was able to get better at it. For Josh, it's not dropping the ball, getting a quicker release, shortening his stroke. With less motion there's less chance of error. Josh is probably the one who needs the most improvement and he's really shown that. There were days this spring when he was really knocking it down. He has a very good middle game. Where he is really good, and I had no idea he'd be this good, is making plays with the ball. Penetrating, jump-stopping, under control, making plays, and drawing and kicking. He really has a game."

How much does he weigh now?

"He's 212 pounds as of a week ago. He ended the season at 197."

Where do you want him ideally?

"215. Just about where he is, maybe a bit bigger. 215. In order to play that, he has to get to 220 by October, because he'll lose that five pounds just running."

He seemed like he was pretty good at maintaining his lifting regimen during the season last year...

"He was the best, among the perimeter players."

How about Lorenzo Mata's spring?

"I thought Lorenzo, by the end of the spring, really started to do some good things, progressively. I thought Hollins improved the most of any of the big guys from start to finish. He got better and better."

In what aspect?

"In everything. Just playing. Remember, this was the first spring we've had him. My first spring he was running track. Last spring he was hurt and couldn't do anything. This was the first spring we've had him. He's actually more motivated and spending more time playing basketball than he ever has in his life."

In a pick-up game at the beginning of June, he looked more comfortable with his back to the basket, and showed a little jump hook. He's 6-11, and it would seem if he can develop a go-to jump hook it would be pretty unstoppable...

"We just talked about that with him today. He's motivated to have a good year, because he's putting all this time in. The harder you work, the more time you put in, the better you're going to be. You're not going to allow yourself to get beat."

How much does Hollins weigh?

"227. He's actually starting to do some squats on his legs for the first time in over a year (because of the knee injury). He just told me that today. He's really unbelievable. You should ask (Strength and Condition Coach) Doc Kreis. Hollins can rip off 100 pull-ups. He can do four sets of 25 pull-ups. No one else on our team can do that."

Mata has gotten bigger physically, too...

"Yeah. He's getting back at it. He got sick, actually. He had an intestinal problem. He had to go to hospital. He was out for a week. This was after we got done working out, during this last finals week."

How about Mike Fey?

"What we've been focusing on with Fey is losing weight. He's been coming in the last month and working on it, and I want his weight to come down. He was getting too big."

He had gotten up to how much?

"He was 288 pounds when he got back from the break. Now he's 273. That was a week ago. I want him to get down to between 260 and 265. So he'll be quicker but still maintain his strength."

How marked of a difference will it be for him athletically between 288 and 265?

"For him there will be a difference. My goal for him is to play at 260.

"What was really interesting is that we measured all of these things on the players, like their verticals and body fat. Our body fats were unbelievable. Jordan was 4.2% body fat. Ced Bozeman is 3.8%.  Those are numbers for marathoners.  Arron is 6.2%, with that body of his, which is still low. Josh is about 9%. Ryan Hollins is 4.9%. The only one who was above where we want him was Mike. He was 15.7%. We want that down to 11 or 12%."

How they'd do in the verticals?

"There are two ways of doing them, with one step or with no step. I prefer with no step, you just go straight up. It was pretty close. I think Jordan had the highest. I think it was like 34.5 inches. Josh and Arron were both at about 32 inches. They were right there."

Is there a possibility that Matt McKinney would sit out a year and then try to return?

"No. He's done. He's going to take the medical scholarship, which he deserves. Because of his Irritable Bowel Syndrome, he has to take medication that we think is the reason why he can't get his heart rate above 168."

And that can't be remedied? It seemed at the end of the season that was resolved...

"No. He's done. It's too bad. I didn't want him to have his career over. I'd much rather have him on the team. He's another big body, another guy out there."

From a recruiting standpoint it doesn't really do much for you. You are able to use it for 2005, but you'd lose the one scholarship available in 2007.

"Right. So it doesn't really help us not having him. And we're not planning on using it for 2005. We want to have at least one, and maybe two, for 2007."

And you'd get the second one for 2007 by...

"...not signing more than two in the 2007 class."

Getting back to Cedric, when do you see him beginning to play full-speed?

"He's coming along and I think he's going to be fine.  It's been a slow process. I expect he'll be able to play with full contact by the end of July, the first of August."

How do you see him fitting in to the team? Let's say he comes back 100%.

"Before he was injured last fall, he was really poised to have a good season last year. The whole key is getting him to where he was. If he gets there he's really going to help us."

Do you see him playing off the ball, and also giving Jordan a blow at the one?

"It's really like - 'Okay, here we go.' He can play wherever he wants to play. Just compete and earn your time. But yeah, he's going to be able to play one of those three perimeter positions."

How about the incoming freshmen? Without having seen them in a practice, where would you project them fitting in to the team? Obviously you have a hole at the power forward position.

