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College Preview | Top 144 Previews | More Interviews

By Shawn Siegel

September 26th, 2006

UCLA Head Coach: Ben Howland


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 team?

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 unselfish.


CHN: What should we expect out of the incoming players. Who will make the biggest impact?

 We 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 college level.



CHN: Talk about one of your guys that stands out as being an unheralded leader and contributor?


BH: 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?

BH: 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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