Howland Talks to the Press

Head Coach Ben Howland talked to the national press Wednesday, talking about his time at Gonzaga, Adam Morrison, his personal experience with diabetes, the recruitment of Jordan Farmar and more...

What do you remember about the time you spent at Gonzaga?   What was that like?   Best memories of that time?

"I have great memories of my 10 months at Gonzaga.   No. 1, I was working for my best friend, Jay Hillock, who is a GU grad, and it was his first year as the head coach, having been Fitz' assistant.   That was special to me because I've known Jay since I was eight years old.   Obviously it was special to have had an opportunity to be there when John Stockton played his sophomore year.   We had a lot of good players. I think we ended up 15-12 that year. We beat Washington at home, at GU. I remember I had a beautiful apartment right on the Spokane River, right over there across from the park.  John Stockton's parents, their house overlooks the park on the backside of Jack & Dan's.   Across on the other side of the street, I forget the name of the main street there, I had a two bedroom with a beautiful walk-out deck overlooking the river, right on the river, for $195. You don't find that in L.A. every day.

"But I have a lot of great memories. I loved my association and relationship with Fitz, learned so much from Fitz being around him, talking basketball. We had a great staff. Bruce Wilson, Joe Hillock, Jay, myself.  Steve Delong was my trainer. Just stepped away from the men's program here in the last year or two. I remember his wife Kay. I have a lot of great memories of my year. That was my first taste of being a coach at the college level.  I also got my Masters degree at Gonzaga. I actually have the paper to prove it. Appreciate that.  So I have a lot of great memories.

"To see where the program is now compared to where it was, I think Steve talked to Jay the other day, and I was wrong. The recruiting budget there was not $10,000, it was $7,500. Doing everything you had to do to skimp, save big and borrow to make ends meet. I think we made up the two-for-one books and used to go out as a fund-raiser and do the two-for-one fund-raisers, try to bring in a little extra money.

"I think Fitz' nice courtesy car was a beat-up Plymouth Valiant, if I remember correctly. I think he was the only one that had a courtesy car provided, the athletic director. The program has come a long way.  I would be remiss to be sure not to continue to remember Father Coghlan, for all he's meant to GU's athletic prominence now. The one thing that they've proven when you have success in athletics, more than any one thing is that it increases applications for admissions. Applications for admissions go up, increases the pool of the quality of the student that you're able to choose from as a university. That's proven. If you research it, you'll see. I'm sure that Gonzaga over the last 10 years has probably increased their applications for admission quite a bit from where it was, say, 10 years ago. I'm telling you right now, success of the basketball program. So it all works together.

"That happened at UCLA, for example, all these Wooden years.  Our average GPA of incoming freshman at UCLA is 4.2 out of 4.0. They turned town six to seven thousand straight A students at UCLA. It's the most applied for school in the United States of America.

"Doing it right the right way, I will say, too, having continuity in their program, from Fitz, to Dan, Mark, how it's just continued on with that great continuity, has really helped that program in terms of stability, and they do it the right way, with great kids. That's exactly what UCLA has done, what we try to do as well. That's why you have two teams that are very good teams still alive in this thing."

What did you see in Arron Afflalo in high school that made you believe he could defend how you would demand he defend?

"I made a call to a couple of people I trust in this business when I was involved with the job. Who do we need? Who is the primary guy we got to go after?  Because of my ties to Southern California, I have a pretty good network of people that know high school basketball and really know the game.   One of them would be Frank Burlison of the Long Beach Express Telegram, in terms of knowing players, knowing high school kids.  He's probably the best guy out there, outside of a coach.   Potentially Bob Gibbons.

"I knew Rod Palmer (Afflalo's coach at Compton Centennial), tried to recruit him at UC Santa Barbara. I spoke with him.  A lot of different high school coaches I spoke to.  There's no question, Arron is a great competitor, tough, hard nosed, plays both ends of the floor, has continued to improve, which is what all good players do."

Would you talk about what it means to you to be the caretaker of the UCLA legacy and how aware are younger generations of what happened back in the day?

"You know, it's really special for me because there is a dream come true. I grew up watching the UCLA era of John Wooden as a youngster. It used to be that games weren't on television live. They were tape delayed on KTVA Channel 5, Dick Enberg calling the game is who I remember the most. It was really special because I'd get in trouble once in a while. Our TV room was a built-on in the back of our house. Fortunately, my dad's room was at the other end of the house so I could have the TV on and sneak in there and sometimes they wouldn't know. I'd be nine, 10 years old watching Kareem and Lucius, all the way through.  From Curtis, Sydney...You can go all the way back. I remember all the players. Larry Hollyfield, Turkovic, Greg Lee.  Special remembrance for Greg Lee, just went through open heart surgery last Friday, had a heart valve replaced. Talked to him yesterday, he's doing great. 54 years old. He offered to shoot our foul shots for us.

"It is special for me because to me this is the greatest tradition and history of tradition in all of college basketball.  I don't know how many people are living their dream, but I'm one of them."

How aware are the younger generations of all that?

