Jordan Farmar on being a Bruin, UCLA’s Sweet 16 matchup vs. Gators

It’s been nearly 20 years since UCLA last won a NCAA title, yet simply hearing the school’s name still conjures up images of past glory. Vivid images of John Wooden, undefeated seasons, and more recently, three Final Four runs since the 2006 season.

And as UCLA gets prepared to play in their first Sweet 16 game in six years Thursday, we decided to catch up with one of the most important Bruins in recent history, current Lakers guard Jordan Farmar.

Farmar is a former All-Pac-10 guard and helped lead UCLA to the 2006 Final Four, where the team lost to Florida in the title game.

So what is it like to be a UCLA Bruin? And what can the team expect as they prepare for its Sweet 16 matchup with Florida on Thursday?

Final Four . . . for four

We caught up with him to find out.

Torres: Before we get to this year’s team, let’s start with you: How exactly did you end up at UCLA? You were the first big-time player in the “new generation” of guys (the beginning of Ben Howland era to the present) who committed, and did so after the team had back-to-back losing seasons.

It seems like a no-brainer now, but it couldn’t have been easy to pick UCLA, right?

Farmar: Well I’m a basketball junkie, so you’re always aware of UCLA, plus, I grew up in the area, so they’re always there. But when I was growing up I was actually more an Arizona fan; Gilbert Arenas grew up in the same area, and he was a few years older, so I was always following what he did, seeing his success.

Ultimately, when it came time to pick schools I thought I might end up at Arizona too. But Lute Olson was kind of on his way out, and it didn’t feel like the right time. So it’s funny, because in the end, it actually came down to UCLA and Florida, and I almost picked Florida. I wanted to get away from home, I loved Billy Donovan, and Gainesville is a great college town — there are no negatives with Florida.

But then I met Ben Howland. He was one of the few coaches who didn’t promise me anything; he told me there was room for improvement in my game, I could get better on defense. But he also told me that those were things that I needed to work on to get to the next level, which is everyone’s goal.

Plus he challenged me to bring back UCLA to where it should be, and he really emphasized that it should happen with L.A. guys. Me, Arron Afflalo, Josh Shipp, Lorenzo Mata, we were all L.A. guys, all part of that class.

You mentioned being part of that UCLA history. There’s so much there—this is actually the 50th anniversary of it’s first title. When did you first appreciate being a part of that history?

It’s funny, because you don’t fully appreciate it until you’re gone. It’s when you’re outside that bubble, trying to make it as a professional, that you start to realize everything that has happened at the school. You’re in the league and there’s that respect, like “Oh, you went to UCLA.”

What about this year’s team: How much have you gotten to see them play? How closely have you been following?

Well, being in L.A. helps. I always try to follow them and catch up with what they’re doing. I have actually been to a few of their games this season, and I went to Vegas for the Pac-12 championship game. That was really exciting to be there in person, and take it all in.

Are you in touch with any of the guys on this year’s team? Giving them any advice?

No, not really. I try to keep my distance and let them just do their thing. I’m not as close with these guys (as I have been with teams when I was younger). The Wear twins (David and Travis) have worked my camp so I know them a little. But otherwise, I haven’t had a ton of correspondence with this group.

Well they’re getting ready to play a big game on Thursday night. Having played in a Sweet 16 game yourself, if you did have one piece of advice for them, what would it be?

Just to really enjoy it. Enjoy the competition and enjoy wearing that uniform. The good thing about this team is that everyone seems to be buying in and knowing their roles.

But mostly, again, just have fun. It’s short, it goes by too fast. So just let the chips fall where they may.

You know, you were part of a very famous Sweet 16 game against Gonzaga in 2006. You remember a lot from that game?

Of course I remember that game; it was one of the craziest games I’ve ever been a part of. We were down something like 17 points with 15 minutes to go, but we just kept fighting back. We figured out a way to win.  

The thing that was most memorable for me was that I almost went to Gonzaga; I took three unofficial visits to the school and just loved everything about it, except the size of the campus. I just couldn’t go to a school that small, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to a school like UCLA.

But I loved it up there and could’ve (under different circumstances) ended up there.

Of course, I’ve got to ask about Adam Morrison. He became famous, or maybe infamous, during that game (for crying). You remember seeing him and what he was going through? Or were you too caught up in the moment to even notice?

I mean you’re aware of it, sure. It was obviously a tough situation; I remember Arron (Afflalo) helped pick him up off the floor I think. It’s just tough though. He was the No. 2 scorer in the country that year, that’s not how you want your season to end.

Adam and I played together in the NBA, won a few championships together. We’ve talked about the game before.

Back to this year’s team: Any thoughts on Kyle Anderson? He has such a unique game. How do you think it translates to the pros? I’ve heard some compare him to your former teammate with the Lakers Lamar Odom. Is that fair?

Lamar was a little taller, a little closer to seven-feet, so I don’t know if that’s a fair comparison.

But honestly I don’t know if there’s anyone in the NBA quite like Kyle Anderson right now. I just love his poise, his savvy, how he plays under control. I think it’s going to translate well to the next level.

But the kid I love is Norman Powell. He’s just so tough, so skilled. He actually reminds me a lot of Arron Afflalo; a more athletic Arron Afflalo.

Obviously the Lakers will end up owning a pretty high pick in the upcoming draft. You scouting for the draft at all during the tournament, seeing a player and thinking “Man, he’d fit in nice here"?

No, no I’m not watching the tournament with that aspect. All that stuff is well above my pay grade! With the history of the Lakers, and the commitment they have here to winning, I know they’ll make the right decision with the pick they have.

Last couple things: Your former coach Ben Howland has been rumored at a number of different jobs these last few weeks. That guy has to get back into coaching soon, right?

I’ve talked to him, and I know he wants to get back into it. And honestly I think he should be coaching. He’s a phenomenal coach; he’s been to – what – three Final Fours and I believe he won the Pac-12 title in his last year there.

I think he’ll be coaching again somewhere soon.

If a young player was asking you about Ben Howland, what is one thing about him that people might not realize?

Really it’s just that he’s transparent. He’s not going to B.S. you. He’s going to tell you what you need to work on in your game and teach you how to play his system. He’s a great guy.

Alright, final question: UCLA or Florida, what’s your prediction?

Oh man, I’ve got to go with the Bruins. They’re playing some of their best basketball right now. I think they figure out a way to win.

Aaron Torres is a show writer for Fox Sports Live and a contributor to FoxSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres or email at ATorres00@gmail.com.