Trouble brewing? More like “Trouble Bruin.” …Alright, I’ll stop.
I thought the days of Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Jrue Holiday were over. UCLA’s recruiting over the last few years has been so bad they had to take North Carolina’s castaways (Wear twins) just to make it look like they were getting good players. All of a sudden, though, the Bruins have pulled out all the stops and are on an absolute tear, getting talented guys left and right to sign their names on the dotted line.
In case you missed it, and really none of us were paying a lot of attention, Tony Parker committed to UCLA yesterday, causing ESPN to rank their incoming class Number One, over our own Wildcats. I disagree with that assessment (not nearly enough balance), but it got me to wondering how Ben Howland was able to get some of these guys to go play for him. I guess that’s what it feels like to be another team in the SEC.
Let me start by saying that these players absolutely should go wherever they want to go, and I don’t begrudge them anything for their choice. You want to be at UCLA, then knock yourself out. Cal himself says that our program “isn’t for everybody,” and I think that’s been evident so far this offseason. I hope Shabazz and Co. make some noise in the Pac-12; nobody has for a few years now. But all that being said, there have got to be some reasons that the Bruins are cleaning up this year. I’ve identified a few below that I think might have played a role.
Los Angeles Factor
I’ll be the first to tell you how great Lexington is. I’m from Frankfort, so Lexington has always been the place to go when you really needed something; I always liked coming here because it felt like there were so many choices for everything. There’s even a mall! And now that I live here, it’s only gotten better. But, let’s be real for a second here, Lexington is not Los Angeles. I’ve never been there, but I can imagine what it would be like to be a star athlete in a city like that. Even though you’re inevitably overshadowed by Kobe, Blake Griffin, CP3, and all those guys, you’ll still get a small amount of attention in a very large market. And that’s a very big deal.
Oh, not to mention the beaches. Beaches is crazy in LA.
I thought for sure that the scathing Sports Illustrated article on the lifestyle of the Bruin’s basketball team, and the lack of discipline from their coach, would be a death knell in the ability for UCLA to recruit. But all of a sudden, after that article comes out, he’s got a top recruiting class and is aiming for a non-losing season. How? Autonomy, that’s how. It can be appealing to players to know they’re going to a place where the coach is mostly “hands-off.” I’m not saying that these guys are going to UCLA so they can get liquored up before practice and drop E and all those other things the article mentioned; I’m just saying sometimes it’s easier to know that you’re on your own without somebody looking over your shoulder every ten minutes. I bet they wouldn’t get that type of treatment from Cal. This amount of freedom could get them into trouble, but I don’t think it will. The important part is that no matter what they decide to to, whether it be work hard or relax, they’ll be able to do it at UCLA. And that brings us to the third thing:
Our team achieved a lot last year. Like, breaking records and winning championships and the like. We knew that already. Did they have fun? Well sure, they probably had a little fun. They’re certainly having fun now. But I’ll wager dollars-to-donuts that during the season, it was ten times more work than it was fun. Their goal was a title, and they knew they had to work hard to get it. Contrast that with the goals the UCLA guys have mentioned: making UCLA better, and selling out Pauley Pavilion. Nothing in there about a championship. That makes me think, and I could be wrong, that these guys don’t really care to work hard enough to win a title. In their one year before going pro, they want to kick back, get a little sun, maybe try that virgin daiquiri everyone’s been talking about, and just straight chill.
Honestly, that sounds awesome. I’m not saying I blame those guys. But that’s not how you win championships. All play and no work leaves the trophy case empty.
Sorry, couldn’t even get that one out with a straight face.
If you’re only planning on spending one year in college, like a lot of our guys do, and I’m sure a lot of these UCLA guys will, you really have to choose between two ways to spend that year. 1) Do you want to work hard, compete, and maybe win a championship? Or 2) Do you want to relax, have some fun, and bring some attention back to a starving program? Neither of those choices is better than the other. Fans like one of them a little more, but if I were a player, I couldn’t say that I wouldn’t choose Option 2. However, there is a distinct difference, and I think our guys, led by Cal’s instruction, are Option 1 guys. So even if our recruiting class ends up being “second” to UCLA’s, I’ll take guys that want to work and compete over guys that want to chill.
Any. Day. Of. The. Week.