Ben Howland's First Press Conference

It comes on the day that the coach announces another injury and knee surgery for one of his incoming freshman. Ben Howland talks about the injuries, the team and the season...

For the latest on Alfred Aboya's surgery, go to the bottom of this story where there is a link to a video of Head Coach Ben Howland discussing it right after he heard the results this afternoon. What Howland says in this transcript was earlier in the day.

What happened to Aboya and what type of procedure will he get?

"It's arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He sustained a contusion with Ryan Hollins a week from yesterday (last Tuesday). He'd been running on it. We'd been doing some sprinting and conditioning on it Monday and felt it being very painful. The MRI Monday showed there was a tear in the meniscus. He has had a problem with that before. He had to play soccer. His private school forced them to play a winter sport. He was tackled and had surgery on that same knee 18 months ago. It hadn't been a problem for him, he'd been playing all summer and all of a sudden … As we get ready for practice, we'll have eight scholarship athletes available for the first day of practice. Four scholarship athletes are not available.  Josh Shipp we expect back hopefully sometime a little past mid-december, hopefully at full strength. Mike Fey has a groin pull, which can be a very touchy injury because it can be a lingering one that goes on a ton. Luc ha a shoulder that seems to be getting better. I think he's probably the closest of any of them."

This is the second knee surgery Aboya has had...

"Yeah. He had one on his right knee in early July, right around July 5th, or something like that. And that was a six-week process, because we we went very conservatively because there was no rush. And we'll do the same for this. My goal is to get these kids all back to where they're healthy. Better now than eight weeks from now that we're sustaining all these different issues."

Where did he have the first surgery on the left knee?

In Littleton, New Hampshire.

Did he miss part of last season?

"No. That was eighteen months ago, I think March of 2004. I'd have to figure it out, but I think March of '04."

Does this hamper practice a lot?

"It's not ideal to have only eight kids on scholarship able to practice. With Fey, my expectation is a couple more weeks. We're going to be very conservative. I just don't want to rush his groin to where he's going to have a continuing problem. I've seen those kind of injuries sometimes flash for months and months. So it's better to really get it as good as we can get it before he starts to come back. We don't want him to go back in and out. It puts us behind.

Luc's injury, he got an MRI for the shoulder and it didn't reveal any tear, no blood in the joint. It seems to be improving."

Which shoulder is it?

"His right."

So you'll be a little thin on post players, huh?

"Right now we have Ryan Hollins, who I think made significant steps toward having a real good senior year last spring and all summer. He's had a really strong emphasis in the weight room. He's probably been our best, most consistent guy in the weight room of anyone in our program, since the season ended last year. As well as really working hard at playing a lot. He played a lot of basketball, and played well in the Say No League, and was up at the gym all the time. I think he really has a great attitude about going into this year and have his very best year as a Bruin be his senior year. I've been very pleased with his attitude as we go into this year.

We had a good summer. Josh Shipp arguably was playing outstanding basketball. The way he hurt his hip, the way that he went down and took a spill in the Say No League. He's a kid that doesn't complain a lot. He had some pain but didn't say much about it. It was bothering him, but he just figured it'd go away. I wish he would have addressed it a little earlier.  He has really made a big step improving, as has Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo. I'm excited that all three of those kids are back. We look forward to getting Josh healthy. Jordan is a much-improved player from a year ago, just in terms of being stronger. He has a renewed interest in the weight room in the off-season. I think he's about 182 pounds, but he's been running all the time, he's in very good physical condition right now. He's shooting the ball well. I think he'll be a better defender this year. And just the experience of playing 35 minutes a game as a freshman, and being the fourth-leading person in the Pac-10 in minutes played, is going to be big for him. And Afflalo has improved. He's stronger. He's more explosive with his jumping. And he's shooting the ball well. We're looking to him to have an improved year from a year ago, and both of those kids had very strong freshman seasons.

Shipp, it will be interesting to see, we don't want to rush him at all. My expectations right now, my hope, is that he'll be able to play December 21st. That is our goal date for him. That would be just about 12 weeeks from when he had the surgery.  That is, to play in a game. I think he'll practice 10 days or two weeks before that. He's in a situation where his surgery was two weeks ago today. He has two more weeks of non-weight bearing, where he's on crutches. Then he'll start to do weight bearing. He started rehabbing three days after the surgery. He was doing a number of rehab excercises for that, including being in the water, and having some water resistance. A bunch of stretching and riding a recumbent bike."

Does he have full range of motion yet?

"It's pretty close I think."

Have you ever had a kid have that particular injury?

"No. It's funny, too. Our trainer, Tony Spino, who has been at the university for 30 years, has never seen one."

Was it the same injury as his brother, Joe?

