Anyone that has talked basketball with me over the years can vouch for my distrust in Ben Howland as a coach. Despite “leading” his team to three Final Four appearances, I’ve never gotten the sense that he has much control over his teams. That has only been magnified that last two seasons with the departures of seemingly half his players, including Josh Smith and Reeves Nelson. That being said, his rumored firing came as still a slight shock to me.
His last four years have compared to Lorenzo Romar’s more than people think. Each coach has made the NCAA Tournament twice, won the conference once and had calls for his head. It seems as though those calls have come to fruition for Howland.
Howland’s case seems far different from Romar’s simply because expectations were and always will be sky-high at UCLA, while Romar has created his own at Washington. The success that he has had at UW has earned him extra time, but also raised the bar. That bar hasn’t been met and now his job is possibly in danger.
He can silence his critics with one successful season, something he has been able to do. This will be made a lot easier for him with two key late additions to his recruiting class.
Obviously the first being Aaron Gordon, someone whose recruitment has been discussed at length here and across the country. The next is a player that committed early and had been solid to UCLA for over a year: Zach LaVine. He is the top in-state player of 2013 and would have been a big catch for Romar, but he made the decision to flee the state and sign with Howland and UCLA.
The key word there? Howland. LaVine is a big fan of Coach Howland and it has been reported that since the news of his dismissal, LaVine has started weighing his options again. UDUBNation’s Marshall Cherrington talked to LaVine recently and thinks if UCLA doesn’t make a good hire, LaVine is UW’s to lose. He told Cherrington that UCLA’s No. 1 option is VCU coach, Shaka Smart.
Adding LaVine to a class that already includes Nigel Williams-Goss, Darin Johnson and Jahmel Taylor would load the Huskies backcourt for the coming years with them joining Andrew Andrews.
If Romar is able to make a last-second push for LaVine and Gordon, UW’s recruiting class will jump into the top-10 in the country and instantly make them favorites for the Pac-12 next season. If Romar meets or exceeds those expectations, his job is safe, unlike Howland.