UCLA's 2012 recruiting class is the best Ben Howland has had since he has been in Westwood.
Today, Tony Parker made official what had long been speculated -- that he would matriculate to Southern California and become a member of the UCLA Bruins. Scout has UCLA's class now at #2 behind Kentucky, and it's hard to argue with that number.
Parker's commitment to Ben Howland gives the Bruins the Rivals.com #1, #3, and #27 recruits in the 2012 class. Obviously, with the difficulties that Howland has had over the last couple of years, this pretty much presents itself as his last, best chance to create a nationally relevant basketball team, and if he can't do it with these players to go along with what he already has, he can wave bye-bye to Westwood after this season.
So what has to happen before Howland can shake off the past four seasons and regain the support of the Bruin faithful? Our brothers in SB Nation arms over at Bruins Nation provide a clue:
The same is true for Howland. Next year, Howland must:
- Bring the glory back to Pauley Pavilion by dominating what looks to be a pathetic Pac-12 next season, grabbing the conference title;
- Bring UCLA back into the national discussion by finishing ranked in the top 10 nationally; and
- Make a serious run in the NCAA tournament, making it to at least the Final Four so that UCLA, one of college basketball's elite blue-blooded programs is truly part of the March Madness again.
But as importantly, Howland must fix the long term health of the program, which he destroyed following his three consecutive Final Four seasons.
Much of this looks doable, although I am not sanguine about their chances at a Final Four next year as of today. UCLA has a huge glut of big guys, with the Wear twins Parker, and Joshua Smith now available for Howland's use. Howland has struggled recently to put teams together with any cohesion at all, and it looks like this one will be a challenge, particularly defensively. But he certainly has plenty of talent, and if he can get them to play together while Muhammad is there (likely only next year) the Bruins could do some real damage.
It is definitely good news for the Pac-12, and arguably for college basketball in general, that UCLA is looking strong next year. After this year, where the entire league was virtually irrelevant nationally, it only provided an exclamation point on the idea that a weak UCLA generally means a pathetic Pac-12. With Arizona also having a powerful class for 2012, it looks like the Pac-12 may see a resurgence to national prominence in 2013 after a pretty bleak 2012.
For UCLA, it has been a four years of irrelevance right on par, and arguably even worse, than Kentucky's descent into darkness between 2006 and 2009. If they don't return to the light this year, and in a pretty big way, we'll almost certainly be seeing a new head coach in Westwood, and possibly a new Director of Athletics along with him.