Howland's Press Conference

Ben Howland

Head Coach <b>Ben Howland</b> talks about the off-season and what the returning players need to work on, while also discussing next year and the incoming freshmen...

Head Coach Ben Howland addressed the media today in his season-ending press conference.

When you watch the Texas Tech game, how much do you need an inside presence next year?

"We obviously want to have an improved inside presence. No question. Our plan now is, our players, this week, have finals. Then next week is spring break. We'll come back and get back to work. We'll have our first meeting April 5th, the day after the national championship, when I get back from there. We'll start with lifting and individual work. One thing that is hard about starting school so late, you don't have a lot of time to prepare in getting ready for the season in fall like you do at most schools, when you often times start at Labor Day, or even earlier. Some start in August. There are positives and negatives to both. The positive for us now is we have to take advantage of developing our players in the spring. We're going to have a two-month block of time, which I'm really excited about, for our players and our coaches to get better. So, getting back to what you were taking about, we have to really work with Lorenzo Mata in particular. When you go back and look at the Oregon game on the road, the Washington game at home, which ends up being our best win of the year in terms of the quality of opponent. Lorenzo was key in both of those games, as he was against USC. I think he has a chance to really grow in this off-season. I think he'll develop into someone who is going to play hopefully a more significant role as a low-post scorer. We have to also continue to work with both Michael Fey and Ryan Hollins, to make them better players. Ryan didn't have a spring last year because he had the knee injury. And Mike probably improved the most among just about any of the returners. He was a career 2.0 rebound average, this year he averaged five. He's better, but he has to continue to make the same steps he did last off-season to help us. The one thing about Mike is that he's a good kid and he's going to try really hard to keep getting better. And then we have the inside kids coming in. They'll be freshmen and we're counting on them to make contributions."

Can any of them come in and make big contributions?

"We had three freshmen who did this year. So anything is possible."

Is it tougher inside?

"No, I think it's tougher outside. The reason I say that is that it would be tougher inside if you didn't have a body. Many times kids come in and they don't have a body, so that's the first thing. Like Lorenzo, he doesn't have an upper body. But Ryan Wright and Alfred Aboya both have very good bodies. When you look at next year, there's going to be...we had great competition within our practice that first month of the season. We had it opened to the media that one day, when Cedric Bozeman was still healthy. You saw the competitive level at that point. From the point that Ced got hurt there was no competition for our perimeter players in practice on a daily basis like there needs to be to get better. You get better in games and you get better in practice. We were fortunate to get through 18 games with a four-man rotation on the perimeter and not experience a significant injury. Brian Morrison played with a bad bruised contusion to his thigh the last game of the year. Josh Shipp went through about a three-week period when he didn't even practice, because we couldn't afford it with his ankle injury and his contusion. We were fortunate in a lot of respects."

How do you see Wright and Aboya plugging into the frontline, as fours or fives?

"They're both going to come in and battle for time. We may play a little differently, with three out and two in. We're going to scheme and alter. We're not going to have a fourth guard playing the four spot next year. At least not right now. Everything is subject to change when we get to practice. So it's going to be different. I think Ryan Wright has a lot of upside. I feel he'll be able to come in and make a contribution next year and the time he's a sophomore he could be really good because of just the learning curve and being coached and pushed. Athletically, toughness-wise, he has good hands, and runs well. He's 235 pounds. He's going to be a good one. And Alfred has had good games lately. 45 and 17 in one of his recent games, against a good team. Luc Mbah a Moute...now if you look at our perimeter guys, you have the three returning starters, who all had good years. Josh Shipp is the leading rebounder for all freshmen in the conference. He's our second leading rebounder for UCLA as a freshman. Josh was second in offensive rebounding, ahead of Dijon Thompson, for our team. I thought he really make significant strides this year. Jordan Farmar was Freshman of the Year in the conference, and Arron Afflalo was on the all-freshmen team, and both had very good years as freshmen. They're all going to be good players.  I think that experience is important. Having gone through it, knowing what it's about, the NCAA tournament, the Pac-10 tournament, I think they'll be better prepared for those points of the season next year, hoping we get to all of those points again and continue to build on what we did this year. They're going to be better. And I think Lorenzo's going to learn. It's going to be interesting."

