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April 2, 2006
THE MODERATOR: We'll let Coach Howland make an opening statement. We have some questions lined up.
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I just want to say, impressed of all of you. You were here at 11 a.m. after leaving 2 or 3 in the morning. You guys are tough, very hard-working. You all deserve a raise. That's my opening statement (smiling).
Q. Can you talk about Cedric Bozeman, all he's been through at UCLA, to be playing in the national championship game tonight. Jordan, could you follow up on that question after coach, about what he's meant as a mentor to you.
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I tell you what, Ced has been just terrific. It goes back to last year. After his first year, my first year at UCLA, we did not have a very good team. We finished that season 11-17, lost a lot of close games. Just didn't have a lot of depth. We were part of the building process. Didn't have a lot around him that was real helpful. We had some injuries that year.
But I thought he really came back really, really focused and pushed himself, worked so hard that summer between his sophomore and junior year to improve his game, every aspect of his game. As you noticed, his free-throw shooting, his three-point shooting percentages, all his numbers have just dramatically gone up. That's all through his hard work and dedication when no one else is watching in the gym by himself or working out with his teammates, but all the time. Really worked hard in the weight room, got in great shape.
Really unbelievably tragic and upsetting when, the day before our opening exhibition game a year ago, he tore his ACL in practice. I had no idea it was going to be that serious. When he went down, it looked like it was going to be a sprained ankle. I remember seeing Ced -- I remember having to tell Ced, seeing him up in the training room. I mean, he's already had the shoulder issue. When I first got the job, he couldn't go that spring because he had a shoulder issue, I forget what shoulder it is, I think it was the right. Wasn't it the right?
CEDRIC BOZEMAN: Uh-huh.
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Right shoulder, left shoulder, knee. He's had it all.
Getting back to my point, I talk about this even, there's going to be a silver lining in the fact that although he couldn't play last year, he was out for the year, he would have to go through so much to come back this year, had to be very frustrating for him personally after working so hard and being so ready and so prepared to have a great season last year. The silver lining is this: we would not be sitting here talking right now if it weren't for Ced Bozeman being on this team this year. Make no mistake about that.
He is probably the best example of giving himself up for the team and doing whatever it takes to win, being totally selfless. At the end of the day, I'll be so happy if this comes to fruition and we are the national champions because for Ced Bozeman, that will be exactly what he deserves.
JORDAN FARMAR: He pretty much covered everything (smiling).
The same thing, though. I mean, Ced is definitely our glue. He does all the little things that we need. Coach said it, he's selfless. He's the ultimate team player. For him to go through so much and work so hard to get back, it would just be a great feeling for me and I know for the rest of the guys because we really care about each other, to send him out on a good note.
Q. Can you talk about what Luc has meant on the court and briefly what he's like off the court.
CEDRIC BOZEMAN: I mean, with Luc, you get consistency. That's the main -- that's the key word for Luc, "consistency." We know what we're going to get from him every night. He's only a freshman. The sky's the limit. I mean, I expect bigger and better things from him in the future. I'm just happy to be on his team.
JORDAN FARMAR: Same thing. He does whatever's asked of him. If we need an extra ball handler, if we tell him to go guard Big Baby, you know, whatever's asked of him, he can do it. He's always poised, always under control, great team player, real supportive of his teammates.
Off the court, he's really fun. Him and Alfred are comedians in their own right. They bring a different spirit to the team. I think we have so much diversity on this team, having them from Africa, players from Canada, all around, just makes us a real family when we come together on the floor.
Q. Cedric and Arron, there's been a lot of talk in the last few days, weeks about UCLA and its history, tradition. You guys have spoken about that. Those teams seem to be much better known for high-scoring games, fast breaking. How do you see yourselves as a team compared to what you know about those older guys? Are people these days surprised by your defense? Do they still picture UCLA as more of a fast-breaking, high-scoring team?
ARRON AFFLALO: I don't think they're surprised too much. We're definitely in a different era. That's just our mentality. We're a defensive-minded team. I think all our fans and supporters, they enjoy winning more than just showtime.
CEDRIC BOZEMAN: Yeah, basically it's substance over style. All we care about is the W. We pride ourselves on defense. If defense is going to win games, that's what we're going to do.
Q. Coach, is there a sense of urgency when you get to this point now, because of the way college basketball is now, where guys are leaving, is there a sense of urgency when you get to this point you need to win because you never know what the team is going to look like next year? Billy Donovan said he altered his approach to recruiting because of that, trying to evaluate better guys down the list who might be around three, four years.
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I want to speak to your question over here before I answer those questions.