"It wasn't the same. He actually had a hip issue, but it wasn't the cartilage in the hip, the labrum. It is a unique injury. You don't see it that often. It's not an every day deal. The good news is that Shipp's surgery went really well. It was really researched properly. We're very confident that he's on track.  As we are with all of our players, we'll be very conservative. I don't want to rush anyone back from injury that it could compromise their long-term health or their ability to stay healthy from that point forward the rest of the year. We're obviously wishing that all these kids were healthy, we're going to do the right thing."

Did Shipp do it while falling on the court?

"That's my understanding, from Josh. It's interesting, because if you look at the film from when we played USC a year ago at home, that big ex-football player, tight end knocked him down on his other hip, I would have sworn that's what did it that day. But it's actually the opposite hip. He just came right down on it. I didn't see it, I wasn't at the game. I'm not sure it was a rebound or driving the basket. For example, Josh at the end of the season weighed 202 pounds. He had a very good freshman year. He was our returning leading rebounder. He's a player that has really improved his shooting in the off-season. Right now he's 225 pounds. He worked hard in the weight room. He got much stronger. He'll be ready. He's very focused to do everything he has to do to get back in time to make a contribution this year to the team."

You said Hollins is stronger. What does he weigh?

"He weighs right now about 230, 231. He benches over 300 pounds, which is a significant number, when you consider how long his arms are.  He's really worked hard, especially in his upper body. He's had limitations to work on his lower body because of the knee injury he sustained two years ago."

Before they got hurt, how were the three guys - Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alfred Aboya and Fey?

"Luc and Aboya both looked good. We were excited about them in the individual workouts. This all went down recently. It was bad Tuesday, a week ago Tuesday, that actually both of them in the same days had their injuries. That was just playing five-on-five pick-up, after we were done working out. So we (the coaches) weren't in there. I'm excited about both of them. But first things first, they have to be healthy."

Have you figured out where Dijon Thompson's points will come from?

"I expect we'll have increased production from our three returning sophomores who started as freshmen. So it puts us behind a little bit in terms of Shipp being out. I expected, and know he will. It's just a matter of getting him back. So it's going to be those three guys, and then we'll see from there."

How does Darren Collison look?

"Collison looks good. I'm excited about Darren. He's coming up on 160. When we signed him, when we got a commitment from him a year ago, he was about 145 pounds. I saw him in the weight room this summer and he was about 158. He's quick, very fast, very competitive. He shoots it better than I had expected. He's shooting the ball really well. I think he'll be ready to step in. I think you'll see at times this year for sure that he and Jordan will be in together. The bottom line is to play your best players. I think he has a lot to learn. He's a typical freshman. But his ability to pressure the ball, and get into the ball with his quickness and long arms, he could cause some havoc. Right now he gets too close to his man and allows his man to get around him. But when he learns to keep an arm's distance and gap his guy he'll be a real problem defensively for people."

Where will Cedric Bozeman play?

"I think he'll play at the wing position, the 2 or the 3. I would say he's getting closer to 100%. I would say he still has a little bit to go, with his health and his knee."

Is that expected?

"I think some of it is just confidence. Anytime you come back from ACL surgery you have to get confidence to say, 'Hey, I can plant off that knee just like I used to.' I think that's what's happening right now. He had a couple of nice drives in practice two weeks ago, when he had a couple of big-time dunks over guys. That's what he has to be able to do. Part of his game is his athleticism. That's what really helps him have success, is using his athleticism to his advantage. He's a very smart player, but he has to have that going for him."

So you could foresee him playing with a couple of guards?


Has he lost any quickness?

"I think he's okay. He wears a brace, a protective brace, so it doesn't get out of aligment, his knee."

Will he wear that all season?

"I think so."

Do you think you need to correct Collison's shooting stroke? You said he was shooting better, but he has a long stroke.

"I didn't say he was shooting better. I said he was shooting good. He was shooting better than I expected him to. Just doing the shooting drills, the stuff that we do, where he's catching and shooting, and shooting off the bounce. He's right-eye dominant, where in his foul shot, he has his head turned and it's really focused on his right eye. There are some little things. If it was a drastic shot, but the way he's shooting right now, we probably won't change a whole lot. That's what's tough. We're starting here in late September. It's not like we have the whole month and we can go, 'Let's break this down, Darren.' We have practice starting here."

How has Hollins improved offensively?

"Just slowing down and not trying to do too much and playing within himself. He'll be better in that respect. He's started to develop a jump hook. It's getting better and better. He still has a tendency to do too much and go too fast. When he just slows down is when he's at his best."

Was there a time frame for a return of Aboya, Mbah a Moute and Fey?

