UCLA Coach Ben Howland speaks during a news conference at the J.D. Morgan… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
UCLA basketball fans will say what they will about Athletic Director Dan Guerrero's announcement Tuesday that Ben Howland would return as the Bruins' basketball coach.
Howland might not even know he received a vote of confidence from another source perhaps just as important.
The father of the nation's top-ranked recruit, Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High's Shabazz Muhammad, said after UCLA's announcement that he was "happy for Ben, happy for the program.
"I think he's going to do a good job and that he'll get the program back on track," Ron Holmes said in a telephone interview.
Muhammad, a 6-foot-6, 215-pound guard, has listed UCLA among his finalists, along with Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Nevada Las Vegas.
Muhammad is expected to make an official visit to UCLA early in April and sign with a school as soon as April 11, the first day of the spring signing period.
Holmes said he and Muhammad have discussed UCLA's situation with Howland and were comfortable with what the coach had to say.
"We understand that there are a lot of issues with a lot of programs and that was brought to light with UCLA," Holmes said. He declined to elaborate.
The preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 Conference this year, UCLA limped to a 19-14 record and was eliminated by Arizona in the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament. The Bruins were not only shut out of the NCAA tournament, they were even passed over by the second-tier National Invitation Tournament.
Worse, media reports described UCLA's as a program out of control with player dismissals and poor behavior on and off the court over a three-year period.
In a statement released by the school Tuesday morning, Guerrero put an end to any speculation that Howland might be let go, saying he'd had "several discussions" with the coach before deciding to keep him.
"Ben understands full well that the management and oversight of the program needs improvement," Guerrero said in the statement. "He has assured me that, going forward, both the character and performance among our student-athletes will reflect the University's values and the basketball program's storied tradition. I believe that his overall record and performance proves he is more than capable of delivering on these assurances."
Later, at a news conference on campus, Howland said the past season was "the most challenging of my 31 years as a college basketball coach. I have endured seasons with fewer wins, but none with more disappointment."
After reading from his own prepared statement — something he did "to make sure I'm clear on my message and [don't] let my emotions get in the way," he said — Howland fielded about 20 questions, appearing at ease and at times joking with reporters.
However, he didn't offer many specifics.
Asked if he ever feared for his job, he said no one put more pressure on him than himself. Asked how he'd improve, he said, "There are a lot of different areas."
Howland said there would be a "heightened level of accountability and expectation both off the floor and on the floor." Asked if that was in response to the past season, Howland said, "It's what's necessary for us to improve moving forward."
UCLA freshman guard Norman Powell said he was happy to hear Howland's job was safe. "He's been to Final Fours," Powell said. "He got players to the NBA. He knows what he's talking about. He knows what he's doing."
Howland said he plans to set specific off-season guidelines for sophomore center Joshua Smith, who struggled with his weight and conditioning all season. He said he expects Smith to stay in Los Angeles this summer; last year, Smith returned home to Washington.
Junior forward Brendan Lane announced he would transfer after graduating from UCLA this spring. Lane said he would like to pursue a master's degree at a mid-major school and play his final season there.
The 6-foot-9 Lane averaged 1.6 points, 1.6 rebounds and 6.6 minutes per game for UCLA this season. "We have five guys playing two positions, so it's tough for everyone," Lane said. "We all fought really hard for playing time."