UCLA v Arizona - Quarterfinals

Will Ben Howland’s recruiting class solve UCLA’s problems?


Shabazz Muhammad had plenty to say during his national television appearance to announce his commitment to UCLA.

In addition to confirming earlier reports that he would be headed to UCLA, Muhammad said the reason he wanted to go to UCLA was the “challenge” of rebuilding the program after “how bad they were” in recent years. He said he wanted to get them back on top, he commented on their record 11 national titles and he talked with Kyle Anderson about what it would be like to team up for the Bruins.

But easily the most interesting comment that Muhammad made during the ESPN U broadcast was this: “Hopefully we can sell out Pauley.”

It’s not a secret that UCLA has had issues with attendance of late. That was the case prior to last season, when the Bruin’s attendance was dreadful thanks to renovations at their home court, Pauley Pavilion, that forced them to play home games at the LA Sports Arena 17 miles away. In a game against Pepperdine in late November, one of the nation’s blue-bloods only managed to attract 34 students.

If anything, that is the difference that this year’s recruiting class is going to make.

Howland has brought in two of the nation’s consensus top three recruits in Muhammad and Anderson. He also landed top 75 recruit Jordan Adams and is in the running to bring in top 30 big man Tony Parker, a haul that would, at worst, be the nation’s second best class. There are still question marks littering this roster. Can Kyle Anderson run the point on a full-time basis? How much will Howland have to rely on Larry Drew? Is there enough perimeter options on the roster? Will Joshua Smith be in shape? Are the Wears actually any good?

And while it may take some time to answer all of those question marks fully, what is clear is that this recruiting class will bring the excitement back to Westwood and, hopefully, help to sell the tickets. Before Muhammad’s commitment was even official, a hoops-loving friend from Southern California messaged me about how excited he was for this group and how he would be attending more than just one game next season.

That, more than anything, is likely the reason that Howland has received a stay of execution as the head coach of the Bruins.

Remember, were talking about a coach who, reportedly, was running a program where members of the team thought that he was allowing one of their teammates to intentionally injure them without repercussion. That’s not exactly high-praise for a head coach.

This group will, at least for one season, help to erase those memories and the fact that Howland’s been unable to build on the success his program had from 2006-2008, when they made three straight Final Fours. The question is whether or not  the wins last. Is this a turning point for the UCLA program or has Howland managed to recruit his way into a pair of one-and-done superstars that will be a temporary solution to a much bigger problem?

In other words, will Muhammad and Anderson buy Howland the time he needs to fix the issues within his program, or are they the bandaid used to mend a broken arm?

Whatever the case, it’s not crazy to think that Howland’s job depends on it.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

UConn commit tears ACL for second time

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UConn commit Juwan Durham, a four-star big man in the Class of 2016, has torn the ACL in his right knee for the second time in seven months. The Florida native committed to the Huskies and head coach Kevin Ollie back in September. The 6-foot-9 forward is regarded as the No. 31 overall prospect in the national Class of 2016, so he can really be a force when he’s healthy.

In a report from Tampabay.com’s Bob Putnam, UConn was notified of the injury immediately and there is no change in plans with the commitment. The Huskies also own commitments from four-star point guard Alterique Gilbert and three-star power forward Mamadou Diarra in the Class of 2016. Having Diarra, an active, rim-protecting presence, helps with Durham’s recovery, since he can provide some more front court depth.

If Durham rehabs back to full speed, UConn has a very talented power forward who was just hitting his stride in the Florida state playoffs last February. UConn has a nice class so far with this group, especially if Durham can recover, With a year to recover until next season, Durham can hopefully play during his freshman season in 2016.

VIDEO: Arizona State’s Torian Graham dunks over teammate

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Arizona State fans won’t get a chance to see Torian Graham take the floor this season, but he did sky over fellow teammates (and transfer) Shannon Evans on Friday night at the team’s Maroon and Gold Madness. The 6-foot-4 Graham is a former Buffalo commit — Evans also came from Buffalo — and both players will have to sit out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer regulations.

Graham hasn’t had a chance to get into a Division I game, but he’ll be able to play for the Sun Devils next season. For now, fans can look forward to Graham’s athleticism on the wing in pregame dunk routines.

A former top-100 prospect, Graham also pulled off this ridiculous move in the dunk contest.