College Basketball Nation: Dan Guerrero

Here's how a completely self-inflicted backlash begins: Last weekend, the Los Angeles Times ran a feature story about new UCLA coach Steve Alford.

The story, written by Chris Foster, was an entertaining and informative read largely centered around Alford's career and rise to one of the most coveted positions in college sports. It covered most of the bases devoted college basketball fans are already all too familiar with: From his successful career under Bob Knight at Indiana to his resurgence at New Mexico to the much-discussed shame of his behavior during the 2002 Pierre Pierce sexual-assault ordeal.

But there was one wholly new, eyebrow-raising detail. As Foster writes, after Alford's introductory news conference, which featured his dismissive quote about merely following administrator instructions during the Pierce mess, athletic director Dan Guerrero and the rest of UCLA's athletics staff were caught entirely off guard:

UCLA athletic administrators were stunned [by the questions about the Pierce situation]. They had signed Alford to a seven-year, $18.2-million contract with the expectation that his hiring would invigorate an apathetic fan base. They expected him to be greeted with open arms.

Guerrero was also questioned -- about whether UCLA had properly vetted its new coach and investigated what happened at Iowa. He said he "clearly discussed" the Pierce situation with Alford before hiring him.

However, when Alford was asked a similar question, he said the topic never came up.
[+] EnlargeDan Guerrero, Steve Alford
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesInstead of letting ripples fade, AD Dan Guerrero, left, turned up the heat on Steve Alford and UCLA.
Forget for a moment that UCLA athletic administrators expected Alford to be greeted with open arms; we'll get to that below. For now, let's focus on the fact that after Alford flubbed his opening news conference, Guerrero assured reporters he had asked his new coach about something the coach later said never came up. Whoops.

As unfortunate as that anecdote is, it was just one slightly embarrassing detail in an otherwise not-unflattering story more about Alford's overall life in basketball than his hiring at UCLA. It gained steam among understandably grumpy UCLA fans in no time, but would have likely gone away shortly after that. Guerrero was caught out. It happens. It's over. You take your lumps and live to fight another day.

Here's how a backlash really starts to take form: That's not what Guerrero did. Instead, he issued a statement. No, seriously! He issued a statement! That really happened! Let us bask in its glory:

"It is unfortunate that Chris Foster's Los Angeles Times article on UCLA men's basketball Coach Steve Alford focuses only on issues and opinions from long ago and ignores what he has accomplished since arriving at UCLA. In addition to assembling a phenomenal coaching staff, every student-athlete chose to remain a Bruin and play for Steve. I should also note that despite an exclusive interview with Chancellor Gene Block on the subject of Coach Alford, Foster failed to mention any part of the interview, including the chancellor's repeated and unequivocal support for Coach Alford and his firm belief that Steve is committed to being a Bruin and embracing the values of Coach John Wooden. Finally, contrary to the impression left by the story, Steve has been warmly welcomed by the Bruin family and the Los Angeles community. We are all excited to have Steve as our coach and are looking forward to the new season. Go Bruins!"

Yep, that's right: Not only does Guerrero apparently not understand that reporters are under no obligation to include specific portions of their reporting in any given story, he also wants everyone to recognize what Alford -- who hasn't coached a single game at UCLA -- has already accomplished at UCLA.

Far as I can tell, Alford's two accomplishments since arriving in Westwood are:

  1. Managing to keep UCLA's talented young corp from transferring, and
  2. Settling his outstanding contract dispute with New Mexico.

The former is no small thing. The latter is good too, I guess.

As The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy wrote this week: By issuing that statement, Guerrero "chose to make a featurized profile of his new basketball coach into a significant news story."

Self-inflicted backlash: complete.

Perhaps the silliest part of all of this is that UCLA expected Alford to be greeted with open arms. Forget the Pierce story. Alford had just lost to Harvard. He's been to one Sweet 16 in his career; the Bruins had just fired a coach who went to three consecutive Final Fours. Worst of all, his name wasn't Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens. Where does this whole open-arms idea even come from? DeCourcy nails it:

OK, so maybe Guerrero was expecting “open arms.” Maybe that’s what he has deluded himself into perceiving. But it’s not what has occurred at UCLA since Alford became the fallback choice to run the Bruins program. And the only thing that will change the mood will be an NCAA championship the Bruins seem a long way from achieving.

That's exactly right. Unless Alford builds a consistent national title contender in Westwood, Bruins fans' sky-blue-adorned arms will remain leerily folded across their sky-blue-adorned chests. In a weird way, this should be freeing. What matters for Alford and Guerrero now is whether UCLA wins or loses, and how. It's really just that simple. Little else matters.

In the meantime, maybe write fewer angry, backlash-inducing news releases? I'm just spitballing here.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Ben Howland made it way too easy.