Does it help that Aboya is 20 years old?

"Sure. Yeah."

What is the status of Janou Rubin?

"Janou is going to petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility because of his injury. A lot will be dependent on how that's received. I would think in all likelihood it would be a good case for him, considering what happened. Then also how his knee's going. He's getting operated on again this Friday.  The other knee has some damage to it. And actually he's getting both knees operated again. He has a little piece of cartilage still floating around in the one they just did that apparently wasn't able to be seen the first time. And then they're going to do the other one."

When will he hear back from the NCAA?

"I don't know. I would guess in May sometime."

He's having both of them cleaned out?

"Both are arthroscopic."

Not as big as the last surgery?

"No."

Is anybody else having surgery on anything?

"No."

Does Lorenzo have to improve his base strength in his lower body?

"His legs are great. His legs are outstanding. Where he needs to get stronger and bigger is his upper body. He has to continue to work on his legs, but he has great legs. His thing, a lot of it is, he hasn't played that long. It's developing his skill level, working on jump hook after jump hook, and jump shot, and step through, and drop step, and getting a lot of experience and playing time. It's getting him more and more comfortable in being an offensive threat. It's very difficult to be a really good team and not have a post player not average double figures. Josh was twenty points away for the season from being our fourth double figure guy actually."

How tough was it to sit Mata toward the end of the season and not allow him to get experience?

"He missed the time because of the sternum, and wasn't comfortable. He was going to take a shot at it. That was difficult, but that was the right thing to do. I thought Ryan Hollins continued to help us at that point, especially defensively.  Ryan had a big game for us against Oregon State at home, where he came in and gave us big minutes down the stretch. It will be interesting. It's always interesting to see how your seniors step up. I thought Dijon Thompson really stepped up from his junior year to his senior year. You're going to be looking at Bozeman, Fey and Hollins going into their senior year, and in the back of their mind it's the same thing: 'This is it.' This is their last time, their last go-round. Hopefully we can get some significant contributions out of all of them."

Will Mata's sternum hinder him lifting?

"I don't think so. I think it's really improving. We'll probably have it x-rayed again in the next week or so just to see. I would imagine he's pretty close to being healed up. We've been feeding him a lot of milk."

Will Hollins participate in track this year?

"Not to my knowledge."

Dijon said after the game that getting to the NCAA tournament was his ultimate goal for the season. Is that what you thought?

"Overall I'm pleased about our season. I thought through the adversity of what we experienced, and starting such a young lineup, again...compare us to every other program in the country that started three freshmen. I don't know how many there were. There were none in the NCAA tournament. There were none that finished third in a major league. Dijon had a great year for us and you have to give him kudos for the type of season he had as a senior. He was fourth in the league in scoring and third in rebounding.  He did a lot of positive things. Brian Morrison helped us win some games. The Oregon game, I think about that. Janou helped us win that game. Lorenzo did. And Brian definitely did. He had the two Washington games at home, the Notre Dame...he did some positive things as a senior that I'll remember, along with a lot of other memories."

What's Bozeman's status?

"I don't even know that. I know that he's been shooting. My whole thing was that when he went under the surgeon's knife way back when he wasn't going to be able to do a whole lot until June. So I haven't been following the day-to-day progress, because I'm not having a lot of expectations to get to June, and July, when I expect him to be back to workouts and full strength."

When do individual workouts start?

"We'll start them April 5th."

So you're not expecting him for them?

"No, I'm not. He'll still be re-habbing until toward the end of the quarter, the first part of June. That's typical of an ACL injury. There's no reason to push him any faster. We want to make sure that heals. His greatest asset is his athleticism, and we want to make sure it heals properly. Typically now, in today's medical world, when you tear an ACL, it ends up being stronger than your good one. So my expectation he'll be back to full strength and how he was come October, when he went down, at the same level of play. In practice, he was playing well. He really looked good. He was playing with more physicality. He was laying a body on someone with a drive, which wasn't his game before. I'm anticipating that Ced will come in here and it's going to be very competitive. That's exciting for me as a coach, because the level of competition raises the level of your players' game, and pushes you every day, not just the first month, to get better and better, because guys are fighting for playing time."

