Monday, October 14

Scoop Dreams: _Basketball team begins rebuilding_

Ben Howland starts his eighth season as men's basketball team coach.

Ben Howland starts his eighth season as men's basketball team coach.

Evan Luxenberg

You’ve heard the jackhammers. You’ve seen the piles of debris.

I bet you thought the major work was being done on the outside of Pauley Pavilion. Well, apparently all the real renovations are going on inside.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2010-2011 UCLA men’s basketball season: the Reconstruction Generation.

Just like the bulldozers are doing to the historic building in which he works, coach Ben Howland is attempting to break down the Bruin program so that he can rebuild it into a newer version of its former glory.

“It’s an exciting time of year,” Howland said in addressing the full local press contingent for the first time in the new school year.

We’re at team Media Day, where the absence of any accountability makes it kind of like an optimism festival, but without the refreshments table.

Looking back on the same event at the start of last season makes me think of the Titanic’s bon voyage ceremony.

I mean, look at that thing. Of course it’s unsinkable.

But then the Bruins sailed off to a 14-18 record, 8-10 in the Pac-10′s weakest year in recent memory. It was just the third losing season for UCLA since 1948, basically around when they decided cutting off the bottom of the peach basket would make the game a lot more fun.

Of course, nobody was talking about last season with any kind of nostalgia now. It’s a memory that most of these guys want to erase.

“I put last year behind me after the last game we played,” junior point guard Jerime Anderson said. “It was all about moving forward from there.”

Last season was a wake up for the Bruins and most importantly, for the man in charge. Howland had lost grip on his signature.

The tough man-to-man defense that took UCLA to three straight Final Fours had disappeared faster than businesses from Westwood.

Now, according to Howland and his team, they want to return to the old style. Don’t call it a comeback.

“Yeah, I think we’re more athletic than we were a year ago,” Howland said. “We’ve got a lot of learning to do, but we want to go back to playing primarily man-to-man defense.”

Sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt didn’t get to play until halfway through last season because of injury, but quickly became one of the team’s best defenders as a freshman.

“Everyone’s taller, faster, younger,” he said. “So, I think we’ll match up better with teams this year.”

Honeycutt, who seems like an old man on a team without a single senior, joins sophomore forward Reeves Nelson and junior guard Malcolm Lee as the three members of the team that are pretty much guaranteed a starting spot.

The Bruins shed a pair of defensive liabilities in departing seniors Nikola Dragovic and Michael Roll. However, the team will need to pick up the slack those two left from beyond the arc, where UCLA returning players account for just under 27 percent of the team’s made baskets a year ago.

Luckily for Bruin fans, everyone decided the summer would be a good time to work on some shooting, even the six-foot-eight post man Nelson.

“Oh man, his shot has gotten tons and tons better,” said Anderson, who partnered up with Nelson this offseason to work on his outside game.

“You’ll see.”

With still three weeks to go until its first exhibition contest ““ yes, you have to pay attention to those now ““ UCLA’s reconstruction is still very much in progress.

Out of the 10 scholarship players available, they have just five combined years experience under Howland. There are fans in The Den that have that kind of tenure just by themselves.

The team was young last year and somehow is even younger this year (take that, science), which means this rebuilding process might take even longer than expected.

But it’s like I say to myself every time I have to walk around that huge construction site in the middle of campus, “don’t worry about it, the Class of 2019 will really enjoy the UCLA basketball experience.”

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