UCLA is one of the storied college basketball programs in NCAA history. Coach John Wooden is a walking legend who led the Bruins to 10 National Championships. In 2003, when UCLA landed University of Pittsburg head coach Ben Howland, it was a match made in heaven.
Coach Howland quickly turned the program around and compiled an amazing record in 145 wins and 49 losses in 6 seasons. He led the Bruins to NCAA Tournament in 5 out of the past 6 seasons and took them to the National Championship game in 2006.
All this success in Westwood is the result of him having great point guards to run his offense and dictate the tempo. During his inaugural season in 2003-04, he had a junior guard in Cedric Bozeman (Mater Dei High) who battled injuries his entire collegiate career and never materialized to the guard that Coach Steve Lavin envisioned. But he was able to give Howland a tall guard who created match-up problems during their Championship run in 06’.
The following season, in 2004-05, Howland recruited a young freshman point guard in Jordan Farmar (Taft High) who was considered one of the elite guards in the country. He quickly learned the offense and garnered Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. Bozeman along freshman guards Josh Shipp (Fairfax High) and Farmar teamed up in the back court and won 18 games and led them to their first NCAA Tournament in the Howland era.
The 2005-06 season would be the greatest season since 1995 when UCLA took home the Championship under Coach Jim Harrick. That year Jordan Farmar, Bozeman, Shipp along with Aaron Afflalo led the Bruins to a 32-7 record and to the National Championship game against the Florida Gators. The Bruins were officially back and more was to come…
During their great run in 06, a skinny freshman point guard who was a top prospect in the Inland Empire was waiting his turn on the bench to contribute his skills on the court. His name was Darren Collison and after Bozeman graduated, he quickly rose up the depth chart and gave Howland another point guard with a great speed burst and most importantly was defensive minded. Collison would end up leading the conference in steals the following year.
Farmar also left UCLA that year for the NBA draft, but Howland had Collison and a young guard in Russell Westbrook waiting to showcase their skills. The next 2 seasons, they led the Bruins to back-to-back Final Four appearances. During Westbrook’s sophomore season he emerged himself as a top guard during the NCAA Tournament and had every NBA scout drooling over his talent. He quickly bolted to the NBA after 2 seasons just like Farmar.
Howland not only was able to recruit top guards but landed the most coveted big man in the country in Kevin Love who had superb passing skills and finally gave UCLA a big man they needed inside the paint. Although he left after his freshman year and was an NBA lottery pick.
The next season the Bruins finished 2<sup>nd</sup> in the Pac-10 and had a 26-9 record and lost in the 2<sup>nd</sup> round in the NCAA Tournament to a strong Villanova team. Darren Collison had stayed to play his senior year and Coach Howland recruited Jrue Holiday to replace Collison after he graduated. Although Holiday who was an All-American had a shaky freshman season and surprisingly left for the NBA draft.
Howland would be left for the very first time at UCLA without a point guard to run his offense. This year, the Bruins are 11-13 and unless they win outright the Pac-10 Tournament they will fail to get an invite to the big dance. 2009-10 has been one of the worst seasons in the Howland era and is mainly due to not having an elite guard. Malcolm Lee was given the reigns by default and is better suited to come off the bench. If only Jrue Holiday had stayed, UCLA would still be in the title hunt. But now, it looks like the Bruins won’t even get a NIT invite.
Coach Howland has been able to recruit Lazeric Jones who is considered the best junior college point guard in the country as well as a tall shooting guard in Tyler Lamb (Mater Dei). Moreover, Josh Smith a 6-9 McDonald’s All-American center will be arriving to Pauly Pavilion next year and hopefully have UCLA rise to prominence once again.