Sunday, March 11, 2012

March Sadness in LA: Where's UCLA?

March Sadness in LA: Where’s UCLA?

March Madness is here. The usual suspects have signed in: Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse, UConn, and UCLA, basketball royalty.

Scratch that – No UCLA

There’s still the NIT.

Scratch that – No UCLA

Indiana’s back and UCLA’s out.

68 teams qualified for March Madness, but not UCLA. Only Long Beach State, without Jerry Tarkanian, made it from the Los Angeles area.

June Gloom arrived early this year in Westwood.

UCLA’s in the doghouse with USC. USC has excuses. The team was down to five scholarship players between sanctions and injuries. USC is a football school. UCLA is a basketball school.

UCLA’s problem is that the players failed chemistry and physics at one of the world’s great universities.

UCLA was ranked 15th pre-season by Sports Illustrated. A great forward, Reeves Nelson, and a dominating center, Joshua Smith, were returning. New players arrived to provide depth. Ben Howland is a proven coach, having taken UCLA to three straight Final Fours.

Physics and chemistry. The 305 pound Smith fell victim to inertia. He couldn’t even get to the team bus on time. Other players lacked the drive. Reeves was a grossly immature and petulant bully. Some players fell to alcohol and drugs. La Dolce Vita in LA can be seductive.

Team chemistry was non-existent. Reeves was finally kicked off the team on December 9, 2011. Players transferred out to excel at other schools.

Sports Illustrated published a devastating article two weeks ago, detailing the chaos at UCLA. The article was unique with all the scandals involving college sports: No NCAA violations, no recruiting violations, no academic fraud, no arrests of basketball or football players.

Ben Howland’s problems are more sinful; he’s not winning anymore. What has Ben done for UCLA lately?

The answer is an unacceptable word: LOSE. UCLA is watching March Madness on HD TV for the second time in three years. 19-14 is not a winning record at UCLA.

John Wooden won ten national titles at UCLA in 12 years, but his successors have only won one in three decades. Losing is unacceptable to the Bruin faithful. Only national championship banners hang from the rafters at Pauley Pavilion - men's and women's basketball, gymnastics, and volleyball. The NIT Championship banner was removed and lost in storage. It may be in the warehouse with the Lost Ark retrieved by Indiana Jones.

Just as Ohio State has been the graveyard of football coaches for 8 decades, UCLA is now the graveyard of basketball coaches, several of whom lasted only 2-3 tears. Wooden’s successors are Gene Bartow (2 years), Gary Cunningham (2 years), Larry Brown (2 years), Larry Farmer (3 years), Walt Hazard (4 years), Jim Harrick (8 years), Steve Lavin (7 years), and Ben Howland (9 years).

I resented UCLA and John Wooden in the 1960’s USF had the second best basketball team on the West Coach, but the only route through the NCAA’s was in your region. Only 16 teams competed in the NCAA’s. The West Regional entailed losing to UCLA, which had the better coach and players. USF’s Pete Peletta was a great recruiter, but not a great coach. Resentment, but respect for the great coach.

John Wooden never tolerated the lack of discipline and intensity of Howland’s players. Coach made it clear to superstars, such as Sidney Wicks and Bill Walton, that it was his way or the road. He wished Walton success in his next endeavor.
Players played Wooden’s way and won. They learnt the Pyramid of Success.

UCLA is a greater than basketball, but it’s not UCLA without basketball.

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