LOS ANGELES – Ben Howland has made a reputation for himself during his time at UCLA for being able to get players ready for the NBA.
But more glaring is that fact that no matter if it’s college or the pros, players seem to shine brighter when they crawl from under the Howland wrath.
The Bruins defeated Cal State Northridge on Wednesday, 82-56, after learning the shocking news that center Joshua Smith became the second player to transfer from the program in three days and the 11th in the last four years.
Howland is beginning to earn another reputation – that of a coach that players don’t want to play for.
“It’s something that I’ve obviously reflected upon,” Howland said.
The Bruins have just eight scholarship players now, with the latest departures. The eight was cut to seven on Wednesday night when Tony Parker left the game with a sprained ankle.
Players No. 9 and 10 on the bench are Sooren Derboghosian and David Brown – both walk-ons.
The Bruins are one injury or even foul trouble away from either of them being called on to log heavy minutes during a crucial game.
Howland was seen telling his players to slow down at times on Wednesday night, not wanting to get into an up and down affair with the Matadors, who played nine players 15 or more minutes.
“We’re going to work extremely hard with the group that we have,” Howland said. “I’m going to coach my tail off here to help this team reach it’s potential.
“Our biggest – obviously – obstacle is the health issue — staying healthy — with the limited number of players.”
Tyler Lamb, who announced his decision to transfer three days ago is something Howland said he could deal with, since it was about playing time and nothing more.
“He leaves with no ill will,” Howland said of Lamb.
But Smith’s decision to remove himself from the program blindsided the Bruins head coach.
With Smith, the topic of discussion was always his weight since he stepped on campus.
There’s just no getting around that.
“Weight was an issue because obviously it affected his conditioning and his playing time and I think that’s ultimately what it came down to,” Bruins forward Travis Wear said.
For the players in the program, it’s just one more thing they have to deal with.
Last season, it was the abrupt departure of Reeves Nelson followed by the Sports Illustrated article shedding a negative light on the program.
“It’s not fun,” Wear said. “I’d like to be able to just focus on basketball and not have these issues occur especially at the beginning of the season when you’re trying really trying to form an identity it really affects you.”