We were really doing a good job of pushing the ball last night. I think you noticed there were actually a couple times that Big Baby called a timeout because of the changing ends and the pace of the game. We were at 39 in the first half, right? We're going to have to do that tomorrow because Florida wants to get up and down, they're going to try to press us, they're going to try to create a tempo that's up and down. That's great. We scored 86 points against Arizona at home. We can play any way you want to play. At the end of the day, we've got to defend, rebound, take good shots and take care of the basketball.
In terms of your second question, I have to be reminded of the first question, we want to recruit the very best players in the country here. A good problem is having players that are leaving early for the NBA. The more NBA players, we've got a number of them sitting right up here to my left, they're going to be future NBA players, without question, without a doubt, that's why we're sitting here right now, we have great players. We're not looking for anything less than the best possible player who also fits the profile of a UCLA student-athlete, and that is an outstanding student who is very, very committed both on and off the floor to representing himself, his family, our family, the UCLA tradition and history in every way, in every walk of life.
Q. The first part of the question was because guys leave sometimes, maybe you don't anticipate it, do you feel an urgency to win the title when you get there because you don't know you can come back with the same team?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I'll tell you what, that aspect to why we want to win this title has zero to do with it. It's just a matter of competition. We're here now. We have a chance to win the national championship. Of course, there's a sense of urgency that has absolutely zero to do with what you're asking about. That's just -- I don't know where you want me to go with it.
The pride of UCLA basketball, the pride of these kids, everything they've gone through, all the adversity, sticking together, supporting one another, playing for one another, that's what it's all about.
Q. As much success as you had before you came to UCLA, how long were you there before you became less conscious of John Wooden looking at everything you did? Are you still perhaps conscious of that?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Coach watches every game. Coach is always there at the home games sitting behind our bench. Believe me, I knew that. I embrace it. He's the greatest coach in the history of basketball. What was accomplished by John R. Wooden, 1930 Player of the Year, Purdue University, right from here in this local area, will never, ever be seen again at the college level. They won 37 - so you guys know - 37 straight NCAA tournament games in a row at one point. 10 championships in 12 years.
But the whole key to his run was recruiting really good players that were really good people and good human beings, that were selfless, that worked hard, that improved every day, that gave themselves to each other, just like our kids are doing now.
So the basic framework of the program in terms of what I believe in is very much what coach believes in and has set up. The first day I took this job three years ago tomorrow, I said there will never be another John Wooden. Everybody wants to be like Mike if they're a player, Michael Jordan, that's Arron's favorite guy, everybody wants to be like John. There's only one Michael and there's only one Coach.
So I don't feel any of the shadow. I embrace it. I know who I am. I'm proud to be the one carrying the torch at this time. But it will always be Nell and John R. Wooden Court. It's always going to be the Wooden Center across the street from where my office is, as it should be.
As great a coach as Coach Wooden was, only those of you that have had a chance to get to know him, get a chance to sit and visit with him, know what I'm saying. This is the honest to God's truth, he is a better person than he is a coach. He took all the opportunity of his fame and his recognition for being a great college basketball coach to help others. He helped so many charities. The Special Olympics is one that he really is fond of, having a grandson who is afflicted with mental challenges. He's just so giving of himself, with all the children's books he's done, he's a very religious man. It's shocking how well he can still recite poetry right from whatever you want to talk about at age 95. He is so sharp mentally, it's incredible.
Q. Your team, like Florida, at times this year has been perceived to be a year away. What's been important to your success during the season and your run in the tournament?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Well, I don't know who says we're a year away. Probably the same experts that didn't think the PAC-10 had very good basketball teams, et cetera, et cetera.
Our team understands night in and night out we can beat anybody on a given night and anybody can beat us. That was proven early in the year when we were very fortunate to beat Drexel or we were very lucky to beat Wagner at the buzzer, or we were down at halftime to Coppin State. Teams that all played hard, had good years. Delaware State played us tough at home, taking air out of the ball, using clock.
We've played a lot of different levels of teams. They've all been tough. This team has gone through more adversity in terms of injuries than any team I've ever heard of, ever been a part of for sure.
What I think it's done, it's made us better. You just go right down the list here. Five sprained ankles, four on one side, one on the other, and a groin. You go to Ced, he's playing with a torn labrum right now in his left shoulder, missed eight games, the first eight games of the conference. Down there Ryan Hollins, he was out three weeks with a hamstring. He also returned from knee surgery two years ago where he had a patella, the back of his patella, they had to go in and deal with. Then Luc started out the year missing the first week of practice because of a shoulder injury. He's had a little tendinitis flaring up in his knees because he plays so hard, we're pushing him hard, playing him so many minutes.
Arron's had his share of bumps and grind, his thumb. Lorenzo Mata broke his leg, out for two months. He's had two broken noses, his second was on Monday, thanks to Luc smacking Alfred who then smacked into Lorenzo.
Ryan Hollins just got a knee contusion, what day was that, Wednesday. It's something different. They just keep coming back.
