Howland at Pac-10 Media, Part 1

It was Pac-10 Basketball Media Day Thursday, and UCLA basketball coach Ben Howland, in Part 1, took questions from the general Pac-10 media, about the state of his young team, injuries, and his outlook on the conference...

Here's the result of the poll of media members who cover Pac-10 men's basketball on how the teams will finish this season.


1. California (25) 350
2. Washington (7) 330
3. UCLA (5) 302
4. Arizona 221
5. Oregon State 218
6. Oregon 175
7. Arizona State 144
8. Washington State 123
9. USC 109
10. Stanford 63

Ben Howland talked at Pac-10 Media Day.

‘'It's great to be here. It really is nice the way we've fixed up this room this year. I'm excited about that. But No. 1 we're just trying to get healthy. We've had more injuries sustained during our first early practices, this will be the 12th practice of the year today, and I think we're getting closer. I think by Monday we'll have everybody out there practicing again and being able to go. I think Jerime Anderson will be limited still. He hasn't practiced yet. We're a very young team, so we need the practice time. We have nine underclassmen – five freshmen, four sophomores – that are going to be key in terms of our team having success this year along with our three seniors. We are really, really, hoping that we get everybody healthy again here real soon so we can move forward because we've got games coming up real quick. I think a month from today we'll already have played five games that count on our record, so we need the time. When you have a young team that are learning things for the first time, sophomores going over things again, it's really important. Questions?"

I wanted to ask about your youth and also the injuries that you've suffered. A lot of freshmen come in and they already know how to play offense, but they don't know the principles of defense and the principles of your defense. How long does that usually take where they understand defensive intensity in a power conference like the Pac-10?

‘'Well, we are very young. We lost a lot, when you're talking about Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya, our three seniors last year, then combined with Jrue Holiday, who was a first-round pick by Philadelphia, we lost a lot. But our freshmen, it does take quite a bit of time. I mean, we're asking Reeves Nelson, for example, to learn how to guard four-men who play out on the perimeter and how to negotiate screens and how to hedge a screen or extend a screen. Building habits, basketball is a game of habits, a game of repetition, so in order to get good at something you need a lot of different opportunities in terms of repetition to develop good habits. ‘'And we play so quickly. I'd like to propose we can start practice Oct. 1. We keep moving the season up so much, yet the practice time stays the same. It would be good. I know our players would like it. ‘'But we're excited about the year. I'm excited. I'm looking forward to coaching this young team. There's a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of exuberance. We have real good kids and there's going to be a lot of competition within our team for the playing time, so when we get healthy our practices will be really good. I think that's where teams continue to get better. Our teams typically have improved throughout the year and you've got to have good practices and good competition to make that happen.''

Have you ever anticipated that a UCLA team would be this thin at point guard at this particular time, especially with the injuries and the youth?

‘'No. You know, it's always hard now. We've had I think seven players leave early in my six years for the NBA Draft. There's no way of really being able to project for sure what is going to happen. We have 13 scholarships and I have yet to have 13 players on scholarship since I've been here in my tenure here at UCLA. I'm looking forward to that day – hopefully that will happen. But there is so much riding on Jerime Anderson just being healthy. Jerime is going to be an outstanding point guard for us, but he has yet to practice because he has a groin injury that is re-aggravated so we're being very conservative with it. Malcolm Lee will back him up and we actually have a fourth-year former walk-on who is now on scholarship in Mustafa Abdul-Hamid that could actually be put into some service. ‘'But it's tough, because you know we've had four point guards in the last I think four years that have been drafted in the first round – Jordan Farmar, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday and Darren Collison. That's a real key to why we've had a fair amount of success, is having really good point guards. That, to me, is the key to college basketball team to start with. You've got to have a good leader and someone who can run your team out there and make good decisions. So, yeah, I'm concerned. I'll be praying hard every night for our good health.''

You do feel that Jerime Anderson can fulfill that role?

‘'Oh, yeah, I have no doubt about that. And Malcolm Lee is going to get a chance to play some backup minutes. You know, Jerime can't play for 40 minutes a game so Malcolm Lee is going to play a fair amount of time, eight to 120 minutes a game ideally as the backup point, which I think he can do nicely.''

Have you ever had a team this young, even at Northern Arizona?

