A GRIP ON SPORTS
It's Thursday. That's a pretty crowded news day in its own right. But it's also the first day of the Washington state basketball tournaments. And it's also a busy college basketball week. With all that being said, no reason to chit-chat. Best to just get on to the news – and links. Read on.
• We had a chance to read, and digest, the Sports Illustrated article concerning UCLA's basketball program yesterday. The allegations contained within were not all denied by UCLA later in the day, though there was enough anger, at the players, at the sources, at the article, to go around. The attitude seemed to be, there are issues and they'll be fixed. But the big question on everyone's mind was whether coach Ben Howland would be part of the process. Could the guy who led the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours in his early Westwood years, weather the storm and return next season? The LA Times' Bill Plaschke thinks he will and he deserves to. I'm not so sure – on either count. Though most folks in Los Angeles who follow the Bruins were not surprised by the allegations contained within the story, the fact they were published in a national magazine gives them more weight. More weight in living rooms, where it really matters. What parent is going to want their child to enter such an environment, even if they will wear UCLA across the front of their jersey? The Bruins' recruiting has suffered recently, not because Howland and his staff haven't attracted outstanding talent, but because that talent has either not stuck around or, as the article describes, lacked character. (As an aside, Dick Bennett always said you can miss on talent, but you can't miss on character. Miss on the latter and you get fired. We may just see if Bennett was right about that.) Now the character kids are going to think three or four times before they sign with UCLA. Let that go on another year and the Bruins might be a program in ruins before the next coach takes the reins. But even more importantly, does Howland deserve to remain at the helm?
• Sure, the guy has won and won a lot while at Westwood, but he certainly hasn't made a lot of friends in the athletic department. I heard a story a few years back about Howland calling a support staff member into his office. He wanted the staffer, whose job is more on the creative side, to paint his office, because he was good at that type of stuff. The staffer cringed, because the head basketball coach had such little idea of what others did and that Howland would treat them that way. If that's how Howland gets along with others in the athletic department, there might not be a groundswell of support around the office, and that can be important in cases like this. Even more damning is the way the article portrays Howland's relationships with his players. Though a major college basketball coach doesn't have to be every player's best friend, he does have to be one of two things (or maybe a combination of both): A strong, aloof disciplinarian who commands and deserves respect or an easy-to-get-to-know-and-trust fellow who garners love. It doesn't seem Howland is either. … One last thought: When he was at Pittsburgh and early on at UCLA, I always thought Howland had broken the mold – and code. He seemed to be a coach whose roots were in the mid-majors and understood you could win at the high-major level with players who were more tough than talented, the type of guys Butler or VCU or George Mason has won with recently. But after getting so close to the brass ring (and losing recruiting-assistant-extraordinaire Kerry Keating to Santa Clara), it seems Howland has gone down the road so many have before him, selling his coaching soul to try to win a national title.
• Gonzaga: Let's start with the Bulldogs, even though they don't start the West Coast Conference tournament until Saturday. See, the Zags are already pretty much assured of playing beyond this weekend, no matter what happens. The NCAA tournament beckons for the 24-5 team, as Jim Meehan's story in this morning's S-R relates. Pretty nice position to be win and a handy consolation prize after not winning your 12th-consecutive WCC regular season title. Jim also has a quick look at the weekend ahead. … The tournament opened yesterday with No. 8 seed Portland defeating No. 9 Santa Clara, 74-70. Think about this, the Broncos, under Keating, were 8-4 at one point and finished 8-22. An 18-game losing streak will do that to you. … The Zags will meet BYU in the semis if the seedings hold. The Cougars are still worried about Noah Hartsock's knee. … The women will be in Las Vegas as well, with the BYU women trying to deny Gonzaga another tournament title.
• Washington State: This is what I truly miss about the Cougar beat: Christian Caple is in Los Angeles, my old stomping grounds, for the next two weeks. If I were still in his shoes, it would be basketball through the weekend and then some rounds of golf at courses I used to hack apart in my younger days. Instead, we'll watch the snow melt – and dream of In-N-Out. … Christian has today's links and notes in his morning post. … He also has a story about WSU's postseason hopes heading into the final week of the regular season and a look ahead. … If you want to do see the piece Melissa Luck did on Steve Gleason for KXLY TV, you can watch it here. Heck, we embeded the video below as well. … A former Washington State football assistant has a new job. … Former USC running back Dillon Baxter is no longer a member of the San Diego State football team.
• Preps: All the tournament sites begin play this morning at 9, with local teams getting into the swing of things early on. Greg Lee has this story on the 4A and 3A schools, as Central Valley's boys get Tacoma's games started with the day's first contest. We have a schedule of all of today's games at all levels. Greg also had a blog post yesterday. … For the Bs, Valley Christian's boys are back at state after a long absence and Mike Vlahovich has the story. … Kelsey Moos (yes, she is related to the WSU athletic director) has led Reardan's girls back to Spokane.
• Eastern Washington: The Eagles have some time to prepare for Idaho State, who return to Cheney for Saturday's game. Jim Allen has the story on how EWU earned the host role along with a quick look at the matchup.
• Idaho: The Vandals end their regular season on the Hawaii/San Jose State road trip. Josh Wright examines the implications of this weekend in this blog post. … Utah State flops opponents this weekend.
• Whitworth: Yes, Spokane, hosting the NCAA Division III playoffs is a matter of finances, nothing more. Jim's story on why the Pirates are headed to Texas explains that. I will add this: If the NCAA had awarded Puget Sound an at-large berth, as it should have, Whitworth could have hosted the UPS/Claremont-Mudd winner. But western schools are the lonely ones in D-III.
• Shock: Spokane may add another former NFL player with a well-know name. Jess Brown has the story.
• NBA: So the Seattle arena talk has quieted down. That's because there is stuff going on in the background.
• Mariners: The news about Franklin Gutierrez's pectoral muscle is not good in that the M's need Gutierrez to have a comeback season and anything that could throw a bolt into his preparation isn't positive. … The pitching coach takes center stage.
• Sounders: Seattle finished the preseason with a 2-0 win over Jaguares de Chiapas, thanks to Freddie Montero's two goals. … There is a chance Chelsea will be in Seattle for a July friendly. … Speaking of friendlies (though it was pretty hard fought), the United States did something yesterday it has never done before. It defeated Italy. Yep, the U.S. picked up a 1-0 win in Genoa on Clint Dempsey's second-half goal.
• That's what we have for you this morning. Guess what? We're on the radio again today. Listen in at 3 p.m. Then it's off to the Arena for the 2B boys games. And, yes, we will be tweeting (@vinceg55). Until later …