With Jordan established as the point guard, and losing Dijon and Brian, do you see Cedric getting more minutes off the ball as a wing?

"Oh, yeah. We saw that this year, that there was definitely going to be time when they were in there together. Ced is going to be playing three different positions theoretically. The reason is, he's probably the most versatile defender we have. He can defend a one, two or three.  Next would be Arron and his ability to do that. I think that Luc will have that same potential, to be able to do that. And that's nice. You get three guys out there and say switch, switch, switch. That's always fun."

How about Mike Roll defensively?

"He'll have a lot to learn. But he's strong and he's tough-minded. If you're talking about giving him a scouting report and telling him this is what he does, these are his tendencies, I think he's the kind of kid that will take that to heart, remember it, and use it to his advantage. He's very competitive. He's a tough kid. And he can shoot. What I like about him is he lead his team to over-achieve. That's what you want from your players. Make your team win. Etiwanda (Darren Collison's team) had a great year."

Are any redshirt candidates?

"Not at this time. No way."

Will Collison be strong enough to play next year?

"The way you compensate for lack of strength is if you're really quick and really fast. He has outstanding quickness and speed. He'll work really hard. I was talking today about him with my staff. We'll have to get with him now and get him in the proper training mode. He has the right bloodlines for athleticism."

His parents were Olympic...

"...sprinters. They were in the Olympiad multiple times.  Apparently his dad, and I still find this hard to believe, back in the '70s, he raced against (the famous Russian sprinter). I'm a true American and I can only relate it to yards and inches and feet, but apparently his dad ran a 9.2 100-yard dash back in the '70s. That's fast. And that's 30 years ago. And his mom was on the world-record holding relay team. And his mother's tall. I think the kid might fill out and end up not being so little. Both his parents have good-sized frames. They're not as thin as he is. But he's young. He's very young. He's almost in that Jordan Farmar category, if I'm not mistaken. I'd have to look for sure, but I think his birthday is in August, and he won't turn 18 until late August."

Is Matt McKinney going to play volleyball?

"I don't know that. That was his deal when he came here. He came to do both. So I totally support him if that's what he's doing. I haven't spoken to him."

Does he take part in individual workouts?

"No. I'll talk to Al (Skates), but the volleyball championship ends I think the first week in May."

How has DeAundre Robinson developed?

"I think he improved a lot this year. His biggest thing is getting tougher. He learned part of that this year. He didn't come in here like most freshmen understanding what it's all about. I think he's a lot tougher than he what, but that's one area he has to continue to grow in. He's a good kid. Having him was important. I tell you what. With the injuries, we would have had no one to practice. I met with him after Janou went down and told him there a chance I was pulling him out of his redshirt year but I never had to do it. There was always that possibility. If Josh went down and couldn't go back in, or with any of those perimeter players."

What do you think of Texas Tech's Ronald Ross after having seen him in person?

"He's a very good player. He's a senior. He's a four-year guy. He's tougher than nails. You look at his last two games in the NCAA tournament, add it to the Big 12 tournament, how he's playing at the end of his college career, he's really a heck of a player. He creates his own shot and really plays well in the system. He's tough defensively. He got right into Jordan. That was the game plan. He's very strong physically. They could definitely win here against West Virginia. It will be an interesting game to watch."

Did you watch the Gonzaga game?

"I watched a good portion of it."

Do you think the zone was something to use against them?

"No. Did you see them attack that zone? They got good easy shots against the zone, just like they did against the man. When I go back and watch our game, our turnovers really hurt us in the first half. We were down 37-31, and we had a chance there a couple of times. And we had some defensive breakdowns. Morrison, twice, is tired, trying to call himself out, and he's losing his concentration and Ross is popping out and hitting a three. His teammates were getting mad at him. We have a lot riding on this game. In fact, a couple of different times. The last play of the half, the guy drove right around him. That hurts us, not having him healthy or in not as good of shape as we would have liked to have him. And we were right there. We easily could have had the lead. It was 17-all when Dijon took the ball the length of the court trying to create a play. But you have to credit Texas Tech. I think they're a very good team."

