FACES IN A CROWD: On a rare night, Clippers stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will show up at Pauley Pavilionand watch the Bruins play, but such sightings are far and few in between. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO
The college basketball season is in full swing and both UCLA and USC introduced new head coaches at the beginning of the season, particularly to fuel its dormant fan base.
UCLA’s storied program recently renovated Pauley Pavilion with hopes that fans would come back and root for the home team.
Ben Howland was fired because his teams played a grinding half court game, with emphasis on defense, and full coach control. Although he led UCLA to three Final Fours and one NCAA title tilt, it wasn’t enough to save his job.
Athletic Director Dan Guerrero was feeling the heat from alumni for an arena that hoist 11 NCAA championship banners was days half full on its best days. It’s Howland’s fault? Yeah, Right!
DG figured he’d dip back into the pool of coaches from the state of Indiana for a solution. After all that’s where they got the legendary John Wooden.
So, former Indiana star Steve Alford was hired after a lot of sizzle and pop at New Mexico, where the Lobos annually won 20 games and qualified for the NCAA tournament.
More importantly, the Lobos played a fast and entertaining brand of basketball.
However, there was another undercutting reasoning as to why the Pauley Pavilion was not drawing spectators.
Situated in Westwood, to the west of Beverly Hills and with a dominant student body of whites, perhaps there are too many Black players?
UCLA has rarely, if ever recruited an inner city player from the Los Angeles region.
Years ago when the program botched the recruitment of Tommy Prince, they subsequently had no chance of landing his heralded brother Tayshun Prince who went to Kentucky to play for Black coach Tubby Smith.
Decades before that, UCLA could not even convince Crenshaw star John Williams to take a visit, although the late Walt Hazard had just been hired as coach.
UCLA will not win an NCAA title this year and the attendance is really not much better than it was before Howland, but quietly the Bruins are increasing the number of white players on its team.
Currently, 7 of the Bruins 15 players are non-Black, in a sport that is dominated by Blacks.
Across town at USC, the Trojans brought in a new head coach Andy Enfield to replace a tyrant Kevin O’Neill.
The Trojans are trying to figure out a way to attract more fans to its sparkling Galen Center.
Enfield led the high flying and exciting Florida Gulf Coast to a thrilling run in the NCAA tournament and Athletic Director Pat Haden figured he was the perfect antidote to the deceased Trojan basketball program.
Enfield and the Trojans are going nowhere in a hurry and the arena is still just as empty as it was before he arrived.
USC is playing fast and furious, but it lacks the essential talent to compete.
Like UCLA, the Trojans suit up 8 of its roster with whites or non Black players.
This notion that teams, whether on the professional level or collegiate level should have more white players because the fans are predominantly white has been floated around for years now.
Marketing and advertising experts have obviously weighed in, especially since the bills have to be paid.
Therefore at UCLA, they are learning that winning is not enough and at USC they too are trending with making sure they don’t roll out a team of all Black players, especially if they are losing.
Bottom line here, is that while both of these two fine institutions want their basketball teams to be more reflective of their student bodies, which are overwhelmingly white in a city such as Los Angeles where our attention spans last about 38 seconds through a 60 second commercial, there just isn’t really an answer to it.
Not, in an age where the game can be watched in the comfort of your home and you can do 10 things at once. Not in an age where highlights will be known before the game is over.
Not when each of these teams play probably one or two significant games each season.
Perhaps, people just don’t care as much as you’d like them to, and filling out your rosters with white players is not going to change that!