The embattled UCLA coach was supposed to scratch, claw and fight for the remaining years on his contract and, perhaps, have his team -- a group of players assembled with the most hype this side of Kentucky -- ready to play, rather than resigned to play, in the NCAA tournament. But instead of playing like they were backed into a corner, the coach and his sixth-seeded Bruins decided to exit stage left, losing rather haphazardly to No. 11 seed Minnesota 83-63 in the round of 64 on Friday at the Erwin Center. Now the wonder around Westwood is whether Howland will be shown the door after 10 seasons.

That's been the speculation. Howland has certainly provided enough kindling to fuel the rumors with less-than-stellar NCAA showings since 2008, the last of three consecutive Final Four runs -- and this season, less-than-stellar results with what was the nation's second-rated recruiting class.

[+] EnlargeBen Howland
Jim Cowsert/USA TODAY SportsBen Howland's Bruins made another early exit from the NCAA tournament after losing to No. 11 seed Minnesota.
Then there was Bruins legend Bill Walton with the lighter fluid, squeezing it and the program for all they were worth on an ESPN broadcast back in February.

"I'm not in charge. If I were, things would be different,'' Walton said on air when asked by partner Dave Pasch about the program's laundry list of ills.

UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero has remained out of the fray, with a department spokesman telling earlier this week that Guerrero's schedule was packed ahead of the team's trip to Austin.

Now it has come to this. UCLA (25-10) is out of the NCAA tournament at the hands of a Minnesota team that had lost 11 of its previous 17 games. It's an embarrassing end for a Bruins program that made the tournament for only the second time in four seasons, and advanced to the round of 32 once in those two trips. Butler, VCU and the Ivys -- among many others -- have far surpassed that. In that time, Gonzaga has staked a firm claim as the West Coast's marquee program, a title once unquestionably UCLA's.

"No comment,'' Howland said Friday when asked about his future.

That future appeared to be on the minds of many, as the smattering of UCLA fans behind the Bruins bench gave Howland a longer-than-normal round of applause following the loss to the Golden Gophers (21-12). Howland said he didn't hear or notice the moment.

One Friday moment he did appear to notice, over and over, were the missed shots and opportunities.

"It kind of just snowballed,'' Howland said.

And now it appears that Howland has a snowball's chance in … well, Southern California. His contract runs through the 2017 season, and there's a $3.2 million buyout -- no small consideration for a cash-strapped public university. But attendance at the newly renovated Pauley Pavilion topped 10,000 five times this season, so the basketball program at least appears to have the potential to raise substantial revenue.

Dollars and cents were the furthest things from Howland's mind following the loss. Instead, the coach worked to pay homage to his team.

"I am really proud of this group of kids and really indebted to them,'' he said. "So coachable.''

Now UCLA just has to figure out who that coach will be.
Nerlens Noel Mark L. Baer/US PresswireNerlens Noel gives Kentucky the top-five recruit that marks a typical John Calipari class.

Kentucky is Kentucky, and UCLA is back.

Those are the two immediate takeaways from Wednesday night’s big college hoops recruiting announcements, when the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the Class of 2012 -- center Nerlens Noel and small forward Shabazz Muhammad -- announced their decisions within an hour of each other live on ESPNU.

The final result? Muhammad chose UCLA. Noel chose Kentucky. Life in Westwood immediately got brighter. Life in Lexington remained almost unfairly good. And despite all the anticipation and hype, in the end, neither of these decisions was particularly surprising.

UCLA coach Ben Howland was long the favorite to land Muhammad. The Las Vegas native never revealed his intentions, but the recruiting rumor mill -- I’m hearing UCLA, it’s definitely UCLA, that sort of thing -- always seemed to peg Muhammad as a future Bruin. Even after Howland endured the most embarrassing moment of his career this spring, thanks to Sports Illustrated writer George Dohrmann’s evisceration, Muhammad’s family didn’t discount the program or wave it off. Indeed, the Bruins’ recent downward spiral was apparently an attraction.

“Knowing how bad they were the last two years, it’s a challenge to get them back up to the top,” Muhammad said.

That’s good news for UCLA, because he is right: The Bruins and their head coach are indeed desperately in need of a massive, wholesale turnaround in production and perception in the years to come. After disappointing, disjointed seasons in two of the past three years, fans openly revolted against the program in 2012.

Now, with Muhammad and fellow top-five recruit Kyle Anderson on board, as well as the Wear twins and still-promising, still-frustrating forward Joshua Smith, the Bruins have a legitimate chance to make a run at the Pac–12 title in 2012–13. In the meantime, athletics director Dan Guerrero will unveil a newly renovated Pauley Pavilion, hoping this influx of talent can revitalize a fan base that tuned its beloved Bruins out for much of the past three seasons.

“Hopefully we can sell out Pauley Pavilion,” Muhammad said.

The kid gets it. The stink of recent Westwood frustration won’t dissipate overnight. But with his talents on board, Howland can still change his program’s dire narrative while he still has time.

