Back to School
Published Sep 19, 2011 12:00 PM
The level of basketball talent playing at UCLA under Head Coach Ben Howland is as high as it gets in the college ranks, so high, in fact, that nine of the players from the past five years have left school with eligibility remaining, opting out of college to take their talents to the National Basketball Association.
But this off-season, as the NBA's owners have "locked out" the players in their stalled collective bargaining negotiations, a number of former Bruin stars, including several who were instrumental in taking UCLA to three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-2008, have seized the chance to return to school.
Trevor Ariza, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are the Howland players back in class. Baron Davis (who played for Steve Lavin) and Ed O'Bannon (hero of the '95 Jim Harrick–led championship team) also took classes this summer. (Arron Afflalo, the Denver Nuggets player rep, reportedly wanted to return, but his union responsibilities took precedence.) This is the second summer Westbrook has taken classes and would be the third if he (and Love) had not played for the U.S. national team last summer.
"It's great to be back on campus, but it feels a little weird to be back in class," says Cameroon native Mbah a Moute, who spent three years at UCLA as an international development major before becoming a Milwaukee Buck. Always a top student, he admits it was a challenge to get back into the routine. "It was tough at first, getting used to taking notes, going to office hours, working with my classmates. But once I caught up, I got back into my old habits."
The pros' return this summer began when Ariza and Davis separately contacted Kenny Donaldson, UCLA's assistant director of academic services. Donaldson, who works with men's basketball, found that the two had left in good academic standing, and he set about registering them for summer school. He then reached out to some of the others.
Donaldson is impressed with everyone's dedication. "They are all paying for classes out of their own pocket; they are no longer on scholarship," he says. "A lot of them would like to take fall classes, but it will depend on the lockout and whether or not they get an opportunity to play overseas."
"For all of us, playing in the NBA is something you dream about, and when the opportunity presents itself you have to take advantage. A lot of us have families to take care of," says Mbah a Moute about why so many players have left Howland's program early. "But UCLA is the best school in the country; we all feel that way. I'm really excited to be back in school and really want to knock out my remaining [four] classes and graduate."