"Aboya, I'll know more today at about 3:00 at the conference in Pauley. I expect to hear from Gerald Finerman, who is supposed to be operating on him at 2:00. But like with his surgery before it was pushed back. That happened the last time he had surgery, but I don't think that will happen today. It shouldn't be a long procedure. So I should know something in terms of how it went, how much damage was sustained, what exactly was in there, what needed to be cleaned up. For Luc, I'm expecting at least another week to ten days. But that's me guessing. It could be less or more. With Fey, it's a couple of weeks, minimum."

Does Fey know how it happened?

"He's not sure how it happened, from sprinting or lifting, or what. He can't pinpoint it exactly. They did an MRI on it, and you can actually see the tendon that attaches to the pelvis bone, and see that is in inflamed. It definitely is a groin situation."

How has his weight been?

"He's been working on it. I've asked him to watch his weight. He was about 273 pounds and I'm talking to him now. Since he's not able to be as active, he has to make sure he doesn't balloon up."

With Shipp out for a while, and Mbah a Moute, how do you see Mike Roll playing a roll?

"He's definitely going to have an opportunity. Right now we have 8 healthy bodies on scholarship. Hopefully, my hope, is that we'll have both Luc and Michael Fey back in the fold by at least the end of this month, so we'll have at least 10 players as we get ready for our first game November 15th against New Mexico State. My expectation is that we'll be waiting for Aboya longer than that. That's just guessing. This all just happened. This has been a whirwind deal. We know that Shipp, the target date for him, anything earlier than the 21st of December would be a surprise to me."

How much does this impact practice, with all these guys out?

"It's hard. That's one of the great things I was excited about this year, that it helps your practice to have depth and have more guys to compete and play against each other. Right now we're going to be using our three walk-ons. Then these 8 scholarship athletes. Our practices will be shorter. It's not like anyone's ever going to get a sub. There are going to be no subs. You're going the whole time, there are no substitutions."

Were you seeing Aboya at the four, from the workouts? And without him, who steps into that position?

"That's a tough one. I would say the other four right now who would potentially be there would probably be Luc."

How's Ryan Wright?

"He's doing well. Ryan, right now, his strength is post play. That's where he's most comfortable and most effective, with his back to the basket, down on the low block. He's a good athlete. He's worked hard in the weight room. He's stronger than he was when he arrived in late June for summer school. He's just got a lot to learn, in terms of being coached. I think he has a lot of upside because of that. His high school during the season only practiced three times a week. So it's a little different than what we're used to. He has a lot of athletic ability and strength. Now it's a matter of learning fundamentals and really drilling him on that. He's very bright, and he wants to be good. He's in the weight room at 7:30 in the morning. We have good kids. They do what you ask them to do, which is really positive."

So, is he behind the other freshmen?

"I don't know that. I was just stating what he needs. They all have strengths and weaknesses. One of his strenghs is that he's healthy."

How does Lorenzo Mata look?

"I think Lorenzo is going to help us. It's going to be interesting to see what happens with Fey. It's really where we have the most numbers, at the post right now, with Fey and Hollins, and Lorenzo and Wright. How we play a lot will depend on today's surgery on Aboya, when we get him back. That type of thing. Because it's a tough match-up for us to put any of those post players on a four man that plays out away from the basket, like Radenovic from Arizona, who can really step out and shoot threes, for example. Or the guy from West Virginia, Pittsnogle, who is going to shoot threes. Or the kid from Reno, Fazekas, who will play away from the basket and shoot threes. Or the kid from Washington State plays at the four, they're going to do that on the perimeter. It's something to be concerned about."

Is it more of just a defensive concern?

"No, both ways. I'd rather have the four more open than three out and two in. But we may have to play three out and two in offensively, just dependent upon what happens. The main thing for me is seeing how this will evolve health-wise."

What did Arron Afflalo work on during the off-season?

"Putting more arc on his shot. He was a counselor at the Michael Jordan camp in Santa Barbara, where they have number of the best college players invited there. He played very well up there, which was exciting. A lot of people raved about how good he played. He's worked hard on his overall game. I want him to work hard on his lower body in terms of lifting. He has the great body. Arron was our best on-ball defender last year and I don't see that changing. He's very competitive and takes the challenge of stopping the other team's best perimeter player and handles it the right way. He had some tough lessons last year trying to guard Grunfeld and trying to guard Stoudamire, and yet he never backed down. I'm excited about Arron. He has a very good attitude."

Were you pleased with how far you went with the three freshmen last year?

"I was hoping we could go a little further, and win a few more games. One thing I was excited about going into this year, and I think we'll get to it, is just the depth we have. Last year we played three freshmen and Brian Morrison, four guys at three spots. This year once we do get healthy, my goal is to be able to push the ball. I thought early in the year, if you remember, against Pepperdine, and even early in the Pac-10 season, against Washington, we were really pushing the ball, and doing a good job of getting the ball out. As the season progresses, and it wears on you, and you have to play defense on the other end, it gets tougher and tougher. Every kid says they want to do it, but you really have to force them to do it. And it's an advantage for us, with our quickness."