John Calipari has no such problem. You saw the Wildcats in March: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague were each the top players at their respective positions in the Class of 2011, and as they mixed and congealed with sophomores Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones (and senior Darius Miller), Calipari morphed them into one of the most dominant national title teams of the past 20 years -- and easily the most dominant in the one-and-done era.

That was a special talent haul, one that can’t easily be duplicated. But Calipari remains on a roll: He landed the No. 1 class in the country in 2011, the No. 1 class in the country in 2010, and the No. 1 class in the country in 2009, when John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe paved the way.

[+] EnlargeShabazz Muhammad
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesShabazz Muhammad appears eager to help with UCLA's desperately needed image repair.
At this point, you can write it in ink each and every spring: Calipari will have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, or something very close to it. As such, it wasn’t even remotely surprising to see the top player in the country, Noel, commit to the Wildcats on Wednesday night. By the time Noel revealed his choice on the ESPNU set -- with the added flair of the UK logo shaved into the back of his now-famous high-top fade -- much of the social media world and those who follow such things were convinced the choice was Georgetown.

Silly people. Did you really think Coach Cal was going to go 0-for-2 tonight? Come on now.

Calipari was already off to a great start on the recruiting trail this year -- top–20 players Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress signed on last fall -- but he was still missing the elite, top-five talent that has become a regular fixture in his classes since his days at Memphis. The search is over.

Noel’s commitment is not only crucial in a vacuum -- he is a massive and athletic center who specializes in dominant interior shot-blocking -- but it rounds out UK’s on-court balance, too. Noel will anchor the post. Goodwin and Poythress will star on the wings. Sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer, a top–20 recruit who barely cracked the rotation in 2012 (as good an indication of the Wildcats’ talent as any), will take on a much larger role. And NC State transfer Ryan Harrow, the No. 10-ranked point guard in the Class of 2010 who left the Wolfpack after Sidney Lowe’s firing last season, will take over the all-important on-ball role.

Noel’s proclivity for swats will immediately invite comparison to the departing Davis, and Noel may well be a better shot-blocker than the Unibrowed One. But beyond that, the comparisons may be a little too eager. Davis was a physical freak who gained his physicality late in his high school career, when he sprouted 8 inches but somehow maintained his guard skills and agility. He was transcendent on both ends of the court, almost from Day 1.

By contrast, Noel is a lifelong big man, one whose offensive game remains very raw. (Though he shares at least this much with Davis: In a world full of 6-foot–10 prospects determined to play small forward, Noel is more than content to play as close to the rim as possible.) Likewise, for as promising as Poythress and Goodwin are, it’s clear there is no Kidd-Gilchrist -- whose combination of NBA talent and selflessness set the tone for UK’s special 2012 season -- to be found here, at least as far as we can tell right now.

Not that Kentucky fans will complain. Just a week after the program’s eighth national title, UK fans just watched live as the top recruit in the country committed to Big Blue Nation. A repeat of 2012’s dominance is too much to ask. But with another batch of talent arriving in Lexington this summer, Calipari’s unique ability to transform disparate freshmen into coherent, disciplined teams and a wide-open 2012–13 landscape, a repeat national title run is hardly out of the question.

At least one thing is clear: With Noel on board, the state of Big Blue Nation remains strong. And very, very talented.

It’s true: Life is good in Lexington.

In fact, it only seems to get better.
1. UCLA might not be a high postseason selection. So now that the Bruins are out, athletic director Dan Guerrero must either make a commitment to Ben Howland or move on after the season. He left Howland’s situation too open-ended last week. He needs to make a declarative statement, the way Pat Haden did at USC, telling the Los Angeles Times that Kevin O’Neill will be back. If Howland is going to return, Guerrero must make that clear.

2. Decisions should be made soon at Illinois and Nebraska. Bruce Weber is fully expecting there to be a change, but he’ll pocket $3.9 million. Doc Sadler isn’t so sure — but he would earn $3.4 million if he’s cut loose. It’s not even close as to which Big Ten job is better. Both schools have resources, but Illinois is always committed to hoops. Weber and Sadler are both well-liked by their peers and didn’t suddenly become poor coaches. Expect both to be gobbled up quickly in some form or fashion (head or assistant coaches) if they are officially ousted. Weber is almost a certainty but it’s too hard to have a read on Sadler at this juncture.

3. The pained expression on Bill Carmody’s face Thursday after the overtime loss to Minnesota spoke volumes about his tenure at Northwestern. Carmody has been so close to getting an NCAA bid, but yet so far. The Wildcats have had plenty of chances to win key games, but consistently fail. There really are no excuses, no one to blame and no one to debate. Northwestern hasn’t been snubbed. It has had a multitude of opportunities to get a bid but simply hasn't closed when needed. The drought will continue. This is actually worse than the Cubs, since the odds should favor Northwestern getting an NCAA bid over the Cubs winning the World Series.

Where does UCLA go from here?

March, 2, 2012
Ben HowlandChris Chambers/Getty ImagesCoach Ben Howland has come under fire following a recent embarrassing report on UCLA's program.