"Like I've said before, the competition in practice every day this last year, before Ced went down, was much better. It was really helping us. We really missed that when he went down. This year's team will be better because we have depth, and more competition for playing time. So guys are going to be pushed every day. Last year starting in December, it was only two walk-ons competing with the starters. And by the way, Ike Williams isn't planning on coming back next season. But Williams was playing a lot in practice."

Has anything changed with Janou Rubin's status for next year?

"I don't know really where it is at this point."

So, there will be Alfred Aboya, Ryan Wright and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute competing on the frontline.  Do you see Wright more as a five or a four?

"I hope a four. He won't be a four like Dijon Thompson, though. I like fours like that, the kind that can step out and shoot threes."

Aboya probably doesn't really embody that step-out kind of four, but more of a traditional four.

"Yeah. You just have to adjust to who it is. My ideal four is a guy who is really super skilled. Keith Van Horn. Because then you're four out around one. You have more space to maneuver in getting to the basket. You have four guys that can all draw and kick, and shoot."

It obviously worked for Dijon last year.

"It really worked for him. He created bad matchups for our opponents. He really had a great senior year."

Heading into July, you have three scholarships available. And your priority is a center, correct?

"Right. One of those three scholarships is committed, so we really only have two in my mind. And we're trying to find that elusive center. It's going to be interesting now, this new rule (the NBA rule requiring a player to be 19 years of age and a year removed from his high school graduation to put his name in the draft) that is being proposed will start to alter things a little bit."

What are your feelings about it?

"Well, first, I don't think it's right. I think a kid should have the right to go right out of high school. But I think it's good for the game. You have so many kids that basketball is their whole focus that education gets left at the backdoor. And it will improve the talent in the college game."

So is there a chance of filling the scholarship that opened up by the departure of McKinney for this upcoming season?

"I don't think so. The kid would have to be really good, because that would mean we wouldn't sign anyone in 2007. But you can never say never."

So, with the 2006 class, if you get a center type, how big of a priority is it to give out that third scholarship to a wing?

"To the right kid."

If that doesn't necessarily happen, you wouldn't be averse to keeping that scholarship for the 2007 class?

"It just depends. We'll see as we get out there this July."

Are there any updates on the Pauley Pavilion renovation?

"The number one priority is hiring a new athletic fund raiser. Because it's all about raising a significant amount of money."

What are your priorities for the renovation?

"The locker room."

How about seats closer to the floor?

"Oh, yeah. I just think it would be a better atmosphere for the fans to be right on top of the game in the end zones."

What about a practice facility?

"They're nice, but really all you need is six baskets. And we have eight, or ten, if you use the main court."

So, you went overseas to look for prospects. Is that tough sledding, given the murkiness of the professional status of many young foreign players?

"Yes, in certain countries. Europe is harder and harder. There are still pockets of places. But if you go to Spain or Italy, it's difficult, because they're going to be signed as a 15-year-old to be a pro. That's what's happening. You can go to Africa. But you don't have as many kids that are academically prepared."

How about Australia?

"I went down there and made the contacts, and met the right people. The kid I was interested in signed with Washington State this spring. (6-10 Aron Baynes). It just so happened that (WSU assistant) Ben Johnson had coached the kid. Johnson played in Australia for six years and he had a relationship. But there will be other kids to come out of there, but it's just a question of how many."

Darren Collison was sick and couldn't play in the Say No League?

"Yeah, he was sick this last weekend. I'm going to call him today to see how he is. He was sick Friday and he was supposed to come up here to campus."

How do you think he and Mike Roll will contribute next season?

"They're both good players. They're both going to compete for playing time. They'll both step in. They're not afraid. They don't doubt themselves. They'll have to work hard and continue to improve. But they're both good players. But you saw them in the pick-up games. I don't get to watch them in the pick-up games on campus."

The incoming freshmen will all participate in the camp you're conducting this week?

"They are all paying to go to camp. They're campers. They're also enrolled in school. Ryan Wright will get here on Thursday. He'll be here for the summer, but he won't participate in the camp. Unfortunately, because I wanted him to play. But he'll just go straight to class. I wanted them all to get here and get going academically."

Speaking of academics, how is the team doing overall?

"Great. Take Lorenzo Mata. He passed every class he took this year. So I think he got 45 units, plus the ten he got last summer in FSP (Fast Start Program), so he's at 55 units going into the summer. Jordan Farmar is about at those same numbers. Jordan is taking four classes this summer, and if he passes all of them, he'll have like 70 units, of 180 needed to graduate. Lorenzo's taking two classes for ten more units. By the end of the summer, he'll be at about 60 hours, which is great, to get that big of a head start on it. I'm really pleased with that. Those guys are really doing well. Arron was on the honor roll this quarter. Arron, Josh and Jordan have all been on the honor roll in their freshman year."

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