February 10, 2004

Motivation By Tradition

Feb. 10, 2004

The anticipation of us competing against UCLA and Kansas has been talked about for several months. You may wonder, why for such a long time? When you look back into the Sports Almanacs to find the schools with the greatest college basketball tradition, you will see that UCLA and Kansas are two of the elite. For UCSB, which is known as a mid-major basketball program, it is a huge challenge for us to compete with these two schools, and it will be an even bigger thrill to knock them off.

Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of the game of basketball, was a Kansas guy. The KU basketball offices are even located on Naismith Drive in Lawrence, Kansas. As for UCLA, the thought of playing against the ghosts of John Wooden and his 10 National Championship banners alongside Jim Harrick's National Championship banner in Pauley Pavillion is enough to get any competitors heart beating faster. The excitement is so thick you can see it. The thoughts of knocking these schools off are real.

Both of these elite programs are starting over with completely new basketball staffs and totally different philosophies, coaching styles, and basketball systems. The UCLA basketball program hit an all-time low last year with a record of 10-19. However, the Kansas basketball program is coming off of competing in last season's championship game. Competing against these teams gives you great hope knowing that it could take those players longer to completely buy into the system, philosophies and style of play.

As a coach, you tend to think of different ways of motivating your players. Being a Southern California guy myself, I grew up on Bruins basketball, and us having so many California born players on our team, it was pretty obvious that the excitement was going to be natural. Many times you can read the players' faces and get a feel for where their heads are. Not once did we see fear or intimidation. There was no need to show the players the scene from the movie Hoosiers, reaffirming that the hoops at both ends were 10-feet off the ground and 15-feet away from the baseline. Just the thought of competing against guys with the letters UCLA on their chest is motivation enough.

There is no doubt that the confidence of knowing that you can compete against any team in the country is a great part of the mental battle. Many people tried to conjure up some extra motivation with the fact that Ben Howland, UCLA's new head coach was a long time assistant here in Goleta and was "passed" over for the UCSB job when Coach Williams was hired. Some of the media would ask questions to try to create a personal dual between Bob and Ben. The great thing was neither one of them had any eligibility left, so they could not suit up for the game.

As the early parts of the game wore on, I got the feeling that our guys needed to play well early and make outside shots early. Due to their overall size, being bigger/taller than us at every position, it was important that we neutralized that disadvantage. We felt that our overall quickness would cause problems and our depth at the guard positions would wear them down. The emotions were very high as the game wore on, but the finish could not have been better for us. The fact that we held the lead most of the second half and to have the game come down to the final three possessions was incredible.

We had the opportunity to put the game away, then UCLA's highly touted freshmen forward, Trevor Ariza jumped into the passing lane and took the ball in for a high-flying slam dunk. I got the feeling that we would need something special to happen, because their crowd got involved again. Well, that something special did happen. Casey Cook made a couple of big time plays that capped the victory. As we missed the outside shot to give us the lead back, Casey reacted to the shot and tried to put the ball back up. He was fouled on the play by TJ Cummings, who had been talking quite a bit late in the game trying to get under Casey's skin.

Casey kept his composure as he went to the free throw line to sink both shots and put us ahead by one point. UCLA had two opportunities to make a basket and earn the win, but as their point guard Cedric Boseman, who is 6'6" inches tall, drove to the hoop, our players did a great job of not allowing him the angle to get a good shot up and in. As the shot bounced off, guess who was there. Of course, Casey Cook. He grabbed the rebound and from my vantage point, it looked like they grabbed his arm, yet no call was made and the ball went out of bounds to UCLA. They set up another out-of-bounds play to try to get a lay up or foul. Well, who stepped up to the plate again to make the big play? You guessed it, good ole #32. It looked as if they had a step on Casey to the basket, but as the ball was passed, his quick reactions allowed him to step in and grab the ball with 2.9 seconds left, right under their basket. As soon as he grabbed the ball, his instinct was to fling the ball back toward our basket and the clock ran out. Whew!

As a competitor, you naturally want to pump your fist, throw both hands in the air or find someone to high five. Well, we often talk to our players about not over celebrating any victory and act as if you have been in that situation before. We preach to our players about having class in victory or defeat. Well, in that game and the way it finished, it was natural for our guys to throw their hands up and high five each other. As a staff, we felt that it was an appropriate celebration.

After the game in the locker room, coach Williams allowed the seniors to say a couple of words about what it means to them to beat a UCLA team. The two players that spoke up were Branduinn Fullove and Jacoby Atako. Both players being from Southern California and knowing several of the Bruin players, it was very special for them and it showed in their emotions as they made brief comments.

Now, I would like to venture off of the game and briefly speak about the uneasy feeling that I got as I was driving back to Santa Barbara. I was listening to Sports Talk on 690 a.m. and hearing some of the crazy comments some of the people who say that they are UCLA fans had. The one that bothered me the most was the first caller that said that Ben Howland should not have been hired. He went on to say that there was no way a team like UCLA should have lost to a team like UCSB. Being a coach, I felt compelled to call in and defend Ben. I have always liked Coach Howland, ever since he was at NAU. I got to know him while we were out recruiting. I spent several occasions talking to him about hoops, recruiting and family. The one thing that I believe that we spent the most time on was family. I would quiz him on fatherhood, because I knew that he had a daughter and a son who were a couple of years younger. Well, I too have a daughter and a son who is a couple of years younger. I wanted to know what to expect as my little ones got older.

Unfortunately, my call did not go through. I have a problem with Sports Talk radio and message boards on the Internet. Those two outlets give any idiot a voice to say or write negative things about anyone. A perfect example is last year when some "so called" UCLA fan created a website named Fire Lavin.com. People, must realize that Ben had not recruited any of those players. He had to start from ground zero and re-teach them all of the things that he and his staff felt were important to become a winner. Give it time people! I am just glad that it did not happen on that night.

Marty Wilson Assistant Basketball Coach