With summer officially in full swing, I’m reminded of AAU/summer league basketball. The sound of Nike’s screaching the floor, the smell of sweat and humidity, and the boundless energy of kids driving to the hoop.
I played and coached in summer hoops for years and I can attest that this is where passion meets opportunity. For coaches Ben Howland (UCLA) and Brad Stevens (Butler) it is an escape. Both coaches are in similar circumstances but at vastly different programs.
One has eleven banners hanging from the rafters with National Champion written on them. The other plays in a gym that used was the backdrop to the 80′s sports cult hit “Hoosiers.” One has the number one player in Class of 2012 signed up for the fall. The other just lost the second best player in the history of the program. One has a plethora of four & five star phenoms to choose from. The other has a 3/4 of team never even ranked. One is on the way up, the other headed in a down position.
Lets take a closer look at both programs.
While Ben Howland watches Long Beach blue chip PG Zack Levine bring the ball up in a AAU game this day, he has to be reminded of how good life really is. Before his stint at Pittsburgh he had never coached a squad any further east than Northern Arizona in mid-late 90′s.
The UCLA Bruins head coach came to the storied program with high expectations and he delivered early; three consecutive Final Fours (06-08) can do a world a of good for job security in college hoops.
The last three years however have been far from maintaining expectations. A one-and-done in the NCAA’s just doesn’t cut it in Westwood. When you lose a Russell Westbrook or a Darren Collison playing lock down defense, that would affect any team. A load of underachieving five-star high school prospects, and malcontents added to the misery.
With the departure of troublemaker Jordan Reeves last winter, Howland proclaimed an instant boost in team chemistry and overall attitude.
That spilled over into the top ranked Class of 2012 according to Rivals and Scout. Leading the charge is Shabazz Muhammed, only the number one player in the country; SF from Las Vegas, Nevada. Going along with him is fellow five-star point guard Kyle Anderson.
Tony Parker and Jordan Adams are also National Top 100 players that made this the premier group.
Want more boost in attitude? How about the athletic department sinking $136 million dollars into your already “cathedral like” arena, Pauley Pavilion. Add the returning Wear twins, David and Travis, and 6’10 post Joshua Smith and their is a good reason for the renewed spirit in College basketball’s title town.
One more stat about Howland I thought really put his time their in perspective: In legendary coach John Wooden’s first nine seasons at UCLA he won 183 games. In Howland’s first nine he has 201. That’s got to feel good.
In 2010 Butler University became a household name as it became the poster child for the Mid-Major. In the NCAA final vs Duke, Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave was just off the rim, otherwise the Butler Bulldogs would have been national champions.
In 2011 the team not only made it back to the Big Dance, but the National title game, again. This time losing to Connecticut and coach Jim Calhoun.
But for a program like Butler to make it to Back-to-back Final Fours was nothing short of astonishing. Coach Brad Stevens became the “hot” commodity in coaching with analysts predicting which major program he would leave for.
But he didn’t leave. Instead, he signed a 12 year extension signaling to other programs that Indianapolis would remain his home for the near future.
Fast forward to March 2012. Things start going downhill. The Bulldogs miss the NCAA’s, an almost expected finish. They were 13-12 and tied for 5th in the Horizon League ( their last season in the conference, begin play in the Atlantic 10 this fall). It was their seventh consecutive 20 win season. Yet they lost in the Horizon League semifinals and failed to make an at-large bid to March Madness.
Coach Stevens crew also lose senior Ronald Nored, who was a Lowe’s Senior Class 1st Team All-American. He was a four year starter who excelled in the classroom. He leaves the school as the All-time record holder in assists. He’s also one of two Butler Bulldogs to finish with 400 points, 400 assists, and 400 steals. He’s now gone.
Returning are two promising wings. Junior Chrishawn Hopkins, their leading scorer in Horizon League and tournament games. On the other side is sophomore Roosevelt Jones, a sleek 6’4 Guard with tremendous upside. Junior Forward Andrew Smith returns in the paint with solid credentials; .596% shooting percentage, and eye popping .46% 3-point percentage. Khyle Marshall will also contribute averaging 11 points in the teams final 12 games last spring.
Just as UCLA reloads with some of the country’s best, Butler does much of the same except on a much smaller scale. Both programs have two coaches with proven track records with their given universities. Both are hard working, detail oriented teachers that are constantly tweaking there craft. And that begins here in the summer, where the gyms are filled with kids who dream that could be a UCLA Bruin or a Butler Bulldog.
You can’t go wrong in a 110 degree high school gym in July, because both coaches love it just where they’re at.