Thanks to George Dohrmann's exhaustive reporting in the pages of this week's Sports Illustrated, the UCLA Bruins -- a forgotten team mired in another disappointing season -- were, during the final week of their irrelevant regular season, thrust unwittingly into the national spotlight. In the world of college hoops, this was the Week of UCLA, when a legendary program was turned inside out and exposed for the whole world to see.

You know most of the details by now, but just in case, let's quickly recap: Dohrmann's well-reported story recounted the sudden and precipitous decline of UCLA in recent seasons, and counted the following points among the (always-corroborated) reasons for said decline:

  • Ben Howland's decision to recruit and sign high-profile recruits after heading to three-straight Final Fours with a dedicated, egoless bunch.
  • Those stars' lack of dedication to the team, alongside drinking, occasional drug use (even, sometimes, before practice) as well as general violations of team rules that frequently went unpunished.
  • Howland's leniency toward said stars, particularly forward Reeves Nelson, who used to intentionally injure teammates in practice, torment support staffers and team managers because "That's how Coach Howland talks to you," treat assistants with disrespect, and ignore Howland's phone calls (to the point that Howland had to call Nelson's roommate and plead his forward to come to the line). Nelson even once, believe it or not, urinated on Tyler Honeycutt's clothes and bed because he thought Honeycutt told coaches about a planned limo party. (Nelson's lawyer has since disputed some of these details, but you get the idea.)
  • The effect this acrimony had on a major personnel drain at the program, with five transfers -- including Mike Moser (an MWC player of the year candidate at UNLV), Drew Gordon (an MWC POY candidate at New Mexico) and Matt Carlino (a promising guard now at BYU).
  • The effect Howland's coaching style -- which was recounted by multiple former players and assistant coaches -- as that of a basketball genius with little to no interest in interacting with players or fostering camaraderie or correcting talented players who undermined team chemistry with unpunished antics.

Taken as a whole, there were two common reactions to Dohrmann's story. One was that of outrage and disgust, which seems primarily prevalent among UCLA fans, many of whom believe Howland needed to be fired for missing two NCAA tournaments in three seasons. To them, the peek at the reasons why only confirmed that belief.

The other reaction is slightly more measured. Sure, this is poorly timed, but it happens at programs across the country. Howland made mistakes in recruiting, but a guy who took teams to three straight Final Fours does not suddenly become a bad coach overnight. UCLA doesn't even have a home arena this season.

To yours truly, the story did a bit of both: It pulled the curtain back on a coach that had long since placed short-term gains over long-term program needs (q.v.: Bruce Weber), for reasons I really can't quite fathom. (It's not like Howland needed to take risks in recruiting to save his job; he just went to three Final Fours!) It also revealed the significant challenges college basketball coaches must confront on and off the court in 2012. How coaches handle said challenges away from the shiny lights and TV cameras can, perhaps even more than talent or X's and O's, be the biggest difference between success and failure in this sport. (Though talent and a few decent baseline out of bounds plays never hurt, either.)

Regardless of your reaction, the pertinent question now is: Where does UCLA go from here?

If you read Bruins Nation with any regularity, you'll know that UCLA fans -- or at least UCLA fans that write and comment on Bruins Nation -- have already made up their minds: Howland needs to go. But so does athletic director Dan Guerrero. Orange County Register columnist Scott M. Reid made this argument Thursday:
No, the real question isn't whether Howland should be fired (he shouldn't). The much more important question is whether Dan Guerrero should be allowed to continue making major decisions about the direction of UCLA's athletic department? [...] Guerrero should have [seen Nelson's problems], and overrode his coach and sent Nelson back to Modesto. That Guerrero didn't is one of the reasons he found himself with Block trying to answer reporters' questions Wednesday afternoon. That Guerrero himself hasn't been sent packing as well of course is thanks to [UCLA chancellor Gene] Block's lack of oversight and direction.

Culture change came up again on Wednesday, and Guerrero was quick to jump on the need for change within the basketball program. "Yeah, there's no is no question about that," he said. But if UCLA is really serious about changing the culture of the athletic department, instead of focusing on Howland, shouldn't Block be at least asking himself this question: Doesn't change start at the top?

The conference call Guerrero staged Wednesday was interesting even in its structure. Howland staged his own and answered questions from the media by himself, but Guerrero appeared alongside Block. As Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote:
Hey, Guerrero is no dummy. This accountability configuration was far more damning to Howland's job security than the story. And what Guerrero said didn't help. Asked about Howland's future, even though there are probably only a handful of games left in the season, Guerrero had no answer.

''We'll go through the rest of the season. … we'll see what happens relative to postseason play … then we'll sit down and talk about the situation like we always do,'' Guerrero said, adding, "Certainly, the article raises some issues. But believe me, we were aware of many issues as well. We'll put our arms around those issues at the end of the season.''

