The recent Sports Illustrated article on the state of the UCLA program and Ben Howland’s handling of various situations has not affected recruiting so far.
Kyle Anderson (Fairview, N.J./St. Anthony) is one of two seniors who signed with the Bruins last fall. Anderson, who hasn’t lost a high school games in two seasons, is competing for the prestigious Tournament of Champions title in New Jersey. On Wednesday, his father commented on the article.
“I knew it was coming out and we were aware of it,” Kyle Anderson, Sr., said of the article. “(UCLA) told us the article is coming out. They said they didn’t know what it was but it was coming out. They didn’t elaborate and to be honest, I wasn’t interested. Both Kyle and myself know what we’re looking for and what we wanted and didn’t want. The article doesn’t sway our opinion at all. We still feel as strong about UCLA as we did on Sept. 19.”
Anderson committed to the Bruins last September over Florida, Georgetown and Seton Hall.
With UCLA’s top signee firmly on board and unchanged -- after all, Anderson did sign a binding national letter of intent –- a bigger question remains: Will the article have an effect on future recruits? Namely ESPN’s No. 2 senior, Shabazz Muhammad (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman)?
“It doesn’t really effect us that much but UCLA is going to have to get control of that program if they’re going to go forward,” Ron Holmes, father of the UCLA target said. “You have to discipline those guys and get rid of them if need be.”
When asked if Holmes could see his son picking the Bruins, the response was affirmative, but Howland has to handle things properly.
“Yes, (Shabazz) could go to school there right now because I understand what was going on. I saw (Reeves) Nelson’s shenanigans. He was out of control and I was trying to figure it out because I’ve always heard that Coach Howland was a disciplinarian. Eventually Coach Howland did (dismiss Nelson)," said Holmes, who played basketball at USC. "It doesn’t effect us in that regard but obviously it has some effect because when you put that program against other programs that don’t have issues, it might have an effect.”
Still, UCLA now has a perception issue to tackle. Many of the team-oriented issues can be explained away to a degree that would seem plausible. Nelson’s behavior is extreme and it’ll cost him going forward in terms of how professional leagues view him. What UCLA has to rectify is the future damage. Not so much with senior recruits, but younger players who have yet to have the window into the program the current seniors enjoyed the past few years. How the younger recruits view the program is significant Howland’s been dinged for his style of play and now for what’s gone on behind the scenes. Combine those issues with UCLA’s struggles on the court and things snowballed, culminating in this article.
Regarding Muhammad, the timing of the article stinks. He visits Duke this weekend and was at Kansas last weekend. UNLV, the hometown school, is strong and Kentucky's lurking. Anytime something negative occurs during a high-profile recruitment, especially at this stage, it's a problem. Problems can be contained and messaged, but dealing with them when your program is on display against a collection of heavy hitters is the opposite of ideal.
UCLA was proactive – always a good move – with its signees and recruits. While the Bruins didn’t know the content of the article, they put themselves in position to diffuse and attack the article’s assertions by alerting those who needed to know.
“They were proactive,” Holmes said. “They let me know that something was coming out and it might be damaging. We knew it was coming and knew what it was. Reading it, it wasn’t as negative as I thought it was going to be but it was concerning.”
At this point, UCLA will take “concerning” because it’s a lot more manageable than “devastating.”