It wasn’t a nationally televised game and there weren’t thousands of fans in the stands.
But watching Ben Howland at work last week in the Palisades High gym, noticing his intensity, it was easy to see that the UCLA basketball coach thrives as he teaches the game, whether it’s to high-profile Bruin recruits or boys and girls ages six to 14.
The occasion was the Ben Howland Basketball Camp, with more than 100 participants.
“I enjoy teaching basketball fundamentals,” he said. “I said on the first day the priority is to have fun, but also to learn.”
The fundamentals – dribbling, passing, working with teammates – were emphasized in the weeklong camp, which ended on Friday, June 29.
Howland, who guided UCLA into the Final Four each of the last two seasons, is expected to have another powerhouse team in the coming season.
But before that happens it’s summertime, and an opportunity to teach the sport to kids who want to learn.
Most big-time college and pro coaches started out in much lower profile situations, where the emphasis was on teaching rather than recruiting or dealing with alumni and the media.
Many, including Howland, welcome the chance to go back to their roots. The camp can be a great experience for campers but is also highly satisfying for the guy in charge.
And the Palisades High gym is especially special to Howland.
“When I found out that John Wooden used to conduct basketball camps here, it made me proud to have one too,” said Howland, who has enjoyed the most success of any UCLA basketball coach since the legendary Wooden retired more than 30 years ago.
I met Howland many years ago when he was an assistant coach at UC Santa Barbara. The job brought him to some Santa Monica High games in search of talent and we struck up a friendship.
There was an annual summer basketball camp at UC Santa Barbara for high school players. A couple of other sportswriters and I thought it would be a worthwhile venture to make the drive.
We knew college assistant coaches had to be thorough in learning about the prospective players, but we didn’t realize just how thorough Howland was.
One day, as we arrived at the UC Santa Barbara gym, Howland approached us with a scouting report.
“Go down that street a mile, turn left, go two blocks and you’ll come to a place with the best ice cream in Santa Barbara,” he told us.
We did and realized he had done his homework.
Howland became a head coach at Northern Arizona and then had national top five teams at Pittsburgh, but when UCLA called there was no doubt he was going to accept.
He’s from Southern California and UCLA was his dream job.
It’s fortunate for UCLA that he felt that way. And it’s fortunate for the kids who attended his basketball camp that he still enjoys coaching on that level.