‘'Yeah, I think we did. It's a long time ago, hard to remember that far back. But I've had a few young teams over the years and this is definitely one of the youngest. The key for us again is we're going to end up depending on our sophomore class along with a number of the freshmen to be key contributors and key players for our team to be successful. I like our three seniors - they're all solid. Mile Roll is in his fifth year, he's a good shooter, smart player, I think he'll do an adequate job defensively staying in front of the ball and the things we demand of him. (Nikola) Dragovic is our only returning starter and an outstanding shooter as well. He, we hope, will have a real good senior campaign. And James Keefe, who had a scare with his shoulder you know about three weeks ago, he came back actually earlier than projected, which was really nice for us and for him. He'll end up playing minutes at both minutes at the four and the five. Those guys have to give us good leadership and be good leaders for the younger players.''

How much are you expecting out of Drew Gordon this year?

‘'We expect a lot out of Drew. One thing we do is we keep stats every day in practice – I want every day in practice to be like a game and there's accountability every day and Drew has been out second leading rebounder behind Reeves Nelson thus far in the first 10 practices. But Drew gained a lot of experience last year. He's a strong physical presence. We had a little scare with him falling on his knee the night before last, and it ended up being that it wasn't serious. But it seems like anybody goes down now in practice I'm really worried. Drew is going to end up playing a major role for us this year and we need him to play well.''

Just wondering about your thoughts on the conference, how the race might shape up?

‘'Well, you have to look at who you guys picked as the favorites and I think that you're correct just based on the teams that return the most that had really successful seasons last year . Washington, who won the conference. Lorenzo (Romar) did a great job. They lost (Jon) Brockman and (Justin) Dentmon, but they still have a great nucleus returning. I mean, I love (Quincy) Pondexter, I think he's a great player. I love () Bryan-Amaning inside. He's outstanding. I love the sophomore kid out of Crenshaw () Gant. I mean, they're very athletic up front, and then those three guards that you have to deal with that are all really good at putting the ball on the floor led by Isaiah Thomas. You know, the new point guard they have coming in is an outstanding player. You know, a McDonald's All-American. They have a lot of pieces to work with. ‘'Cal is the best shooting team in the country when you look at their 3-point percentage and obviously has got a great coach in Mike Montgomery. They really are efficient offensively and run a lot of sets that you have to try to prepare for. They really push it hard. I thought they did a great job pushing the ball last year. ‘'Then you look at the rest of the conference … I mean, I look at the Oregon schools. Both those teams basically return everybody. Oregon State has a very difficult style that you have to prepare for and they're very well coached. I think Ernie (Kent), his team took their lumps because they played so many freshmen last year, but they're going to be a forced to be reckoned with. ‘'There's a lot of balance and parity in the conference. So, anybody can beat anybody on a given night in the Pac-10. I think it's one of the great things about this league. There is a lot of good players. When you look at how many pros have come out of this conference – the most pros in the last three years drafted in the NBA overall and first rounders and lottery picks comes out of the Pac-10. And we don't hear about it enough – it's not a big enough story nationally like it should be. ‘'It's been unbelievable three years in a row this conference has had 60 percent of the league in the NCAA Tournament and our teams have done well in the NCAA Tournament. This is a great league and the league is going to be every bit as tough as it's been. I think obviously when you lose that many guys to the NBA, you know, you have a little talent overhaul, but there's good young talent coming up within our conference again.''

Talk about the challenge of having to improvise when people go down with an injury and you've got young guys that you have to mold together. So much has been settled for you the past three years, I wonder if there is something fun about this …

‘'Definitely, it's not fun. I wouldn't describe it as fun. But in '06, which was our first real good year, we had a number of injuries that year. That was the year that Ced Bozeman went down and missed eight games and actually came back and played with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Josh Shipp filled in for four games after rehabbing a hip and then couldn't stay on because it hurt too much. But he was in during the games that Ced was out. Lorenzo (Mata-Real) was in and out with a broken leg and a couple of broken noses. You know, we had so many injuries that year I can't even recant them all, but we somehow found a way. Mike Roll was pressed into a starting lineup as a freshman that year for a couple of games because we were just so undermanned in terms of experienced players. ‘'It always gives the younger guys, guys step up and have an opportunity. And that was the year where for example Ryan Hollins was in and out of the starting lineup. Lorenzo got hurt and Lorenzo Mata was really coming on and Ryan Hollins really stepped up in his last 12 games of his senior year, played the best he had ever played and it really led to him now starting his fourth year in the NBA with a three-year guaranteed contract and God bless him, he's continued to work hard and get better. Those kinds of stories are fun. But dealing with it and thinking about it is always difficult.''

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