But what it's done, it's allowed a lot of the players that may not have played as much of a role early in the season to get a lot of playing time, a lot of opportunity. You have to remember that Josh Shipp is not playing right now. Josh Shipp is terrific. Josh Shipp is a big-time player who played four games for us this year, had hip surgery, the labrum of his hip, which is a rare surgery, and we were trying to get him to come back. He actually made an attempt and played in four games. There was just too much pain, discomfort, swelling to continue on the season. But while he was with us, we did beat Stanford, Arizona, Arizona State on the road. Those were all obviously huge wins.
So everybody is contributing to this program. Even the guys that aren't playing, that don't get to play as much. I was so happy to see Janou play a role. Janou Rubin has been a great kid for us for six years. Here is a kid that worked so hard, been through three knee surgeries. Last night he's playing in the national semifinals because we need him to get in there. He comes in, does a great job for us.
Q. Can you talk about Lorenzo. Is he playing at the level he's at now when he broke his leg?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I think he was on his way. I think Lorenzo -- when Jordan broke his leg - kidding, Jordan - that's actually how it happened. In fact, I remember very vividly now, we were up 10. Jordan steals the ball at mid-court, Washington State, left going towards our bench, three-something to go in the game, and Lorenzo is sprinting down the floor. Jordan goes in and actually misses it but hustles to come back into play. Here comes Lorenzo. They run into each other.
I mean, if you look at that play, it's incredible that he didn't get hurt. Anybody else probably would have had an ACL tear, Lorenzo, first of all, his legs are like tree trunks. He has tree trunk legs. Unbelievable. Look at his calves. He played great, eight rebounds in 17 minutes.
He's on his way to being that productive all the time. I'm excited about it. He plays good in that mask, too. That mask I think gives him a little added boost to be more aggressive. Not worried about getting hit in the face with a mask on. He's doing a very good job. I thought his shot fake last night, he really slowed down. Shot fake, made a layup on a nice pass from somebody. Just did an outstanding job. We're excited about how Lorenzo Mata is playing.
Q. There's a perception out there that you young kids today are enthralled with dunks.
COACH BEN HOWLAND: They are.
Q. And also the flashy game as far as going out and running up and down the court. You have always been successful with tempo, playing good defense. How do you do that?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: We want to push the ball. I mean, if you ask these guys, we're trying to push it. We'll get better. This program will continue to evolve. For example, my teams at Northern Arizona led the country in three-point shooting percentage three years in a row - the country. We were number two, number two and number one in overall field goal percentage. That's why I know how incredible Florida is offensively when you start talking about their numbers.
Did I say they're shooting 56% from the field inside the three? Are you guys aware of that? They're shooting 57.5, if you equate it the right way, from three. It's 39% equating to 57.5. Those are high numbers. They have a great offensive team. It really is going to be a big challenge for us to be able to try to defend such skilled players, good passers. Everybody can shoot it. You look at Green, how well he shoots the ball from three. Great shooter.
Obviously Humphrey, I'm just amazed as I look at his numbers. I don't know where he is in the national scene in terms of percentage, but 45.8%, 46%, it's like shooting 69% from two. That's going to be a challenge.
They have a very, very good team. I think Luc had a couple nice dunks last night that Jordan fed him. I remember Ryan Hollins having a lob dunk which was exciting for everyone. So, yeah, we like to dunk, too, whenever it's there, it's the right play to make. It's always a high-percentage shot.
Q. As someone who made a cross-country move and back in your career, what are the things that someone who goes from one coast to the other, an East Coast guy who goes west, it has to do in getting acclimated to new recruiting situations, territories?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: You know what, that was really for me west going east. In other words, I am a West Coast guy. When I went to the East Coast in the Big East, coming back west, I was on the phone with the premiere expert of high school basketball asking, who do I have to have if I get this job, if I'm lucky enough to get this? I'm talking about Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar at 3 and 4 in the morning right after I got back from our last game at Pitt, which was to Dwyane Wade unfortunately in Minneapolis, who I watched last night, had a good game, he had 44. He's a great player.
In fact, it's exciting for me that I have four of my former players, three of my former players that are here right now watching these young men. I am so proud that they're able to make it. Brandon Knight is here, Jaron Brown is here and Ontario Lett is here, whose mother just passed away last week, had a funeral for his mother this past Wednesday. Because for me to be sitting here coaching these kids, that would have never happened were it not for the players I've coached before them who have been so successful and so good.
But recruiting for me in the west is much easier because that's my familiarity, that's my comfort zone in terms of having a network of people I know. Out east was more difficult. That's why I had to hire someone like Barry Rohrssen, Slice, who is from New York, who is really, really connected into New York recruiting, knows everybody. Jamie Dixon, that's the greatest recruiting job maybe ever. Jamie, come up from Hawaii, move to Pittsburgh with me. Let's go recruit to the Field House up here. Anybody remember the Field House in Pittsburgh? Recruiting out of that is no joke. Mirrors and smoke.