That's essentially the message Guerrero delivered to Fox Sports Radio's "Petros and Money" Thursday. He defended Howland and the program to a point, but stopped short of offering anything that could be interpreted as a vote of confidence. It's all platitudes: We'll "talk things through" at the end of the season to achieve an "alignment of vision" and "correct what's wrong." Naturally, this is not going to calm UCLA fans, who were already getting fed up with Guerrero before this week's mess arrived in Westwood.

In other words, things remain up in the air. Some hope was on hand on Thursday night, when UCLA beat Washington State 78-46. As's Peter Yoon writes, the program, which has noticeably stockpiled high-character guys in recent seasons, "seems to be headed in the right direction."
Tyler Lamb had one of his best games as a Bruin with 16 points and five assists. He is a sophomore. Twins David and Travis Wear, also sophomores, continued their solid play with a combined 21 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman Norman Powell made two of three 3-point shots and finished with eight points.

Those guys are the future of UCLA basketball, the guys who will be asked to carry the Bruins out of the current mess they are in, and that's a good thing because they showed that not only can they play, but all are high-character people. They are the type of low-ego, hard-working players coach Ben Howland built his three consecutive Final Four teams around, but were scarce as an influx of prima donna attitudes took over and the program took a nose dive over the past three seasons.
[+] EnlargeJoshua Smith
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesCoach Howland was accused in the SI report of babying forward Joshua Smith.
There are still questions about this year's team, of course. Chief among them is forward Joshua Smith, whose incredible talent and potential has been hampered by his immaturity and unwillingness to get serious about shedding weight. Smith came in to his sophomore season in even worse shape than he did as a freshman, when all anyone could say about him was how good he would be if he just dropped a few (OK, more than a few) pounds. Howland's treatment of Smith was even mentioned in Dohrmann's report:
Smith, UCLA's most gifted player, was a disappointment. He has admitted to a lack of motivation, but players say that Howland also has babied him, allowing him to miss meetings and arrive late or unprepared for workouts. "Same thing as before," says a player. "Josh is a star and so [Howland] isn't holding him accountable." (Howland declined to discuss his handling of Smith.)

Smith's issues aside, though, it's hard to read Yoon's report from Thursday night's win and not sense a certain level of optimism about the program's direction going forward. The players believe they have what it takes to get back to the much-ballyhooed "UCLA way," and with reportedly high-character recruits leading next year's potential top-five class, perhaps that transition -- a fresh start after three years of dismay -- won't be as difficult as many imagine.

But will Howland have the opportunity to fix it? Should he? And where does Guerrero's leadership fit into all this?

Before this legendary program can move forward, before it can erase one of the uglier periods in program history, before it can return to a newly renovated Pauley Pavilion, before it can get back to the business of being UCLA, it must first answer these key questions. Stay tuned.
It has not been the best week for UCLA hoops. After two games vs. Loyola Marymount and Middel Tennessee State, the Bruins are 0-2 by a combined losing margin of 30 points. Reeves Nelson, arguably the Bruins' best, most important player, is currently suspended for attitude issues.

You know all of these things already, and we discussed them at length in the Hoopsbag this afternoon, so let's not rehash the whole sordid ordeal. UCLA fans have already been through enough. Instead, let's bring a little sunshine into their day. Let's warmly remind them of past glories and future attractions. Let's inform them of the latest plans for the newly renovated Pauley Pavilion -- set to open next season -- as released by UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero Tuesday in the unusual blog email form he's been using for online outreach in 2011. From our west coast compadres at ESPN Los Angeles:
When Pauley Pavilion reopens next year, it will include a statue of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, Bruins athletic director Dan Guerrero announced Tuesday in his weekly blog. The statue will be sculpted by Blair Buswell, the head sculptor at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It will sit on the north side of Pauley along Bruin Walk. The statue is being financed by UCLA boosters.

"I can not wait until we unveil the final product," Guerrero wrote.

Guerrero's email also detailed UCLA's decision to sell the naming rights to the new arena to a sponsor in order to help offset the costs of the current renovation. He insisted the sponsorship would be "tastefully done" and has the blessing of the family of Edwin Pauley, the arena's namesake.

These emails haven't gone over all that well with some members of the Bruins fan base; the gents at Bruins Nation were, shall we say, less than thrilled to receive the missive in the midst of the Middle Tennessee State debacle. Things got a little ugly. The pitchforks are nearly unsheathed.

But hey, UCLA fans, look over here: John Wooden statue! That's kind of cool, right?

Hoops super conferences and the Pac-12

September, 21, 2011
Last month as Texas A&M was on the verge of bolting from the Big 12, I asked Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott given his previous prediction of an eventual world with super conferences how he thought that might affect college basketball.

Scott declined comment.

But Colorado coach Tad Boyle, whose program had left the Big 12 for the Pac-12 and stood to benefit greatly from the new arrangement, had misgivings at the time about hypothetical super conferences and how they would affect college basketball.