With more depth will you be able to do different things defensively, like more full-court pressure?

"I don't know. I don't know if we have the personnel with great quickness that will be able to do a lot of full-court pressure and bother a lot of people. Who are the teams in the tournament who are doing a lot of pressing right now?  There aren't many. I think one of the things where the game has changed is in the '70s when you were pressing and pushing people. It was before that three-point line came into effect. The game continues to evolve. Open shots from three are much different today than they were 25 years ago because they didn't count as three. It's interesting to read all the articles on the three-point shot. I like it. I'm not a big zone guy. If you didn't have the three-point shot you'd see more and more zones, more and more packed in. I do see the argument, though, that all you see now is a drive to the basket or the three. You don't see the middle game, like Texas Tech is so good at, very often.

"I think we could play a lot harder in getting out and pressuring. I had to play guys too many minutes this year. I'm not pleased with our defensive field goal percentage this year. It ends up being third or fourth in the league, but it's not something that I look at and say we did a great job there. Everybody has to improve, and it starts with guarding the ball."

How much will it help having guys who can play back-up minutes, having depth?

"Look at the best teams. Look at the teams in our league, the teams still alive in the NCAA tournament. They're not playing 38 minutes a game, they're playing 30. Look at Nate Robinson. I love Nate. How hard does he play? He could play more even, since he plays with enery and passion, but I bet he averages 30 minutes. (He looks up stats in Pac-10 press release).  Diogu #1, Kelati #2, Hernandez, Thompson, Farmar. Nick Robinson, Brooks, Grunfeld, Low. Nate Robinson is 10th in the league at 31.6.  There is nobody from Arizona's team in the top ten. So having depth I think you get a better return often times playing less minutes."

Will the threat of getting minutes taken away if you don't play defense help motivate?

"I don't know about the threat. It's about a team effort. We're going to play defense, and play hard for a lot of minutes."

What does Jordan have to work on in the off-season besides getting stronger?

"That's a big thing. That's not just a small thing. 'Besides getting stronger.' That's big. He knows it. He talked about it after our last game. He understands that. It's a big thing.  That's a very important thing. But he has a lot of skill level things he can get better at, in terms of his handle, working with his left hand. There are a number of things. Becoming a better shooter, a more efficient shooter. He shot 33% from three for the season. Part of that is playing the fifth most minutes in the league. But he'll be a better shooter, with strength. But all of those kids will get better. Josh has to work on his shot. He shot 22% from three in the Pac-10. A lot of that will be strength and refining technique, shortening shots, less motion, things like that."

Will you work with Josh to shorten his stroke?

"Absolutely. We've talked a lot about these things. During the season it's hard to make those changes. That's why, even though it would never happen, to be able to use, the two months going into the season, as opposed to the spring, but that's just the way it's set with our academic year. In some ways it's better. Because now you start the spring and you have six months before we start the season again. So you can work on all of those things."

It seems like Jordan likes to get in the faces of teammates on the court a little. Does he need to ease back a little?

"I don't know what you're talking about."

It seems like sometimes he gets on his teammates a little bit.

"It's really important how you communicate with your team, how one expresses oneself. It's a fine line. Being a point guard, you assume the role of being the leader. Sometimes it's just like it's for the coach. Sometimes the point guard is the extension of the coach on the floor. Most often times it's important to be positive and encouraging of your teammates. Sometimes guys need to have a word from one of their teammates, and not necessarily the point guard. Brandin Knight was great at that. I think he (Jordan) will mature, and get better and better. It was interesting to read Coach Wooden's quote in the paper a few weeks ago. There was a good quote in there relative to that. It was something like - 'A player should never criticize his teammates. That's my job.' John R. Wooden. Anyone else see that besides me? I read the papers."

Will the freshmen come in early?

"They' definitely be here for the freshmen bridge program. The FSP."

And then they'll play in the Say No League?

"Yes. The fundamentally sound, running-up-and-down league. Whoever sells tickets for that, whoever runs it, should be pleased with me. UCLA is a good draw for them. I never got a chance to go, but my daughter and son did. I think it's great. It gives them some competitive up-and-down stuff."

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