The UCLA Bruins are not doing so hot lately on the hardwood. Two postseason misses in four years, and two first weekend knockouts in the NCAA Tournament. Dissension in the locker room and painful Sports Illustrated features. Nothing much to like if you're a UCLA fan.
There doesn't seem to be much for Ben Howland to currently hang his hat on for on the court. UCLA thus has to look to the past to try and keep him around: Namely, that Howland has attracted talent before, and he'll continue to attract talent in the future.
Probably most importantly, Howland has to be thanking his lucky soul for one year of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love each.
On one side, you have the explosive Westbrook, a point guard with incredible speed and athleticism who can pretty much do whatever he wants in the open court. Other than maybe LeBron James, no one is a more potent full-court player than Westbrook, and he provides that explosive pep to Oklahoma City's championship run.
On the other, you have Love, aka Mr. Fundamental. Love has an old man's offensive game in the post (if you exclude all those threes) that relies a lot on offensive rebounding putbacks, an effective hook shot, and pump fakes galore. His rebounding savvy is impeccable. He's in discussion for the best power forward in the game today.
Both Love and Westbrook are best friends, as they were the members of the last UCLA team that made the Final Four. And they provide some strong reminders to Bruins fans about how close they could be to greatness if UCLA can turn a recruiting class into something right.
In fact, Howland's past recruiting hits might be one of the many things keeping him afloat. Aaron Afflalo is an NBA-caliber all-star. Jordan Farmar, Luc Mbah a Moute, Darren Collison, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Hollins are all rotation players. All of their roots with UCLA remain strong. Those reminders of the type of players that once made the Bruins great are all present on the hardwood on an night-by-night basis.
In many ways, the success of UCLA players in the league should sell the program on their own. But getting rid of the guy who brought them all in could cause serious short-term issues with guys like Kyle Anderson,and Shabazz Muhammad. This recruiting esume might have saved Howland and gives him one more year to make things right.