Remember Ben Howland? He’s the guy who led UCLA to three consecutive Final Fours from 2006 to 2008.
Well, Howland will return to the sidelines after a two-year absence from coaching, this after agreeing to become Mississippi State’s next head coach.
“I have missed the game and (am) really excited to be back in it now as a coach,” Howland said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “This year, I did a lot of media work, so I was around it and enjoyed that aspect – really appreciated what you guys do in the media, especially the TV stuff (with) how much goes into putting on a telecast, putting on a studio broadcast. It’s incredible. I’m really, though, excited to be back here. It’s great to be in Starkville. The people are so great down there, so nice, so supportive, so friendly, so authentic. I know recruits are going to really relate to Mississippi State when they come here because it’s going to be like home.”
Howland, 57, will have to turn around a Mississippi State squad that went 13-19 (6-12) this past season, but if anyone is up to the task, it’s him. Howland has been Big Sky Coach of the Year, Big East Coach of the Year, Pac-12 Coach of the Year, Naismith College Coach of the Year and has sent 18 players to the NBA, including Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook.
“Recruiting’s the key,” he said. “You got to have great players to be a good team. When you look at the teams now, (John) Calipari’s got the best players in the country, which is why I think they’ll finish their run at undefeated, which will be the most incredible feat in the history of the game. To go 40-0? John Wooden went 30-0 four times, but 40-0? In this day and age? That’s unbelievable, so it’s really impressive to see.”
No. 1 Kentucky (37-0) has won 12 of its last 13 games by double digits, including a 79-38 whitewashing of West Virginia on Thursday.
“He has the best players,” Howland said, “and i’ll tell you what, he does a great job coaching them. You’ve got to be able to coach them up. But you can’t win big without great talent. It’s proven time and time again. I think Coach K is a great example. The guy gets the best players year in and year out over the last three decades, which is why he’s had the most success of anybody over that time period.”
In his original bracket, Howland predicted that Kentucky would beat Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Virginia to achieve perfection. With Virginia knocked out, Howland is now predicting Kentucky will take down Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Duke.
“Those will be three very good teams they have to close out their run to win it all,” Howland said. “If they beat those three teams, they definitely deserve to be the champions.”
Interestingly enough, two of Howland’s former teams squared off in the Sweet 16 Friday, as Gonzaga beat UCLA, 74-62. Howland began his coaching career as an assistant at Gonzaga in 1981 and coached at UCLA from 2003 to 2013.
“Great programs,” he said. “I’m glad to have been part of both of them.”