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In Ben Howland's system, it's all about details

Most of what the coach repeatedly tells players relates directly to the Bruins' trademark style of play.

January 02, 2009|David Wharton

The first time Ben Howland reminded Drew Gordon to put on a sweatshirt after practice, Gordon didn't think much of it. Only later did the UCLA center realize his coach was dead serious about bundling up.

"The second through 50th time he told me," Gordon said, "I was like, oh, he obviously cares about our health."

With a dozen nonconference games under their belt -- and Pacific 10 Conference play set to begin at Oregon State tonight -- Gordon and the other freshmen on the team have learned what the veterans know from experience.

Howland is nothing if not detail oriented. And persistent.

Some might even say nagging.

"From the outside looking in, it might seem that way," guard Darren Collison said. "At the same time, when you've been around him, you know that's what he wants and he won't let down."

Or, as junior swingman Michael Roll said, "We all know it breeds success and we all want to win."

Most of what the coach tells his players -- repeatedly -- relates directly to UCLA's trademark style of play. Aggressive on defense. Careful with the ball on offense. Lots of effort.

Asked about the most common daily reminders, players mentioned the same five things, in slightly different order depending on the demands of their positions. This wholly unscientific poll provides a refresher course on basketball the Howland way.

* Hedging screens: If you're on defense and your man sets a ball screen, it is your responsibility to jump out on the dribbler until your teammate fights through the screen. Then you scramble back to the man you're guarding.

"That means you keep pressure on the ball," center Alfred Aboya said. "The opponent can't really make a pass because there's that constant pressure."

* Stay in front of your man: No gimmicky zones or junk defenses for Howland. His team plays man to man, working to pressure the ball, stop penetration off the dribble and contest every shot.

"Just to compete," guard Jrue Holiday said. "Just to play hard."

* The jump-stop: This is such an emphasis for guards that freshman Jerime Anderson ranked it third, fourth and fifth on the daily list.

Howland wants his dribblers to come to a stop with their feet planted. He believes that too many players come down the court, leave the ground, and then look to pass, which can lead to turnovers.

* Rebound: This might seem to be a no-brainer, but with Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute gone to the NBA, the coach believes that hitting the boards is crucial to his team's chances this season.

This message extends beyond the big men. Josh Shipp, a 6-foot-5 senior who plays on the wing, ranks among the Bruins' top defensive rebounders, and Holiday is averaging 4.2 rebounds.

* Transition defense: The guards have to get back and the big men hustle after them, looking to deny easy baskets.

"If you're not doing it right, then he will make sure you're doing it right," Gordon said. "He doesn't just kind of blow it off and move on to the next thing. He doesn't care if it takes up all practice, as long as you get it right."

There are other points of emphasis. Guards must take care of the ball, big men double-team the post and everyone blocks out.

Given that college players can be adept at tuning out their coaches, Howland gets his message across for one simple reason. As Collison explained: "We've been to the Final Four three consecutive times."

Which leads to the part about being adequately dressed before stepping outside Pauley Pavilion. Howland seems particularly sensitive to temperature, commenting whenever he thinks a room is too cold.

"Yep, yep, yep," Aboya said, laughing.

But then the senior center turns serious.

"We work so hard to get to this point and we can't allow ourselves to get sick because we don't dress warm," he said. "That would let the team down."

It is a point the coach has made clear to his team several times. Just ask Gordon.

The first time Howland told him to put on a sweatshirt, the freshman brushed it off. Not anymore.



UCLA tonight


Time: 7:30.

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 1150.

Where: Gill Coliseum.

Records: UCLA 10-2, Oregon State 5-5.

Update: The Bruins, who climbed to No. 12 in the Associated Press poll this week, start their Pacific 10 Conference schedule on the road. This is only the third time they have played their conference opener in Corvallis, losing twice before, but tonight should be a different story. Though Oregon State has won five of its last six games, this is a rebuilding program that failed to register a Pac-10 victory last season. The Beavers are led by sophomore guard Calvin Haynes, averaging 18.8 points, and forward Omari Johnson, averaging 11.3.

-- David Wharton

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