We were fortunate to get a lot of tough kids. Recruiting UCLA is much, much easier because of the tradition, the history, the quality of the institution, the location. I mean, he's about eight miles away, he's about 15 miles away, Ced, how far is Englewood there? 10 or 12 miles away. Ryan is a whole 20 miles away from Pasadena. Luc is about 8,000 miles away over in Cameroon.
Q. We've talked at every news conference about the history, tradition. Earlier today we were talking to some of the Florida players. I don't think you would disagree, they said tradition is great, but it doesn't make any difference come tomorrow night. Can you talk about that?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: That's fine. I mean, what's your question?
Q. Do you essentially agree with that? Does tradition mean anything when it comes to playing the actual game?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Absolutely it means something. We're playing for ourselves. These kids are playing for one another. We're also playing for the program and for UCLA. There's no program that has more tradition or rich history of winning than UCLA. These kids know that and embrace that. They represent those four letters. They're part of a very special fraternity of players that is very, very special to be a part of and they know that and embrace it and represent it well.
I think that obviously is a motivator. For us, I'm sure for Florida it doesn't matter, for us it matters.
RYAN HOLLINS: As far as the tradition, UCLA has a great tradition, a pride, and we'll never match what the team did in the past. We're just coming to each game with the same focus and mentality knowing this is a new team, what we have to do to be successful. Florida shouldn't pay any mind to that either. It's UCLA and Florida, not the teams of the past.
THE MODERATOR: We'll let the student-athletes go to the breakout rooms.
We'll continue with questions for coach.
Q. Did your coaching philosophies get altered by your years at Pittsburgh? Is there any kind of mentality or style in the Big East that you don't see in other conferences?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Well, what the Big East has is they probably have more athleticism 1 through 16 now, amazingly, 1 through 16 teams than any league in the country. Athletically it's just incredible the amount of athletes. Those northeastern cities produce so many players which are the bulk of the talent comes from that plays in the Big East. You just have a great advantage because you have the biggest population centers to recruit from. It's really advantageous.
The thing I like about the Big East is, as a basketball coach, selfishly, the whole thing was developed and made for basketball. That was the original purpose for that conference, was for basketball, for television. I remember, you know, ESPN first started doing the Syracuse games, you'd come home, 4:30 there would be the game on, there's Stevie Thompson from Crenshaw High School going crazy dunking the ball. You look back at the history and tradition in that league, it's a special, special league.
I saw John Thompson last night here. He's one of my heroes. What he accomplished, what he did for college basketball with his teams at Georgetown, now his son who is doing an unbelievable job there. Georgetown is back. Jamie Dixon has done an incredible job. I'm so proud of him. These last three years, he was having a real rough go. He's 76-22 over three years, including a Big East championship, two trips to the Big East championship game in the tournament. He's doing a great job. There's just so many good coaches.
Like all the power conferences. We just added Herb Sendek, I learned, last night 2 in the morning to ASU. Herb is a great coach. He's from Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University. He's like so smart and intelligent. Our league is a great league. It's getting tougher and tougher. Herb just made it tougher. Tim Floyd made it tougher. There's always going to be really good players, good coaches. It's a well-run league.
Q. Billy Donovan made a hard push for Jordan. Taurean said if Jordan went there, he wouldn't have went to Florida. Can you talk about what you remember from recruiting him?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I was sick to my gut from that whole thing. Jordan Farmar, I went and saw him the first day I could possibly go out recruiting at his school, which was at that time legal with his mom, his high school coach. Basically promised that he would have an opportunity to come in and be a starter, what a great opportunity, it's UCLA. UCLA hadn't really recruited him. It was Lavin's last year. He probably knew he wasn't going to be back. There wasn't a lot of follow-up to what we were doing, which is understandable.
He wasn't getting a lot of love from UCLA because they just weren't involved in doing a lot of recruiting at that point in time. When we came in right away as a staff, obviously Arron and he were the two primary targets. We knew how good we were, that we had to have good guards. It always starts with good guards.
He went down to visit Florida. They did a great job on the visit. They have the board there, whatever their arena is called, they're coming in with all the highlights. I think you can't even do it now. That was the last year you could do it. They made this incredible highlight film with Jordan Farmar. You would come in, someone would be announcing. He's a 16-year-old kid at the time. He was very, very excited by it all.
I forget who his host was. His host was a kid from Michigan who went pro, really good shooter. What is his name? Roberson. He loved him, had a great relationship with Roberson. So when he came back, he was really leaning that way I think. It took a couple days to try to get him settled down. Then when he came over and played with our guys, he was so dominant, he knew he was coming in and playing.
