On Sunday, November 25th, 2012, UCLA’s men’s’ basketball team lost to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo 70-68 on Neil & John Wooden court in the newly renovated Pauley Pavilion. Would you repeat that! No I cannot! Nothing against Cal Poly. It was great win but they were not the eleventh ranked team in the nation, nor were their last recruiting class unheralded. Despite the matchups it is best to play the games. Clearly, the UCLA Bruin’s men’s basketball program is not walking the walk.

The news that Tyler Lamb a junior was transferring was paramount before the Bruins lost to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. This loss may have helped push the cart that was at the edge, over the cliff. Besides playing time, were there other reasons that a good veteran player, a junior and a good student like Lamb would leave UCLA?

Those outside the UCLA basketball program just could not see that the cart was so close to the edge, but the Bruins had their next opponent Cal State Northridge waiting in the wings. Though the Bruins would be the favorite against Northridge, Coach Bobby Braswell felt his team could get a win against the Bruins.

 The UCLA Bruins should have been looking for redemption in their next game against the hard playing Cal State Northridge Matadors. The Matadors were quick but overmatched in talent and intimidated by the Bruins height. UCLA’s height advantage forced the Matadors to miss layups and shots around the basket that may have made the game more competitive. Those missed shots could have kept them in the game against UCLA who was having their share of mental mistakes, missed shots and turnovers.

The Bruins went on to defeat the Matadors 82-56. Norman Powell led the way for UCLA scoring 17 points. Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad scored 15 and 13 points respectively, while Larry Drew II contributed with 13 assists. The Bruins were trying to walk a little of the walk.    

The victory against Northridge was neither a turning point, nor a rallying cry for the Bruins. The big news after the Northridge game and the next day would be the unfortunate departure of UCLA’s power center Josh Smith. ESPN rated Smith the # 1 center in the nation coming out of high school.

According to reports; Smith was said to be struggling with a decision to leave or stay at UCLA on Tuesday the day before the upcoming UCLA game against Northridge. Reports go on to state that on Wednesday Smith met with Coach Howland where he informed Coach Howland of his decision to leave UCLA. Smith was granted his release immediately. 

During his time at UCLA Smith had problems with losing weight that apparently prevented the center from obtaining the type of conditioning he needed to consistently maintain and display the potential everyone saw in him. Smith showed glimpses of unstoppable dominance coupled with great hands and quick feet for a man his size. Does any blame need to be spread beyond Smith for the lack of resolution to his weight and possible work ethic problems? The debate will rage on until all the facts come to light.

 Many NBA and college experts believe that Joshua Smith has the size and ability to be the most dominant center in college basketball with a future in the NBA. If Smith can see that problems are temporary and can be overcome he will be able to become the center scouts envisioned him becoming. Whatever Smith’s transformation and outcome is, it will not be determined at UCLA.  

On Saturday, December 1st, 2012, the UCLA Bruins faced their first ranked team this season, San Diego State. The Aztecs were ranked 23rd in the nation. Besides this opportunity for UCLA to talk the talk and walk the walk while representing the four letters against a top 25 ranked team, it was also a game played under the name John R. Wooden Classic. 

Though it should have been a UCLA home game crowd and atmosphere, San Diego State’s program and fans deemed the game more important than UCLA’s fans. The Aztecs fans provided a backdrop for its team it by coloring Anaheim’s Honda Center with red, dominating the crowd of 17,204 in attendance. 

 In the first half of the game, the Aztecs were stymied unable to figure out the UCLA 2-3 zone. San Diego State shot an abysmal 1-9 beyond the arc, but were able to stay close to UCLA going into half time. The Bruins did not exploit the Aztecs poor shooting allowing them to hang around.

In the second half, Aztecs coach Steve Fishers figured out the UCLA zone. The 3-point shots began raining down, the packed house, San Diego State not UCLA started blitzing and UCLA had to keep reminding themselves, this is a home game, but it was not in the atmosphere. San Diego State held off any UCLA runs led by Shabazz and Jordan Adams, defeating the UCLA Bruin 78-69.                          

The statistics from this game are an after thought. The more important issue is the state of mind of the UCLA basketball team.

There were early signs of disconnect; when UCLA did not respond to the opportunity at the Legends Classic Tournament, to compete against the # 1 team in the nation, Indiana, by beating an unranked Georgetown at the time, it was a little disconcerting.

 The team was made whole because Shabazz was just coming in to play after his clearance from the NCAA and was not in his best shape. Tyler Lamb was still in a recover mode. It is a young team, but this is UCLA. When you put on the school’s jersey you are talking the talk. What are you saying when you wear those four letters? 

 Many young people do not care or want to understand the value nor honor of history in general or history that is directly related to them. Unfortunately, this is a trend among young people who believe there is nothing to gain from history and its great contributors. and society is letting them off the hook. The only problem with not knowing ones history in any area of ones life can and will eventually lead to unnecessary mistakes being repeated and dreams unfulfilled. One must be cognizant of their position in time which will become history.

When you put on a UCLA basketball jersey to play men’s Division I college basketball there is a legacy that follows you. It meets you in the front where the letters stand and it follows your back so that there is no way to escape it. It is your history once you make the DECISION. I will be attending UCLA as my school of choice; you are officially and unofficially talking the talk.

What are or what should the Bruins be saying, thinking and knowing? The Bruins should be saying, doing and recognizing, every time they face an opponent; we are UCLA and we are coming to give our best effort, we are fundamentally sound and we execute those fundamentals defensively and offensively, we are the top conditioned team and we are ready to recognize, match and supersede every opponents desire to win.

The UCLA men’s basketball legacy runs deep into the history of UCLA and the NCAA, which will be celebrating its 75th Anniversary during this season. There is no need to go to the past foundational greatness UCLA has displayed on the college hardwoods at times dominating the college game. In recent history, UCLA’s current coach Ben Howland has added to the UCLA basketball brand by taking three UCLA teams to the Final Four in consecutive years 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Coach Howland knows and players should have a clear understanding of the spotlight that he has added to the luster that the UCLA basketball brand brings each time it is under the game lights. The relational component of team basketball is now being played out at UCLA unfastened from the infrastructure and legacy of the history of UCLA basketball.

Either the players are not grasping the concepts or the coach is not conveying the significance of the time and the season. One thing is for sure if you do not gather all the resources that your past has available you will not benefit from having it as connection. A disconnect can have slow but catastrophic consequences.       

 After the exhibition game /practice victory against Cal State San Marcos, the Bruins need to reflect, regroup, reignite and begin playing with the fervor that is representative of their heritage, revealing a new understanding which will develop when you know the time and season of the four letters you represent.

 It is time for the UCLA men’s basketball program to set the record straight and the Bruins next opponent Texas should take the first hit. UCLA must make a quick right turn and begin to walk the walk in practice and let your playing talk the talk.