"What makes our sport so great is not just the BCS-type schools," Boyle said then. "It's the 300-plus D-I programs, and everyone feels they've got a shot at making the NCAA tournament. That's what makes our sport unique, what makes March Madness appealing. If you just went with a super power conference structure, I just don't think it's good for our sport."

Boyle, who not long ago coached at Northern Colorado out of the Big Sky, touched on how parity is one of college basketball's signature traits. It's the time-honored tradition that on any given night, five students in sneakers can beat another group of kids no matter the disadvantages in rankings, resources and pedigree.

The formation of super conferences could strike a blow if you believe in such things, with television contracts and pooled revenues making the gaps between the power conferences and the mid-majors even wider.

So when the Pac-12 last night announced that it had decided not to expand for the time being, it was a victory for status-quo seekers. Expansion might still be inevitable in some parts of the country, but for one night, the headline was stability.

It was something echoed in a statement from UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, who happens to be a former NCAA Division I men's basketball committee chair.

"After weighing all of the factors regarding potential expansion, our presidents and chancellors have decided to maintain the status quo and ensure that our conference remains a 12-school league. At UCLA, we feel this is the correct decision for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which are the stability of a 12-team conference format, the overall welfare of our student-athletes and the ability to maintain the traditional rivalries that have existed from our conference’s inception."

UCLA students get back sideline seats

May, 10, 2011
In March, the UCLA athletic department announced that when the new Pauley Pavilion opened for the 2011-12 season, the student section would be moved behind one of the baskets and stretch all the way to the top of the arena in order to increase home-court advantage.

"The visiting teams will shoot free throws into this basket in the second half," the email to the students read. "Good luck."

Fans weren't buying that theory and proceeded to protest the students being moved away from the sideline of the arena, with one online petition getting more than 1,000 signatures and even at least one player getting involved in the discussion.

Today, the athletic department has reversed course and decided the students will keep their sideline floor seating.

"This process reconfirms the tremendous passion that exists on campus surrounding our intercollegiate athletic events," athletic director Dan Guerrero said in a statement. "As I have said before, the importance of creating a home-court advantage cannot be understated. An energetic and supportive student section is essential to the success of any team and it is my hope that all of the students who have been involved in this process will support our student-athletes and continue the great tradition of Pauley Pavilion."

According to the Los Angeles Times, the sideline seats represented prime real estate inside the arena.
The sideline seats occupied by students could have commanded as much as $1,198 per seat plus a $3,200 donation to the athletic department.

The seating arrangement is similar to one announced two years ago that was recently scuttled by athletics officials in response to meetings with student groups who voiced a preference for a unified cheering section. The only way to make that financially feasible, athletics officials said, was to place all the students behind one basket.

It turned out most students didn't particularly care for that option.

"It's nice to see how passionate the students are about wanting to stay courtside and wanting to be involved and wanting to be heard," Coach Ben Howland said. "I appreciate how passionate our fans are."
The UCLA Bruins have, at long last, found a home: the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

Finding said home, where the Bruins will play in 2011-12 while historic Pauley Pavilion undergoes remodeling, was not as easy it might sound. UCLA had originally planned to play most of its home games at the Forum, but that building was recently sold to the owners of Madison Square Garden, who have their own renovation plans for the next year or so. After that move fell through, UCLA considered arenas all over Southern California -- from the Staples Center to the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego to the RaboBank Arena in Bakersfield. Because after all, nothing screams "storied college basketball tradition" like the Valley View Casino Center.

Instead, UCLA will play 14 of its 18 games in the L.A. city limits, with the other four coming at the Honda Center in Anaheim. This is decidedly good news for the Bruins. Ben Howland's team not only gets to set up shop at one locale, but it can do so in an arena that doesn't require its fans to traverse those miserable SoCal highways to, you know, San Diego.

What's more, UCLA apparently plans to make the Sports Arena feel just like home. From ESPN Los Angeles:
Athletic director Dan Guerrero said the school plans to transform the Sports Arena into a true home court by hanging its 11 national championship banners and painting the interior of the building and the basketball court in UCLA blue and gold.

"We will make the Sports Arena a great environment for our fans and our team," Guerrero said.

This presents something of a mental hurdle for fans. After all, the Sports Arena is located near USC's campus, and it just so happens to be the longstanding former home of the Trojans, who played there from 1959 to 2006, when USC's gleaming new Galen Center opened for hoops. Thanks to UCLA's unusual transience, though, the LA Sports Arena will now be adorned in sky blue and sun gold. It might seem weird, but it sure beats Bakersfield.

John Wooden's new generation

October, 13, 2010
John Wooden would have turned 100 years old on Thursday, and some of his family members are expected to join students on the UCLA campus to celebrate the late coach's birthday.

According to The Press-Enterprise, the family recently had another cause for celebration after Wooden's first great-great grandchild was welcomed into the world.

