Seth Davis will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his Hoop Thoughts column.
As for his teaching ability, all the evidence you need is the progress that 7-foot senior center Ryan Hollins made during the second half of last season, enabling UCLA to reach the NCAA championship game. Hollins averaged 5.5 points and 3.9 rebounds during his first three years in Westwood, but he was named MOP of the Oakland Regional.
My visit to practice gave me some added insight into Howland's attention to detail. For example, I learned he has his managers chart stats during the four-on-four and five-on-five workouts the players go through every practice. "There's accountability every day," Howland said. After practice, he held a sheet listing the accumulated numbers for all his players through the first 10 practices. The spreadsheet included unconventional categories such as deflections and post entry passes. Howland was especially pleased to see three of his sophomore guards -- 6-foot-1 Darren Collison, 6-5 Michael Roll and 6-5 Josh Shipp -- had made better than 50 percent from three-point range. "I can live with that," he quipped.
Howland also turns most of his practice drills into some sort of competition. Before the torturous free-throw drill, he had his starters scrimmage against the reserves, with the score and time kept on the scoreboards. Surprisingly, the second team (wearing gold) blitzed the starters (the blue team) in the first game, but the starters came back and took a commanding 34-10 lead in game two. "So what was that first game, gold, an aberration?" Howland asked. There were still nine minutes remaining, but Howland wiped the scores clean and said, "OK, it's two-all. Here's the rubber match." The blue team won the third game as well.
"I've always believed you have your best teams when everybody has to compete every day in every practice to get their minutes," Howland told me. "They know if they're not productive, someone else is going to take their spot."
Mostly, Monday's practice involved a lot of running, and you can expect to see plenty more of that from UCLA this season. Even after losing point guard Jordan Farmar to the NBA, UCLA has as much quality perimeter depth as any team in America. Their ranks are buttressed by the return of Shipp, who missed all but the first four games of last season because of a hip injury which required surgery. Shipp averaged 9.3 points and 5.2 rebounds as a freshman and might have been UCLA's best player last year if he hadn't gotten hurt. The other primary scorer will be 6-5 junior Arron Afflalo, who averaged 15.8 ppg last year and tested the NBA Draft waters before returning to school. Collison will replace Farmar at the point, but the UCLA coaching staff has been pleasantly surprised by how good 6-3 freshman Russell Westbrook has looked in practice. The backup point guard spot was a question mark coming into the season, but it isn't anymore.