How long did it take the players to get over the loss to Texas Tech?

"I don't know. Of course it's a tough loss. It's the last game of the year. It's in the NCAA tournament, which is what you're working for all year. And we were beaten by a very good team. I look at their guards, and both of their guards were very, very good. The one that returns is coming into the season with a lot of accolades. I think they handled it the right way. It stung. It hurt. At the end of the season, we took two weeks off and then started right into our routine of getting ready for this year."

Have you ever played against Coach Cheney?

"No. They're very good. I saw an article the other day that had their point guard ranked the #1 point guard in the country, Marty Collins. 6-5. He's a real problem. They're a good team. They return all five starters. They're 6-5, 6-5 and 6-5. So they have some abilities."

In recruiting, with recent developments, for the 2006 class are you still looking to bring in a post player? Or do you have a problem with saving the scholarship and have three to give to the 2007 class?

"I really do have a problem with it. We're going to sign one more person whether it's a post player, a wing player, a transfer. We'll have another scholarship player in the program by next fall. This is the exact reason we are where we are right now. We went into the season with 10 guys on scholarship, if we had four of them out we'd only have six players. I'm nervous as it thinking about having 11. We could have gone into this year thinking we were going to sign 4 players and not have anybody for the 2007 class. But I don't think that's the right way to do it. I think you have to have at least two guys in each class. That's where we're still evolving to get this thing back on track. It's important that we do that. Even a year from now it will be a gamble when we have 11 guys on scholarship, in my mind. I would much rather have 13 and have the roster full, and after the '07 class will start to be getting to that, and we'll have at 12 to 13 on scholarship every year."

What do you see when you look at the Pac-10?

"What's interesting is I've seen some of the magazines and articles picking our league to have five, and some of them have six, for the NCAA tournament. I think the league is up. I think you'll continue to see anybody beat anybody on any given night. This league is good. There are a lot of good coaches, very good players. Forget talking just about Stanford and Arizona...Oregon State is going to be good again. They have two very good big guys that are hard to guard, that play out away from the basket. Cuic and Nick Dewitz. They have a very good guard in Stephens.  Oregon is going to be much improved. And they picked up that JC kid from Cincinnati. They just picked up a guy in September. They'll have a good backcourt with Brooks, Taylor and Hairston. Depth, with the kid from Texas, who played well against us. Cal will be improved. Powe is back now and he's arguably one of the bes big guys in the league as a freshman. Everybody I've talked to says he's healthy and he's back. They're going to be improved. He's a good player. They're going to have Wilkes. They're going to tough. It's going to be a very balanced, tough league. USC, everybody says, well, they can't be...but they're going to be good. They have three outstanding guards. And it's always important when you have good guards. Nick, Gabe and Stewart are all good, and you have a good nucleus right there. So it's going to be a dog fight every night in the Pac-10. I look forward to it. My only concern is, let's get healthy so we're ready to go December 29th.  That's my thing. We want to be back to full strength and healthy so we can go into that Pac-10 season at our best. And obviously it's a disadvantage not to have Shipp for the full pre-season, but he'll be okay."

You're pretty okay about the surgery?

"Right. Yeah."

With USC's new arena, does that change the dynamic of what you're doing in town?

"I think it's good they're getting a new arena. We're looking forward to not playing in the Sports Arena anymore. When we play there, and I have my coaches, we try to meet outside the locker room, they open up this room right next to our locker room, where the keep extra chairs or something. It's full of dust. It hasn't been cleaned in 30 years. So it's great. It's great for the Pac-10. I think it's a positive."

Does that new arena help their recruiting?

"Of course it's going to help. Absolutely."

Speaking of new arenas, any updates on how the possible renovations of Pauley are going?

"I think there are some good things in store, and I think you should ask Dan Guerrero about that. I don't think it's appropriate for me to speak about it at this time. But we're taking donations."

What do you think about the UCLA football team?

"It's great. I'm so excited. It's great for our program, and it's great for the whole athletic program. Every kid in the country who happened to be watching the UCLA/Cal game this weekend, what an atmosphere. It was a great show of support by our fans. It was really electric and exciting to be there. I'm so happy because Karl and his staff have done such a great job. And the team is so young. But yeah, we have issues with the defensive line having some serious injuries. But they're doing great, and Maurice Drew is really an exciting talent to watch. It's fun. I'm excited for the football program and all the hard work that everyone puts in to making that happen."

Later in the day, at Media Day, Howland addressed the media to talk about the procedure Aboya underwent this afternoon:

Howland on Aboya's Surgery --

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