Wooden's great-granddaughter, Cori Andersen, gave birth to Charles Riley Andersen two months after the UCLA legend's passing. Andersen, a Riverside, Calif., kindergarten teacher, told the paper Wooden was pleased the child's middle name would be the maiden name of his late wife, Nell.
"I think if he could have, he would have liked to have met my son Charlie," Andersen said. "He would have done it if he could have. I told him, 'It's OK Papa. You don't have to meet Charlie here. You can meet him on your way to see mama (Nellie).

"I was upset. But I was upset for selfish reasons. He was unable to do things for himself -- which he absolutely hated. He wanted to see mama and that's what he needed to do. It would have been cool if he could still be here. But I know that he's better off."

Before he died, Wooden left the great-great grandson he never got to meet with a signed copy of his children's book, Inch and Miles: A Journey to Success. Inside the cover he wrote, "To Charlie, with love and best wishes. Great-great grandpa, John Wooden."

That's the Wooden people remember as well -- always loving, constantly teaching.

So perhaps it's fitting that UCLA students not yet born when Wooden was coaching went ahead and organized his 100th birthday party so that they could share his values with others.

Volunteers Thursday will visit two local schools to speak with children about Wooden's memory and his Pyramid of Success.

In the evening, a tribute video on the coach's life will be screened. UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, coach Ben Howland and former player Keith Erickson will speak. Cake will be served.

A happy birthday indeed.

UCLA mourns John Wooden

June, 4, 2010
John Wooden
John Wooden won 620 games over his 27-year career.
UCLA chancellor Gene Block addressed a letter to the school community Friday night regarding the loss of legendary coach John Wooden at age 99.

"With the passing of John Wooden, we have lost a true giant and a gentleman, an individual who was perhaps more closely identified with UCLA than any other person in our university’s history," Block wrote. "Coach Wooden was an unparalleled motivator and an inspiration to people throughout the world. Those of us who were fortunate enough to meet him will forever be touched by his unfailing wisdom and generous spirit."

Read the rest of the letter, and below you'll find other statements from the UCLA community.

Nan and Jim Wooden on their father:

"We want to thank everyone for their love and support for our father. We will miss him more than words can express.

"He has been, and always will be, the guiding light for our family. The love, guidance and support he has given us will never be forgotten.

"Our peace of mind at this time is knowing that he has gone to be with our mother, whom he has continued to love and cherish.

"We wish to express our gratitude for your support and appreciate your respecting our privacy."

UCLA coach Ben Howland:

"The loss of John Wooden saddens the UCLA community and beyond. Coach Wooden, in life and in death, is and always will be the UCLA men's basketball head coach. His basketball successes and championships were an element of his magnificent, far-reaching life.

"Coach Wooden's timeless teachings, philosophies and 'Pyramid of Success' not only influenced the lives of his players but the lives of millions of people around the world. Friendship, loyalty, team spirit and competitive greatness are not just building blocks in his 'Pyramid of Success' -- it's how Coach Wooden led his own life and taught others to live. Always the teacher and mentor, throughout his life, Coach Wooden was so giving of himself and his time to everyone.

"Coach Wooden was a wonderful person and great friend who is truly a national treasure. His legacy and legend will continue to live on in each of us striving to be the "best that we are capable of becoming" as athletes, coaches, teachers, parents and human beings."

UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero:

"There will never be another John Wooden While this is a huge loss for the Bruin family, Coach Wooden's influence reaches far beyond Westwood. Coach was a tremendously significant figure. This loss will be felt by individuals from all parts of society. He was not only the greatest coach in the history of any sport but he was an exceptional individual that transcended the sporting world. His enduring legacy as a role model is one we should all strive to emulate.

"I can still recall my first interactions with Coach Wooden when I was a member of the UCLA baseball team and he was in the midst of his incredible run of championships. While attending those basketball games was certainly a highlight for me, what stands out even more was Coach making the effort to come to our baseball games to cheer for us, and what a special feeling that was for our team. Since then, I have had the unique opportunity to develop a close personal relationship with Coach Wooden over the years. That's something I will treasure for the rest of my life."

UCLA's championship banners on the move

May, 12, 2010
UCLA broke ground on the renovation of historic Pauley Pavilion on Tuesday, kicking off a project that is expected to cost $136 million and give the building a state-of-the-art look.

UCLA will have to vacate the facility while it is being updated during the 2011-12 season, and athletic director Dan Guerrero told reporters the majority of the home games will be played at The Forum in Inglewood, the former home to the Los Angeles Lakers.

And while the Bruins make the move, a bit of history is apparently coming along with them. Asked if UCLA's national championship banners would hang at The Forum, Guerrero told the Los Angeles Daily News that they would indeed make the trip.

"(Laughing) We'll do that, no doubt. No doubt. That's a good question. We haven't thought about that, but yeah," he told the Los Angeles Daily News.
I spent the better part of the morning listing the things I hated about the 2010 NCAA tournament bracket, which was a lot more fun than talking about the bits I loved. If you read the hatred, you know how silly it is that Villanova is the No. 2 in the South, alongside No. 1 Duke. The Blue Devils should have been the fourth No. 1 seed and received the most difficult route to the NCAA tournament of any of the No. 1 seeds. At the very least, Duke shouldn't have received the easiest path, especially given the comparatively difficult draws Kansas and Kentucky -- the no-doubt top two No. 1 seeds -- received. The South is a mess and the bracket suffers as a result.

