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Parker's pick of Bruins boosts Howland's odds of survival


Parker, a 6-foot-8 center, picked UCLA over Duke, Kansas and Ohio State, among others. (US Presswire)  
Parker, a 6-foot-8 center, picked UCLA over Duke, Kansas and Ohio State, among others. (US Presswire)  

Ben Howland felt good and confident when he gathered with his staff in the UCLA video coordinator's office Monday afternoon to watch the program's final recruiting target announce his college decision via a press conference streamed live on the World Wide Web. But did he know? Did Howland know for sure that Tony Parker would announce for the Bruins?

"I thought I knew," Howland told me late Monday night. "But until they say it, you know and I know, anything can happen. So you never know. Believe me. We were sitting there and sweating that thing. Believe me. We were sweating all 57 minutes."

That's how Tony Parker's press conference will be remembered by most -- as a 57-minute spectacle that represented lots of things that are wrong with high-level recruiting. Despite the fact that almost nobody outside of hardcore college basketball fans even know there's a player named Tony Parker besides the one who stars for the Spurs and used to be married to Eva Longoria, this McDonald's All-American from Georgia handled his announcement roughly the same way LeBron James handled The Decision, i.e., with little self-awareness.

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But at least LeBron is LeBron. This Tony Parker isn't even that Tony Parker, and there's a better-than-good chance that he never will be, which is why his press conference was mocked on Twitter in real time. How his parents let his announcement turn into an embarrassment is beyond me. But whatever. The point here isn't to address how Monday happened as much as it's to address what happened Monday.

So what happened Monday?

The icing on the cake for UCLA happened, that's what.

Howland, along with a few other high-major coaches and countless fans logged onto a computer to watch one of the nation's last relevant Class of 2012 prospects announce his college decision -- "We kept losing the stream," Howland said. "It was nerve-racking" -- and by the time the UCLA coach logged off he had the final piece to a recruiting class some are calling the nation's best. CBSSports.com ranks Parker as the No. 21 prospect in the Class of 2012. He's listed behind fellow UCLA signees Shabazz Muhammad (No. 2) and Kyle Anderson (No. 3) and ahead of future teammate Jordan Adams (No. 71).

"We're bringing in an unbelievable recruiting class," Howland said. "My staff deserves a lot of credit."

Most notably Korey McCray -- the former Atlanta Celtics summer coach who made it reasonable for UCLA to recruit and ultimately sign two Georgia products in Parker and Adams, which means it was reasonable for Howland to hire him last year. That was a somewhat controversial move at the time, you know? Other coaches privately wondered why UCLA needed to hire a grassroots coach from Georgia to get players, and, on some level, that's a fair question to ask. But it worked. All that matters now is that it worked and that Howland is getting the last laugh, which leads me to Monday night when the man whose future seemed undetermined as recently as February sounded downright giddy about what's to come.

"I'm excited," Howland said as he enjoyed a nice California evening by sitting in his backyard chatting and celebrating with former Bruin Lorenzo Mata, who played on all three of Howland's Final Four teams in 2006, 2007 and 2008. "We're going back into Pauley Pavilion with a $150 million renovation. Our league has a new television contract. And we're bringing in an unbelievable recruiting class to go with a very good nucleus. So I'm excited."

As well he should be.

For the first time in a while.

The past year for Howland has been tough because the Bruins were beaten on the court by too many Pac-12 schools and off the court by Reeves Nelson's antics that led to his eventual dismissal and a Sports Illustrated article that was far from explosive but still damaging to the UCLA brand. There was no guarantee Howland would survive it. But he did ... at least in part because Anderson and Adams were already signed and Muhammad and Parker seemed set to join them. Muhammad committed two weeks ago; Parker followed suit Monday. So now Howland will have the roster necessary to win a Pac-12 title, earn a contract extension and return UCLA to its proper place in college basketball.

Will it happen?

Who knows?

But Monday's development that took 57 minutes to announce ensured the odds are favorable.

"Our league is on the rise again," Howland said. "But the most important thing is that we are on the rise again."

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and college basketball insider for the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts an award-winning radio show in Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two sons and two dogs.

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