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Howland signs new deal with the Bruins

July 02, 2008|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

Saying that he feels "very blessed" to be the UCLA men's basketball coach, Ben Howland signed a new contract that will keep him with the Bruins through the 2014-15 season.

The contract guarantees Howland $1.97 million next season and will rise to $2.3 million in the final year. There are also incentives that could top out at $235,000 per year.

Howland's teams have gone to three consecutive Final Fours. Last season's 35-4 finish set a school record for victories. Howland also is only one of three NCAA coaches in history to win at least 30 games in three consecutive seasons.

Having three underclassmen taken in the most recent NBA draft -- sophomore Russell Westbrook was picked fourth, freshman Kevin Love fifth and junior Luc Richard Mbah a Moute 37th -- Howland said he expects a different kind of pressure next season.

"If you told me right now I'd get back to the Final Four," Howland said, "I'd be elated."

The Bruins will be loaded with seniors and freshmen.

Point guard Darren Collison, who Howland expected would leave early for the NBA, decided to return for his senior season. Starting forward Josh Shipp, who has had two hip surgeries in the last 30 months, will be a fifth-year senior; and backup center Alfred Aboya, who left Monday to play for his native Cameroon as it tries to qualify for the Olympics, is expected to return.

Aboya has left open the possibility that if Cameroon qualified for the Olympics, or if he attracted interest from foreign professional teams, that he might not play his final season at UCLA.

"I would be devastated if he didn't come back," Howland said.

The Bruins' freshman class is ranked No. 1 in the nation by recruiting experts and comprises a trio of guards from Southern California -- Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson -- Drew Gordon, a power forward from San Jose, and J'Mison Morgan, a center from Dallas.

Howland also said he was happy to see progress being made in planning the renovation of Pauley Pavilion. "It's definitely going to happen," the coach said. " . . . It's not a matter of if but when."

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Lorenzo Mata-Real, UCLA's only senior scholarship player last season, was in Las Vegas trying out for the Japanese pro league, according to Howland.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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