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Ben Howland's fireside chat

1/14/2011

EUGENE, Ore. -- UCLA coach Ben Howland held his annual fireside chat Friday afternoon, when he gathered with reporters near a fireplace in the team hotel for a relaxed conversation as opposed to a formal news conference.

It's a yearly tradition on the Oregon trip, and this year, the topics included President Obama, the NBA and bed bugs.

And, oh yeah, Saturday's game against Oregon at the Ducks' new Matthew Knight Arena, which opened Thursday night against USC.

Some of the chat was off the record, but here is a transcript of the printable stuff:

Howland: It’s cozy. It’s 80 degrees in L.A. Right now, I just talked to my son.

Q: Have you decided if you’re going to do what you did last night with Josh [Smith] and have him come off the bench?

Howland: Yeah, I think so. I just think it’s better for him psychologically for him to not get a foul in the first three minutes of the game. That’s the whole deal.

Q: Did you watch Oregon beat USC last night?

Howland: Oh yeah, I just watched the tape.

Q: Was it hard to watch?

Howland: In terms of what?

Q: Just the court.

Howland: The court is interesting. But I think when you look at it from up high, it looks really cool. But then when you’re watching the game down closer up it’s a little more grainy. But if you look at it from up above it looks really cool.

Q: What does it say that Oregon, who is supposed to be toward the bottom of the conference, can beat USC. And now it looks like Washington has some issues?

Howland: Who knows? That’s why they play the games. But Oregon, if you look at their games, they played Washington really tough. They played people tough and they’re going to be tough to beat. Obviously they were pumped up about last night. And their zone is good. They are a hard matchup for us.

Q: Is it bad if everyone keeps beating up on each other, in terms of tournament wise?

Howland: I’m not worried about anybody else but the Bruins right now. That doesn’t bother me in the least. All I’m worried about is us and we’ll see what happens. But the bottom line is, nothing is new. Anybody can beat anybody on a given night. USC is a really good team and they got beat last night by a team that was 0-4 going into it.

Q: One thing that seemed to be an issue was that the half-court line was difficult to distinguish. Is that something you’ll address?

Howland: Not really. Just, hey how are the officials going to distinguish. It’s going to be hard for them to make that call. Supposedly there’s two X’s. I don’t know what the rule is on that. But that’s not a big worry. I’m more worried about how we’re going to stay in front of them because they were driving, driving, driving last night, getting to the basket and creating penetrating and kick stuff. For Josh in particular it’s going to be a hard matchup because there’s not a true center to play against.

Q: So does that benefit you to have Josh not starting?

Howland: We’re going to play Josh, obviously. Hopefully we can take advantage of some of his strengths. He’s got to keep getting better at sealing. Oregon does a great job of getting around in the post and keeping the ball out of the post guy’s hands. He’s got to do a better job sealing. When he truly learns to seal, and use his lower body instead of his arms to seal to, then there is no way you can get around him. You can see how he’s still learning.

Q: Would you ever consider using zone when Josh is in foul trouble to help him out there?

Howland: Yeah, that, and more importantly if it’s a matchup, I thought that [Anthony] Stover gave us good minutes last night. I’ve got to use him.

Q: Are you happy with the way you’re handling the zone at this point in the season?

Howland: It could definitely be better. Early in the game we did a great job handling it. I thought the 1-3-1 in the second half, we had a couple of bad turnovers in a row. We’re up 14 or 15 with 13-14 minutes to go, all of a sudden two turnovers, missed free throws and all of a sudden it’s six. It happened just like that.

Q: How is Oregon’s zone?

Howland: Oregon’s zone is good. What they’ll do is press more. They’ll do a 1-2-2 half court—maybe two-thirds court—press back into their 2-3 zone. It’s a matchup zone where they are trying to match up with different players. They’ll go to a full court press when they go to man to man, but they played almost exclusively zone last night against USC. They have good quickness. That’s their strength is their quickness.

Q: Is it fair to characterize their fans as the rowdiest in the Pac-10?

Howland: When you say rowdy, what’s your definition of rowdy? Let’s get specific here.

Q: Most mean spirited?

Howland: No, I wouldn’t say that. I can’t say that.

Q: Kevin Love?

Howland: That was something that was talked about and they addressed that. I think their administration has done a good job of addressing that after what happened up here that year. And that was a unique situation. A kid from Oregon, his dad played there and he always dreamed of playing at UCLA. By the way he had 35 last night, pretty good.

I saw Russell [Westbrook] had a triple double. Played awesome and I saw Kevin had 35 and 10. I saw Denver crushed Miami so I’m sure Aaron [Afflalo] played great defense on [Dwyane] Wade. It’s always fun to follow those kids.

Q: Do you ever think, “Kevin would be a senior on this team?”

Howland: Yeah, I’ve thought about that. I thought more about him being a sophomore.

Believe me, I think about these football coaches and I’m just so jealous. It’s hard when it’s being written about. When you know you’re going to be in college, it’s never one foot in and one foot out. It would be great if it wasn’t even a thought. At the end of the year, fine, but if it was just all focused on doing what I need to do to be the best I can be and help my team win and not worrying about that and have it swirling, it would be so much easier for kids to improve.

