By Chris Foster Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Ben Howland denied a report Saturday night that he had been told he was out as UCLA’s basketball coach.
Howland said he had not yet spoken to Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, who in the past has handled such personnel moves personally.
It is expected that Howland will be replaced, but Yahoo Sports reported that he had already been notified.
Howland has a 233-107 record in 10 seasons at UCLA. He took the Bruins to three Final Fours and won four conference championships.
Howland’s contract, which has two years remaining, includes a $2.3-million buyout.
UCLA officials will focus on Virginia Commonwealth Coach Shaka Smart and Butler Coach Brad Stevens, a person close to the athletic department said. UCLA also will consider an ex-NBA coach, the person said.
Virginia Commonwealth and Butler were eliminated from the NCAA tournament Saturday.
Changes were expected in the wake of the Bruins’ 83-63 loss to Minnesota in the NCAA tournament Friday. UCLA won the Pac-12 regular-season title and finished 25-10, but that was not considered enough for Howland to be retained.
Other changes are expected.
Freshman Shabazz Muhammad is expected to declare for the NBA draft. Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker are pondering decisions—Anderson about declaring for the NBA and Parker about transferring.
Travis Wear, the Bruins’ even-keeled junior forward, was almost resigned to the inevitable after the Minnesota loss.
“We had a good season,” Wear said. “I thought Coach Howland did a good job with us. You know, we won the Pac-12 championship. I like Coach Howland. He’s a great coach. I guess we’ll see what happens.”
He will see soon. Guerrero is expected to meet with Howland this week. Guerrero declined to comment about Howland after the Minnesota loss, saying only, “It was a tough night.”
For Muhammad in particular.
Friday started with the report that he was a year older than originally thought.
“I didn’t tell anyone I was 19,” Muhammad said. “I knew I was 20. I don’t know what the big deal is. I always tell people I’m 20.”
Someone forgot to notify the UCLA sports information department, which listed Muhammad’s age as 19 in the media guide and in his online profile … until Friday.
It probably will have little effect on Muhammad’s NBA future.
“I don’t care about my age,” Muhammad said “I’m one of the youngest players in college, so what does it matter?”
What may matter to NBA scouts was how Muhammad played in what could be his last game as a Bruin. He missed his first eight shots. He finished with 20 points, but missed all six of his three-point attempts.
He wasn’t the only UCLA player who failed to get traction. The postgame was a somber reflection of a poor performance.
“I was really disheartening to be down that much in the last couple minutes,” junior forward David Wear said.
Even more disheartening was looking at the immediate future, with Howland’s status unclear.
“Honestly, I thought we had a great season,” David Wear said.
Others seemed more resigned to what could come.
“It’s not for me to say,” Anderson said when asked about whether Howland deserved to be fired. “Coach Howland has done a very good job with us.”
Anderson has his own issue to consider, whether to make the jump to the NBA. His play this season (averaging 9.7 points, 8.6 rebounds) would seem to indicate he needs another season. He made only two of 11 shots against Minnesota.
Anderson said, “I’ll take my time, talk with my family.”
Parker will as well, though his decision is about transferring after struggling all season. The 6-foot-9 freshman was considered a coup for UCLA when he committed, but injuries and slow development kept him on the bench.
Parker said after Friday’s game that he is considering leaving UCLA.
“A little bit,” Parker said. “I think I really underachieved this year. I’ll go home during spring break and talk to my parents.”
If Muhammad, Anderson and Parker leave, the only remaining member of the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class would be Jordan Adams, who suffered a broken right foot in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals.
There could be holes to fill. The Bruins currently have three verbal commitments—Zach LaVine, a guard from Bothell (Wash.) High, Allerik Freeman, a guard from Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep, and Noah Allen, a guard from Salinas Palma High.
LaVine is still committed to UCLA, according to Marvin Carter, his godfather. But Carter said LaVine’s family is “monitoring the situation.”