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May 29, 2006

Champions made here - Part II

As if Coach Karl Dorrell hadn't done enough to fire up the crowd of Bruin supporters assembled, UCLA Men's Basketball Coach Ben Howland left many spellbound as he told of the feelings shared by the team during its sensational 2005 NCAA tournament run, and the season leading up to that final championship game.

Howland also spoke of his tenure at UCLA; how this year's departing players are faring in their NBA try-outs prior to the draft, and a brief prospectus of the upcoming UCLA basketball season.

It was symbolically fitting that Coach Howland first paid tribute to one Dr. Ray Padilla, the team dentist for UCLA Athletics, who, along with his many other duties, is assigned to the making of mouth guards for athletes. After all, with the brand of defense Coach Howland's teams are taught to employ, Coach stated he did not want to destroy the expensive orthodontic work parents may have invested in for their sons.

Coach Howland returned the compliment paid to him by Coach Dorrell and said that one of his own favorite memories of the past year was the fantastic comeback victory against Cal.

He likewise spoke of the excitement on campus as one of three teams will follow the great championship runs of Men's Volleyball and Women's Water Polo to mark UCLA's 100th national championship. With that in mind, he shared the news that UCLA would soon display a new branding of products sold in the student store, which will read: "UCLA Champions Made Here."

Coach lamented on the season that far exceeded the expectations of even the most die-hard Bruin basketball fan which took the team to a National Title game for the first time since 1995.

"It took awhile to settle in what we had accomplished," Howland said." "Especially when you stop to consider that this was a team of five freshmen and four sophomores, with, as Karl (Dorrell) pointed out, averaged an injury a week."

"That was, nonetheless a very sad locker room and losing to Florida was a tough pill to swallow because this team, being a UCLA team, believed they could win and wanted to do that for the school they love," Howland said. "Still, what they did was just so good for the conference and good for our program."

"When we beat Cal on national television, that was incredibly helpful to our seeding, which was being determined at that time, and, of course, our A.D., Dan Guerrero, was on that committee. We played in 39 games, the most ever played in a UCLA season, and every game was important to us; lots of preparation went into each one of them"

Howland cited the Nevada and Michigan wins as intrinsic toward building the players' confidence and maturity on the road, and praised the character of his team as exemplified by Cedric Bozeman, who played against Stanford two days after sustaining a major shoulder injury.

"How these guys deal with adversity and success is a sign of their character and how proud they are to wear those four letters on their chest."

Howland shared with the audience the fact that prior to the season opener; he invited not only the entire team to his home, but 75 former players who he called vital in implementing the Bruin Spirit in his players.

Howland praised Arron Afflalo as special, saying that he has "a lot of love for him," because he was Howland's first recruit at UCLA.

When Coach Howland segued to the topic of the Gonzaga game, the room erupted in thunderous whooping and cheering. Howland again praised his men for "never losing their composure despite being down 17 points. He credited Ced Bozeman again for "bothering" Morrison to the point of distraction.

"Without Ced, we probably wouldn't have won that game," Howland stated.

In speaking of the bright future ahead for his former players, Coach Howland informed everyone that Mitch Kupchak has worked out Ced Bozeman for a second time and that he may end up a free agent in signing with the Lakers.

Ryan Hollins has worked out with both Portland and Sacramento, while projected to be drafted as early as the late first round.

One cannot ignore the possibility of Jordan Farmar or Afflalo leaving UCLA early for the NBA, and Coach said that the dust will settle on this issue June 18th.

Howland further stated that Afflalo has worked out for the Bulls, Pacers and Cavs, while Farmar has worked out for the Kings, Clippers, Nets, Suns and Lakers.

The bottom line remains whether they end up projected to be drafted in the first round. Falling short of that, they will return.

In looking ahead to next season, Coach Howland informed the crowd that Josh Shipp will be returning having had a tough time in the past year, while Lorenzo Mata will have his knee scoped out prior to school commencing.

In an amazing insight, Coach shared that Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who he said truly exceeded everyone's expectations this year, adding ," except his own," was in Florida attending high school graduation of his twin brother.

Mbah a Moute's father, meanwhile, who is known for emphasizing academics over basketball, had never seen his son play basketball as a Bruin, so Coach Howland invited him to watch a highlight film of Mbah a Moute in his Morgan Center office, and, as one would expect, he was utterly amazed.

Darren Collison, meantime, is busy beefing up in the weight room, obviously a Doc Kreis special project.

Howland told the gleeful audience, "Darren came here weighing 142 pounds. and is now 162. We want him to be 170 by September and he is on track to reach that weight. He is a rocket and a true point guard."

Howland praised Alfred Aboya as having "the heart of a lion-he is as tough as they come yet carries the best GPA on the team."

Coach went on to praise Michael Roll and Ryan Wright as both having very good freshman years. He is excited about incoming Santa Margarita, Calif., freshman All-American James Keefe, as well as Russell Westbrook from Lawndale (Calif.) Leuzinger HS.

The team is excited also to play BYU and participate in the Maui Tournament early this season.

Then, suddenly Howland dropped this wondrous jaw-dropper: "My goal is to be your coach at UCLA as long as you will have me."

This brought the grateful assemblage to its feet as they erupted in applause.

Finally, in closing, Coach said he was "indebted" to Athletic Director Dan Guerrero whom he said gave both he and Karl Dorrell leeway and support. He praised each and every member of his support staff, beginning with Donny Daniels, and Kerry Keating.

Howland thanked the fans for their support, but, in the end, as the fans stood for some time, cheering and being led in a rousing 8-clap finale by Geoff Strand, it was obvious that on this night, it was the coaches who were being showered with love and appreciation for remarkable dual seasons just past.


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