Ben Howland's success at UCLA has been nothing short of
phenomenal since taking over after the 2002-03 season.
Continued improvement culminated in last year's 32 wins and a
berth in the National Championship game. But with star
guard Jordan Farmar lost to the NBA Draft, and the burden of
higher expectations, things might not be so easy in 06-07.
Coach Howland was kind enough to discuss with us how he plans to
keep the good times rolling.
Shawn Siegel (CHN): What
do you expect to be the strengths and weaknesses of this year’s
Ben Howland (BH): Our strength is that we have eight
players from a team that won the Pacific-10 Conference
championship the Pac-10 Tournament and reached the NCAA
Championship game returning so we have experience on our side.
We also have Josh Shipp returning from an injury that forced him
to miss all but four games last year so I would add depth as a
strength. Losing Jordan Farmar causes a void in terms of depth
at the point but Darren Collison will do very well there. My
biggest concern is who is going to be his backup and I don't
know that right now.
CHN: How will you deal with the losses of contributors like
Farmar, Hollins, and Bozeman?
BH: It will be very difficult, especially when you
consider that we lost Jordan Farmar (first round draft pick by
the Los Angeles Lakers) who would have been an All-American for
UCLA had he returned for his junior season. He had a great
two-year career and helped this program get back on track. Ryan
Hollins played his best basketball of his career in the later
stages of our season last year. We are going to miss his
defensive presence more than anything. I think Cedric Bozeman,
along with Arron Afflalo, was our top two defenders a year ago.
He had an ability to play great defense against point guards,
off guards, small forwards and power forwards and he was so
CHN: What should
we expect out of the incoming players. Who will make the biggest impact?
have four freshmen coming in including three scholarship players
and one walk-on. James Keefe will help us from the standpoint
that he'll be one of the better rebounders on the team. He plays
with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and always plays hard.
Russell Westbrook is a very good athlete and has a lot of
physical tools. He will play some back-up point for us and his
key will be learning the mental aspect of running a team at the
CHN: Talk about one of your guys that stands out
as being an unheralded leader and contributor?
When I look at our team, I think there is a lot of guys that
could fill that role. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is not unsung by
any means as he was the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year but I
thought he was good enough to be an All-League player last year
but didn't get the votes. Lorenzo Mata could definitely be an
unsung leader for us. He did a lot for us last year in limited
action because of all the injuries he sustained. Alfred Aboya
and Michael Roll both fit that mold and come to mind when
thinking about the description of that kind of player.
CHN: How does this year's schedule compare
to recent seasons in terms of difficulty?
I think this is the most difficult schedule we have had since I
have been at UCLA. We open up the season with BYU which returns
four starters from a team that won 20 games a year ago. Then it
gets tougher and tougher as the season progresses. We then head
to Hawaii for the EA Sports Maui Invitational. It is a great
field with Memphis, Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, Purdue and
DePaul. Then we face Texas A&M in the Wooden Classic. We also
host Michigan, who I think has a lot of talent. Then we start
league play where the Pac-10 is always very competitive. The
Pac-10 is the only major conference that plays 18 league games
which makes for a real grind.
CHN: Good luck coach.
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