The bottom line at the end of the day, why go far away if you can have at least the same type of situation at home. I think when he reflects now upon his decision, his mom and dad are at every game. His grandparents are at every game. His girlfriend is the best soccer player, Jill Oakes, in the country maybe at UCLA. She's an All-American. She'll be on the 2008 Olympic team. He's met a really nice girl. He's doing great academically.
To be halfway done towards graduation at UCLA, you need 90 hours. We're a quarter school. You need 180 hours to graduate. Right now after this last quarter just finished, I believe he's at 95 or 93 with this quarter to go. He is way ahead of schedule to graduate. He's a sharp, sharp kid.
The only real tough part right now is that his grandfather, his maternal grandfather, is fighting cancer and could not be here, along with his mother who is staying home to take care of her father Howard. Then Mindy, his mother, is just such a special person. I spoke to her day before yesterday. She's just a great, great person.
This is the kind of connections we have to UCLA. That's why it was interesting last night talking about LSU. Arron Afflalo was born in the UCLA Medical Center. Jordan Farmar's grandfather was the first physician that worked in emergency care at the UCLA Hospital back in the early '60s. Those kids were connected at birth, as far as I'm concerned. I just happened to be the coach that was lucky enough to get them to come.
Q. Could you talk about the surprising positive effects that the NBA age limit rule has had on college basketball?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Well, first of all, I don't think it's fair or it's legal. I don't think it's right in that respect. I think if we ask kids to go fight in Iraq for their country, they can do that at age 17 or 18, there's no reason why kids should not be able to go straight to the NBA out of high school. I'm talking about from a legal perspective only.
I also think for the game, it's the right thing, that kids that are so focused, 16 and 17, hear about it from everybody. They lose focus of what's important, which is doing the right things in school, continuing to improve and get better as a player. You've seen a lot of kids that have been able to do it, and do it really well.
You look at our league right now. Who are the best players in the NBA? Most of them -- I shouldn't say most of them. Half of them are the guys that made the jump right now. Garnett, right? Kobe Bryant? Tracy McGrady? LeBron James, Jermaine O'Neal, so on and so forth. But you've also had a vast majority of guys that have gone that it didn't work out. Where are they now?
One kid that comes to mind is a kid that was out of Houston that signed with Lute at Arizona.  he bee. He's nowhere. He never developed. I think the NBA teams are actually doing a much better job now at getting kids, they're going to develop them. I think this new league is going to be good.
How good would the team be right now that had Dwight Howard last year? How good would a team be if they had LeBron James for a year? How good is Ohio State going to be with Greg Oden. Greg Oden would not be going to college, I don't care what anybody says, if he didn't have to.
I think it's great for the college game. Again, I don't think it is right. I think Greg Oden has the right to be to the NBA and should be afforded the right for that. Selfishly speaking, it's great for college basketball.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I can't speak to that so much. I just think every kid's dream, my dream, I wanted to be Jerry West. That was my dream as a little kid. I wanted to be Jerry West. They all are looking. Of course, I wanted to be Gail Goodrich, too. I watched all those great UCLA. Jerry West, I grew up a Lakers fan. That's what I wanted to be. All these kids have goals to play at the next level, just like every kid who plays football wants to be Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger. That's just how it is. That's understandable.
We have the second most amount of NBA players that have come out of our program over the last 20 years than anybody in the country, I believe.
Q. When you think of LA across the country, you think of the Hollywood glitz, Lakers showtime, all the great teams you grew up watching in LA. Can you talk about how your team's gritty work ethic on defense seems to contrast that showy image?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: You know -- I hate to keep starting off all my sentences like that. There's three of them in a row now. Let's see if we can get one beginning without a "you know," Ben.
I think that Jerry Buss, and I saw Mark Cuban talking about this. Jerry Buss is ahead of his time. This guy was great at marketing the NBA and the NBA teams. 'Cause although the Lakers were great, they had great showtime with Worthy coming at you, Cooper, Magic making all the great passes, at the end of the day they won because they played the best defense in the league. They were a great defensive team.
You talk about their talent level. They had four No. 1 picks during that run on each of those teams that won it. The No. 1 pick in the draft. Bob McAdoo, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, and Mychal Thompson. You also had Michael Cooper, which in my opinion was one of the two best defensive players on any single player, other than Michael Jordan, that there is in the league. The other being Dennis Johnson. Both being LA products, I might add. Had a lot of toughness, heart, character.
You just talk about guys that are gritty. Let's go to Dennis Johnson out of Compton High School -- excuse me, Dominguez High School in Compton, LA Harbor Junior College, played for Jim White, one year at Pepperdine, ring in Seattle, ring in Boston. He's an LA product. Gary Peyton, Jason Kidd. I can go and give you a lot of guys that are tough and play hard.