"We did what I thought was a special thing.  I had our team, our whole team, come to my house this last fall and invited all the former players so we could get to come back and have a barbecue at my house. We had Bill Walton, Greg Lee, Lucius Allen, Don MacLean, Rod Foster.  We had Eddie Sheldrake from the '46 team, Bill Sweek, John Vallely, Marcus Johnson, 80 different former players.   Because I really do want our players to understand and embrace how lucky they are to be a part of such a special fraternity and unique fraternity that is truly an honor to be a part of, and that's to be a player at UCLA. They get it. They totally get it. They understand."

Did Jordan do everything in practice yesterday?

"Yes."

Any trouble shooting?

"No. He shot well. He was I want to say 7 for 10, 3 for 5 from three in yesterday's practice.   Alfred led us in rebounding with nine."

How much does Coach Wooden's shadow kind of hover over the program yet to this day and what impact does that have?

"I don't look at it as a shadow hovering over it. This is his program. It is John R. Wooden. He is the greatest coach in the history of basketball.  What he accomplished at UCLA in terms of wins and losses will never be equaled again in college basketball after the span of his last 12 years in coaching anyway.

But where he has set the bar, which is even higher, is to be a quality person and to be a humble person, to be giving of yourself to others first.  He is such a great example for everyone of the type of human being we should all strive to be. To me that's what I really appreciate most about coach, is the greatest college coach, basketball coach, ever, is truly a better person than he was a coach.   That's incredible to say. That is true. Anybody who knows him and has spent time with him, he is so unselfish. He's busy. One of the reasons I think at 95 he is sharper than most of us in this room is because he has never, ever slowed down.  He's always taking meetings, meeting with people, going to breakfast, speaking to groups. I mean, his ability to recite poetry and recite things that happened 50 years ago, all the details of his memories and things that are special to him, are unbelievable."

As someone who values defense so much, could you describe the challenges that Adam Morrison presents defensively, and generally how you like to approach him.

"Well, he's a great player.   Adam is the college basketball player of the year, leading scorer in the country, who can score in so many ways.  He can score from three, he can score off the bounce, he can score in the post, he rebounds his own shot as well as anybody.  He's a very good offensive rebounder.  He runs the floor and gets down quickly in transition either on the wing or coming to the ball in the middle of the floor.  He can create for others.  He poses a lot of problems.  There's only a handful of people that are playing the game in college that would even be talked about in that same light. It's a real challenge for us. There's no question he's a great player.

"One of the things I think makes him special is the fact that he is diabetic. To go through and grow up with juvenile diabetes and to have to check your blood, inject insulin for your lifetime makes you tough. He is tough. He is a great competitor. Bottom line, he is really, really tough.   His lessons in life...   I know first-hand, my daughter came down with juvenile diabetes...(he pauses, tearing up)... so I know what it's about.  She came down with it at 19.  I'm not sure when he contracted it.  It's a tough deal."

Can you talk about guarding Stockton when you were a graduate assistant at Gonzaga?

"Well, I tried to guard him. That's the key. I tried to guard him. My key is that we had a guy named Phil Tanke (ph), who is from Barstow, a junior college player.  He came to Spokane and wasn't feeling the weather. He was used to the desert. He left in like October. It might have been after the 10-mile run that the players are required to do every fall. I'm not sure he enjoyed that.

"I was thrown into the mix just out of necessity because there was nobody else.  So I used to run the second team.  Tim Rough, Jason (indiscernible), myself, Dale, I think Melvin Bonds used to play a little bit.  I can't remember who the other guy was. You know, we did a good job.

"I was wanting to compete and win every day. The only way -- fortunately Jay's system, we had a bunch of slow guys except for Johnny and Tim. We played mostly halfcourt, so it was easier to hold, grab and foul as opposed to when you've got Johnny between the top of the keys. Once in a while when that happened, it was over for me."

Had UCLA established any connection with Farmar in recruiting him or was that you going in there?

"I think they had looked at him, a couple of games they had gone to see.  So, yeah, there was some interest on UCLA's end.  Obviously, it really ramped up because Steve's (Lavin) last year was really in limbo.   I don't think Jordan was looking that hard at UCLA at that time.  We were really, really fortunate. That was a huge signing. My first two recruits at UCLA were Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo. I think they're the best guard tandem in the country right now in college basketball. This thing is all about recruiting. Why are UCLA and Gonzaga playing in this game? More than any reason, really good players."

Picking up on your phrase "easier to hold, grab and foul."   When Morrison was answering questions, he described all the defenses he'd seen this year.   He summarized one of them as the beat-the-crap-out-of-me defense.   Can you see where he's coming from with that?

"He gets away with a lot himself, too. If you watch the films in terms of sometimes he'll grab onto a guy, then act like he's being fouled. He's just a smart player. That's what smart players do.

"He's been to the foul line more than my entire frontline plus Mike Roll, Janou Rubin.  I'm talking about Ryan Hollins, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alfred, Mike Fey, Ryan Wright, Mike Roll and Janou Rubin.   Eight scholarship players.  He's been to the line more than all eight of them.   Or my top three players in terms of getting to the foul lane, Luc Richard, Jordan and Arron have taken 350 combined.  He's been there 307 times.  I would say he gets treated very fairly in terms of the officiating based on what's happened thus far."


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