UCLA need not worry about Quinn Cook’s decision.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
College basketball fans, especially those of traditional powerhouse schools, are notoriously impatient. Despite three consecutive trips to the Final Four under Ben Howland, UCLA basketball fans’ anxiety, which peaked at the end of the Bruins’ disastrous 14-18 ‘09-10 campaign and had plateaued in anticipation of the upcoming season, has spiked after the recent commitment of one of the nation’s top remaining prospects.
Oak Hill point guard and top-20 recruit Quinn Cook committed to Duke earlier this week (despite the Blue Devils’ already loaded backcourt) and rejected the advances of UCLA and Howland, who apparently promised Cook the starting point guard position in Westwood.
Howland has a history of molding UCLA point guards into successful pros (Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holliday), which is probably one of the reasons Cook was so strongly considering the Bruins offer. That, a close bond with UCLA junior Malcolm Lee, and Howland’s secret chicken recipe obviously wasn’t enough to keep Cook from joining Kyrie Irving (if he stays in school for more than one season) and Austin Rivers in Coach K’s potentially dynamic backcourt.
Aside from the immediate concern of how Howland is going to find a competent point guard for next season (UCLA has to hope Jerime Anderson finally develops and Chicaco JuCo transfer Lazeric Jones surprises), the latest high-profile recruit to spurn UCLA for other elite programs has fans wondering whether Howland has lost the recruiting touch that sparked his dramatic turnaround of the UCLA program.
The flair Howland seemed to have for striking gold with under-the-radar players (Collison, Westbrook, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alfred Aboya) seems to have vanished in recent years. In fact, the more noteworthy a signing is, the more disappointing that player ends up becoming (Drew Gordon is now at New Mexico after his run-ins with Howland, Jerime Anderson is still trying to find the form that made him a five-star recruit, and J’Mison Morgan is just getting his act together now that he is at Baylor).
Despite these lowlights on the court and on the recruiting trail, UCLA fans shouldn’t let Cook’s decision worry them, especially when we are days away from a season in which UCLA could contend in the Pac-10. In any other power conference, UCLA is a year or two away, but in the ‘10-11 Pac-10, where the second-place team is one injury or confidence-crippling loss away from ending up as the last place team, the opportunity for advancement is there.
Two of Howland’s recent recruits who already have panned out — Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt — and two of this season’s highly touted — Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb — are both reasons for optimism and proof Howland can still recruit with the best of them.
Cook’s decision might sting now for Bruin fans, but UCLA was as close to signing Cook without actually getting the commitment as you can get. A moral victory in recruiting at a school like UCLA is about as useless as a VCR, but Howland did not lose Cook for lack of effort or skill. The deciding factor might have been Cook’s unique connection with Duke point guard Nolan Smith (who, for the record, won’t be around when Cook arrives).
So thanks to Nolan Smith, UCLA’s search for a point guard continues. The Bruins will be back to normal though (and relatively soon) because 1) Los Angeles is the nation’s hub of young basketball talent, 2) Anyone over the age of 5 could sell UCLA’s tradition of winning to a recruit, and 3) UCLA players (especially recently) turn out well in the NBA, which, in the end, is what top prospects want to hear. Plus, we know Ben Howland has dug the Bruins out of a much deeper hole than this one.
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and current forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.