I guess perception is reality. When you start really studying it and thinking about it, I thought Pat Riley's teams won on defense and definitely as well did Phil Jackson teams, both in Chicago as well.
Michael Jordan is the greatest player ever. He's the best defender ever at his position. Pippen. Why did Phil Jackson want to bring Ron Harper to the Lakers? His length, his ability to defend. I'm just telling you, best defensive teams are usually winning. Let's go to Detroit Pistons two years ago and now. San Antonio Spurs. That's where I think the Mavericks have made a huge increase this year, when you look at what a great job Johnson has done. Those guys are playing hard. George Karl's teams play great defense. Chuck Daly's teams.
Bottom line is people like to win. Players like to win. That's the bottom line.
Q. Your team seems to belie the image of LA.
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I'm not buying it. I grew up in Southern California. I'm not buying into that has to be the image of LA. To me the image of LA are hard-working, good people that play together and are tough, just happen to live in the greatest place in the world to live in. That's fortunate for all of us that are from Southern California.
Q. Can you talk about how you and your colleagues have had to adapt to the fact that kids are getting younger and younger. You're playing with freshmen and sophomores mostly. How has that changed in terms of recruiting and game coaching?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: You know, there I go again. Someone buzz me, throw something at me next time I do that.
At Pitt, I had older players. At Pitt, I had Carl Krauser who just graduated this year, 25. He was my last year there, he was a 22-year-old sophomore. Jaron Brown was 23. Ontario Lett was 24. Brandon Knight and Julius Page were young. Who else? We had some other guys. I had a bunch of guys that redshirted. Chevy Troutman was a redshirt. Mark McCarol was a redshirt.
We had a lot of different guys that were older. That's just four years ago, five years ago. It just depends. Right now we're in a cycle at UCLA where we've got a lot of young guys, yes, nine freshmen or sophomores, that includes Josh, who is not playing.
It will cycle its way. Sometimes you'll have some four-year guys that have been there. Other times you'll be playing with freshmen. That's just how it is. That's one of the things I think that you're going to continue to see. This George Mason run, it's not the last time we're seeing that from a "mid-major" program. I think they had three players that were fifth-year seniors. It's such an advantage to be older than your opponent both mentally, physically and to have that experience of having gone through adversity and the ups and downs of being a college basketball player.
Gonzaga, look what they've done, Mark Few has done as good a job in the country with their program in the last seven years. When he took over that program, he took it to a new level. You don't think of them as a mid-major program. Their league is a mid-major, but they're a high major program.
Q. Billy Donovan said he plays the way his team plays because if it hadn't been an up-tempo game he might have never gotten a shot at Providence against Georgetown. Why do you play the way you play?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: How do we play (smiling)?
Q. You tell me.
COACH BEN HOWLAND: We play really hard, really hard. We try really hard. We're unselfish. We try to take good shots. We try to pressure you by pushing the ball. Again, we forced a couple timeouts last night on the other team by just running the ball at 'em and keep coming at 'em.
You know, I think sometimes people get into generalities and pigeonholes. We can play however you want to play. At the end of the day, it comes down to defending, rebounding, contesting shots, taking good shots, and obviously taking care of the basketball, executing at both ends of the floor.
Q. When you took over the UCLA program, did it seem like a mammoth obstacle that you had in front of you in terms of getting things the way you wanted? Is this run happening quicker than you might have expected?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I knew that we had a lot of recruiting to do. That's where it all starts and ends. You have to have good players. You see our league is just loading up right now. The big kid who I tried to recruit, Lorenzo did a great job. Brockman and now Spencer Haas, they have two NBA players inside Washington. Washington, just for all of you that didn't get a chance to see Brandon Roy much, I was really happy that he got first team All-American. I hope in some little way me talking about him all the time on the national media maybe gave him a little more exposure for people to really watch because that kid deserved it. What a great player.
Lorenzo is just a classy act. He's a former UCLA assistant, was here last time the Bruins were victorious in this game Monday night.
I look back when I first arrived at UCLA, I was so happy just to have the job. The daunting task of rebuilding was something you expected. It was a long first year. The bottom line is I have a great staff, unbelievable group of assistant coaches. You can't do any job without a lot of good people all working together on the same page, pulling the same direction. We have great chemistry not only within our team but within our staff. They do just an outstanding job in every aspect of the game to help this program be where it is right now, in such a quick amount of time.
Q. Have you allowed yourself a moment yet to think about what impact a national championship might have on your career, life, the big picture? Have you talked to other coaches that have done it and how it affected them?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: No. I'm just really focused -- we got out of here last night as the clock changed. Luc came back. Luc Richard had his knee x-rayed here last night because he bumped it. If you stub your toe, we're going to do an MRI now at UCLA with all the injuries we had. Came back negative.