Vegas Watch hit me with a reasonable explanation for the Nova placement. It was a reason I had not considered when figuring why West Virginia -- who should have been the fourth No. 1 seed -- was matched up with Kentucky in the East rather than getting Nova's spot in the South. That explanation: geography.

It makes sense. The theory is the committee doesn't consider the No. 2 seed matchups the same way as the No. 1 seeds. They instead choose to focus on keeping teams close to home, rather than how favorable the draws are. By keeping West Virginia in the East, the Mountaineers get to play in Buffalo, a mere 300 miles from their school. Selection committee chairman Dan Guerrero said as much during a teleconference today. Guerrero's exchange with a media member:

Q. You mentioned the S-curve for seeding. I've been through the mock bracket process. I notice that on the 2 line, West Virginia goes behind Villanova. Villanova got the better No. 2 seed. They're from the same conference. It seems that West Virginia had such a stronger résumé than Villanova, yet got the worst between them, the worst No. 2 seed. Can you explain that?

Dan Guerrero: Well, you know, I don't know why you're extrapolating that particular situation. The reality is, if you look at the teams on the 2 line, the team that is closest to their first and second round site happens to be West Virginia. They're going to Buffalo. I believe that's about 200 miles away from their university. And they're assigned to the east region. That's really the way it kind of shook down based on the S-curve.

Q. Just seems like they would have a tougher matchup against Kentucky.

Dan Guerrero: You know, when you think about it, it's really how it all sorts out. Once again, we go through the S-curve. When you get to the second line, it's the first team that has the opportunity to be assigned closest to their university and closest to the region.

Once again, all four No. 1's are special teams, and so are the No. 2 seeds. Every one of them has an opportunity to win this championship. We don't really look at matchups, if you will.

OK then. The committee, when considering its No. 2 seeds, worries less about matchups and more about travel. I get it. But it's worth mentioning that Villanova's first and second round games will take place in Providence, R.I., another location in the northeast, 561 miles away from Morgantown. Assuming the Mountaineers will be flying to their game, their flights just got extended by an hour. Oh, the travel humanity! Which do you think West Virginia would prefer: Its current seed and a trip to Buffalo? Or Villanova's spot and a slightly longer flight?

I too participated in the mock selection process. When we were seeding our top two lines, we took travel into account. We were instructed that the most important part of the process was keeping the regions balanced based on the S-Curve rank we had just finished devising. The NCAA's spreadsheet for doing so had a handy macro in the bottom of the screen that tallied that balance. If anything got too out of whack, one of the committee members said something. Travel was discussed, but it wasn't given this apparent emphasis. That macro isn't about "matchups," where one looks at which team has the best chance of beating the other. It's about keeping the best teams away from each other as much as possible, based on where you rank them in the S-Curve. You don't have to look at "matchups" to have gotten this right.

Later in today's teleconference, Guerrero was asked about Kentucky's travel issues. A media member wanted to know why Kentucky was going to New Orleans instead of Milwaukee, which is closer to Lexington. His response:

Dan Guerrero: Well, you know, the mileage isn't necessarily an absolute. We looked at all the teams that were on that 1 line and we felt it was appropriate to make the decision that we did. I mean, when you're talking about a couple of hundred miles difference or whatever the case may be, the committee may not have viewed that as a major issue.

Wait. Now I'm confused again. So if the travel issue comes down to a couple hundred miles -- the distance in trips to Buffalo or Providence from Morgantown being about 300 miles -- it doesn't matter? It's not a major issue? Great! This means we can reward teams like West Virginia for having better seasons and conference tournaments than teams like Villanova! West Virginia can play in Providence, in a more forgiving bracket. Villanova can take its rather suspect No. 2 seed and fight in the trenches in Buffalo. (Which, I remind you, is not exactly a cross-country trip for the Philly-based Wildcats.) Everybody's happy!

Except the committee didn't do that. It applied one set of rules to one seed line and a different set of rules for the other. The result is a haphazard, imbalanced bracket that gives Duke the easiest route to the NCAA tournament and stuffs Kansas and Kentucky's regions with upset landmines. And this is the best explanation we get?

If this is the system's fault, the system is broken. If it's the committee's fault, this committee failed. Maybe, in 2010, it's both.

Guerrero, Garrett make themselves heard

January, 18, 2010
UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero is the chair of this year's NCAA tournament selection committee, and Andy Katz checks in with him today about what should be a difficult selection process.

USC athletic director Mike Garrett yesterday at the women's basketball game visited the UCLA student section and threatened to have students kicked out of the Galen Center if they continued to stand rather than sit down, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.