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.