I didn't get out of here till 2:00. I got back to the room, saw my wife, saw my kids, saw my mom momentarily, went down to the film room till about 4, 4:15, 4:30, came back up, tried to sleep. Got up at 10 so I could be here with you on time, watching a little film before I got here, having something to eat.
All I'm focused on right now is the day at hand, just trying to focus on giving our team the best chance to prepare for tomorrow's game.
Q. This weekend used to be dominated by juniors and seniors, now you have all the freshmen and sophomores. Why are they able to succeed so early? Does it make the situation a little more volatile because you don't quite know what you're always going to get from a young team?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I don't know if you know you're going to get out of juniors and seniors either. They're still kids. They're still 18, 19, 20 years old, whatever they are. Sometimes they're older, like I was fortunate to have at Pitt. Teams are what they are. There's a lot of young talent out there. Kids are really good players.
Billy had some guys last year that probably should have come back for another year and got some bad advice, in my opinion. Imagine if they have Walsh right now, Roberson. What about the kid that left Alabama early? I was glad we didn't have to see him. What was his name? Winston, Kennedy Winston. They had five or six guys that left the SEC early last year that didn't get drafted.
You know, you have -- there's another one. We're always going to support our players, whatever decision they make. But it's got to be the right decision that's best for them. I think oftentimes kids get bad advice. Like the kid at Kentucky, thank goodness they let him back. What's the big kid's name? Morris?
Q. Can you talk, what was the first advice somebody gave you when you took the UCLA job or words of wisdom you got?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I don't know. I'm thinking about conversations with Coach Wooden. He's so great. He's just supportive. He's not telling you how to do anything. He's just there to be supportive and has been for all the coaches that have followed him. I think now I'm like the eighth guy in the last 31 years or whatever it is.
He's the example. That's who you want to be like. Listening and talking to him, all the things that he speaks to, it's just neat to see the reverence towards him from his former players, all the people associated with that program. Especially for me having grown up watching those teams, living those games on TV with Dick Enberg, 23-footer at the top of the key to a 35-footer by Henry Bibby. It's so much fun for me to see Dick at these games, because I grew up with Dick calling the games. He was very good at embellishing outside shots.
Q. At any of your previous stops, Northern Arizona, Pitt or now, have you ever recruited a kid, other than an obvious shot blocker, whose talents were heavily skewed to defense as opposed to offense? Over the years, has there been a change of the average mentality of the average kid about the (indiscernible) of offense over defense when they're in high school? How much of a sell do you have to do with kids?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: We always look for players that can put the ball in the basket. I love guys who can shoot. Arron and Jordan, for example, are very, very good shooters. That's what Mike Roll does really well. I think this kid coming up next year is a McDonald's All-American, James Keefe, really shoots the ball. You also want to have kids that are athletic. That's our real strength right now, is our athleticism. We're very quick. We're playing Luc as a four. His NBA position will be a three.
In terms of selling defense, I mean, I think any coach that's going to win is going to have to get their kids to play good defense, not just in basketball, but football, baseball, whatever sport you're talking about. Players want to get better. Jordan Farmar knew he had to become a better defensive player. He's going to be challenged big time here come tomorrow night because he'll be guarding someone really good on the perimeter, whoever it is, whether it's Green, Humphrey or Brewer, whoever he ends up guarding, it's going to be a challenge.
You know, he's going to be an NBA player as well. At that level, you've got to be able to play both ends. They all want to get to the league. They all want to be in the NBA. Fortunately, we're going to have a lot of them that get there. You've got to be able to play at that level.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Yes. I mean, not exclusively on the basis, but I look for guys that can really be a good defender. When I was an assistant at UC Santa Barbara, we had a local kid named Paul Johnson who was really highly recruited, recruited by Cal, ASU. I started recruiting him when he was in eighth grade or seventh grade. He grew up in the Boys' Club there at Santa Barbara. I knew a lot of the people around him.
His first thing was going to be he was going to be able to defend. We beat Loyola Marymount with Hank and Bo at home at the first ESPN game at UC Santa Barbara. He picked the ball up full court to slow the break, did an incredible job. He was a great, great defensive player, no question.
Q. When you took the job at UCLA, did you do anything specific to reach out to the former legends of the program? How did you get them back involved with your program?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Well, they did a really nice thing for me when I first got the job. They invited a lot of the former players to a kind of meet the coach at the Hall of Fame there, which is a beautiful building that displays the 97 national championships in all sports, which is the most in the country by far of any college, university athletic program, including by 18 by Al Scates in men's volleyball, which is a record. Coach Wooden only has 10. We've got them in everything. 97 national championship trophies displayed. If you have never been in the Hall of Fame at UCLA, it's something you want to do. This is where Arthur Ashe went to school, Jackie Robinson went to school. You're talking about FloJo went to school at UCLA. The breadth of excellence within our athletic department is unbelievable.