Q: Should the NCAA make it a two-year minimum?

Howland: The NCAA doesn’t make the rule, the NBA makes the rule. What is the NCAA going to do a program if a kid leaves before two years. You can’t control it. The NBA is the one that has to control it. And I really think that they see the value now of what it does for kids and what it does for the NBA for kids to be in college and to mature. I really think that they want it to be two years, I think [NBA commisioner David] Stern does. I think he totally gets it, but that’s so low on the totem pole right now compared to the money. That’s what they’re going to be fighting about is money and length of contracts and revenue sharing. I don’t think they’ll even be addressing this stuff. I hear it might be, but I find it hard to believe.

Q: Last night Oregon seemed to out-hustle USC. How do you prepare your guys for that?

Howland: It’s the first game ever in the building, it’s such a huge deal. You have Phil Knight there, who is the one that’s made it all possible with his support, so it was a big deal and I’m sure they were really fired up. I’m sure they’ll be equally fired up for us. They want to win every home game in this new building. We know we’re going into a hornet’s nest and we have to be up to the sense of urgency and the energy level that they’re playing with tomorrow to win or we won’t.

Q: So is it kind of a scheduling break to not have to play the opening game in the new building?

Howland: I’m sure that was exciting, but I don’t know if that’s a scheduling break. The thing that was tougher for the teams last night, was apparently they didn’t get to warm up until five minutes before the game. They had the whole light show, lasers, the Duck coming out of the ceiling. It was a whole production. They said it was awesome, but that had to be a little bit disconcerting to not be able to have a normal warm-up.

Q: Is it weird being in the same hotel as USC like this?

Howland: It’s been like this every year. Both teams stay here. When you go down to Corvallis, there’s not a hotel down there that really has meeting rooms and capabilities to do what we need to do. We tried it one year and it didn’t work.

Q: I’ll trade you.

Howland: Where are you staying?

Q: The Eugene Nite Inn. It’s a $35 room with all the amenities.

Howland: $35, that’s not bad. Have you been reading lately about the problems with bed bugs in America.

Q: On the side where the bathroom is, the carpet is all wet, so I’m assuming that … we’re not going to continue this conversation.

Howland: I was reading about that the last few months--the bed bug infestation.

Q: At this hotel?

Howland: No, in America. It’s a huge problem.

Q: So, did you say you were jealous of Rick Neuheisel?

Howland: For having three years with your guys? Absolutely. When you know you have guys for three years, that would be so awesome. Can you imagine what a great thing that would be for us?

Q: The NFL figured that out a long time ago.

Howland: They are so far ahead of everybody else. And nobody ever writes about this. This is always one of my big pet peeves is that 65% of NBA players, three years out of the NBA, are broke. I mean, so maybe maturing a little more on the front end and getting an education might serve you well down the road.

Q: Why do you think that happens?

Howland: I’m really proud, our guys have been unbelievably smart with their money. Last February, I got a call from Russell’s agent. I was like, what’s wrong? He was blown away because Russell didn’t spend a penny on his credit card. It was like the first guy ever. The guy was blown away.

Q: Lazeric [Jones] had a good game last night. Would do you say about his finger?

Howland: I think that gave him confidence going into tomorrow that it’s better. He made the first shot for us to get us going, made the last shot—that was a huge shot. He taped it differently and it’s a little more swollen today because he taped it so tight. That’s how he wanted it. That thing is not going to heal.

Howland: So what else? How many of you saw the President’s speech the other night? I stayed up and watched it. What a great speech. I was watching it till 1:30 in the morning the other night. What an awesome speech. That was phenomenal. Really, really good.

Q: What was the gist of it?

Howland: To me it was great that he knew so much about everybody who had died and all the people who were involved and all the heroes. It was nice.

Q: Did you mention that to Craig [Robinson]?

Howland: No, I didn’t. I thought about Craig. So, I had our whole team the night before the game going over the scouting report and video and so, I picked on the most likely guy who wouldn’t know who Craig is related to. So I asked Jack Haley, Jr. Who is the coach of Oregon State related to? Of course all our African American players knew. He’s like “I don’t know,” he had no idea. I said that’s the President’s brother-in-law.

Q: What do remember about when you opened an arena at Pitt?

Howland: Just that so much work went into making it happen. Our chancellor, who is still the chancellor there, and our athletic director, took so much flak because they knocked down Pitt Stadium—the football stadium—and built a huge basketball facility and athletic facility. Just what a difference it’s made for the face of that entire athletic department.

I remember there was a lot of pressure to win that first game.

Q: Did you?

Howland: Yeah.

Q: Who’d you play?

Howland: Duquesne.

Q: How’d you do in the second game?

Howland: We won. We were undefeated that year. That building has been unbelievable. They’ve won 90-plus percent of their games.

Q: Have you finalized where you might play next year?

Howland: From what I know it’s still in the works now. The Forum was just purchased by Madison Square Garden, so I’m not sure what that means. The plan I think is for the MSG people to come in and do a bunch of work to the building to turn it into more of a concert venue. I don’t know what all that entails. I’m just focused on trying to win a game tomorrow.