Getting back to your question, that was a room we were in. I met a lot of them. What we did last fall, this past fall, I really wanted to do this because I want our players to get the tradition and history. They hear about it. They see about it. They read about it. But the best way to feel it is to know the players and the coach himself.
So Coach Wooden, his assistant Jerry Norman, a part those first four championships. I invited everybody. Only so many guys to make it on fairly short notice. It was probably six weeks. We had players from all the eras, about 75, 80 strong that came to my house, had an unbelievable tri-tip barbecue. For those of you who don't know what that is, you're missing out. Cooked by my best friend who I grew up with in Santa Barbara. It was great.
We had Bill Walton there. It was kind of fun for a little UCLA groupie eight-year-old who grew up watching all these guys play to have Bill Walton in my backyard with Greg Lee, Coach Wooden sitting there. You had Marques Johnson, Rod Foster, Don MacLean, Lucius Allen, Lynn Shackelford. You had players from the '48 team, Eddie Sheldrake. George Stanich, who played for 1948 for coach on his first teams.
You could go on and on and on, all the players that were there. Mike Warren, from right here in Indiana. A great guy. His son is my hero because he's dating Jessica Alba. Only in America. There were so many great players there. Bill Sweek was there. John Salley was there. It was so much fun. Coach was sitting out by the pool. So much fun. Coach Wooden is sitting out by a little pool, a very small backyard actually to be able to entertain. Everybody is just coming.
Washington was there. Billy Washington. It was really special for me and for our players. Anyway, Bill Sweek has been over in France. It's great. He's sitting there talking to Alfred and Luc in French fluently in a conversation that goes on for half an hour. Alfred Aboya speaks four languages. Luc only speaks three. These are bright, driven kids in the classroom. Luc's dad doesn't even care about basketball. All he wants to know is what are your grades. His dad was a great soccer player for the Cameroonian national team. The bottom line is, the kid is the way he is because we all are a reflection of our parents and how we were raised.
Q. The tradition and history which you've been speaking quite a bit, which you say you have embraced, also seems to have created very high expectations, maybe unreal expectations, very high standards that a lot of coaches couldn't live up to. Did you consider that before you took this job? If so, how did you plan to deal with that?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Steve Lavin went to the Sweet-16 five of seven years as the head coach, including one Elite 8. He was also in the NCAA tournament that sixth year. The only year he didn't go was his last year. Yeah, I guess you could say there's high expectations because it was thought of that we've got to make a change. I'm not a part of that.
But I'm not afraid of the expectation. I embrace the expectation. I want our players to embrace that. That's part of the reason we are where we are right now. They're not afraid. If you're afraid to fail, you will.
Q. Could you talk about when you got there, Jordan Farmar was talking earlier he was really considering going other places until you talked to him.
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Begged him. Begged him. Groveled with him.
Q. Can you describe the conversation, how quickly you were on the phone to him.
COACH BEN HOWLAND: It's about like she is right there and you're Jordan. I was begging and groveling for a few hours.
I thought -- I mean, UCLA has so much to sell. This kid is a great student. His mother Mindy and his dad Damon, they both get it and understand what UCLA means and has to offer beyond basketball, beyond when their career is over. When his career is over, his opportunities because of the relationships and his standing in the community are going to really be I think important to his future. That's one of the special things. Our alumni base, you're talking about a school that's one of the great public institutions in the world, arguably the University of Michigan, University of California LA, University of California Berkeley, University of Virginia would be the top four public universities in the United States. Our budget is $3.2 billion. The hospital is a top hospital per US World News and Report west of the Mississippi. The research that's going on there now is incredible, not only in the medical field, but in every other -- there's over five thousand research projects going on at any given time at UCLA in many different disciplines. The Anderson School of Business is one of the top business schools in the country. Our law school is incredible, especially when the emphasis is on entertainment law because we are in the center of the entertainment industry. There is so much that is special about UCLA to sell, much less getting into basketball.
We are the most applied-to campus in the United States of America. One of the things that's been proven, one of the few things that has been proven about college athletics, with success in athletics, people get excited. More kids apply to go to school there because they want to be a part of that great exciting experience that happens in college athletics that is unbelievable. It raises the amount of applications to where you have more to choose from.
That happened at Pitt between my second and third year. Our applications went up dramatically. That was really special. That means a lot to me. That's a great school. I love that in some way we're helping through athletics to raise the level of applications so you have more students to be able to choose from. I think people lose sight of that sometimes. College athletics is very much a part of the college experience. It's very, very special. People have a love for their university for the rest of their lives after their four years of college. It's fun.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach. Good luck tomorrow.
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Thank you.
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