It has been a quiet fall for the UCLA basketball team.
Less attention. Less NCAA scrutiny. Fewer expectations.
A year ago, UCLA brought in what was thought to be the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. With it came NCAA investigators and a spotlight's glare.
UCLA had an attorney attend its basketball media day, monitoring what was being asked and said. The four freshmen — Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker — were kept at a safe distance from reporters.
The NCAA was still investigating eligibility concerns about Muhammad and Anderson. Ben Howland, then the head coach, had basically been told to win or go home. (He won a Pac-12 Conference regular-season title and was still sent packing.)
It was the opening act to a tumultuous season.
The indifference to this year's media day last month was a welcome relief to those not involved with ticket sales.
"I'm liking the low-key feel to it," senior forward Travis Wear said. "It is a lot less hectic."
UCLA opens its season Friday against Drexel in Steve Alford's debut as coach of the Bruins. It's the follow-up to a season on the brink.
UCLA couldn't get past Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Howland was fired, and Muhammad became the first-round pick of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves.
Adams, Anderson and Parker returned to Westwood and seem happy that freshman season is behind them.
"We had the No. 1 recruiting class coming in, so everyone was hyped about that," Adams said. "That's what everything was about. UCLA had guys at media day making sure that no one asked the wrong question and that everything went smoothly."
This season things actually went smoothly, though fewer reporters came around to take a look.
"We don't have all the attention, we can just focus on basketball," Adams said. "That's the way we want it to go this year."
There is chance that could happen.
Muhammad is a distraction elsewhere. He was sent home from the NBA's rookie transition program this summer for a rules violation. His father, Ron Holmes, has been indicted on federal fraud charges.
The Bruins know that chaos well. They seemed saturated in Muhammad upheavals last season.
He wasn't cleared by the NCAA until the fourth game. His Gucci backpack raised eyebrows and speculation. His reaction to Larry Drew II's game-winning shot against Washington was criticized. Muhammad was asking for the ball when Drew pulled up to shoot and he was the only player who didn't join in the celebratory dog pile.
"As player, you don't get caught up in that," Wear said. "Yeah, you read some stuff. That didn't really affect what was going on on the court."
Off the court was a different matter. "When you're having to deal with the questions about it, that was distracting," Wear said.
It wasn't just Muhammad.
Parker considered transferring because of limited playing time. Adams suffered a broken foot during a Pac-12 tournament semifinal, severely crippling the Bruins' chances of NCAA tournament success. Howland's status seemed to change daily.
After beating Washington at Pauley Pavilion in February, Howland received a pat on the back from Senior Associate Athletic Director Mark Harlan. A month later, after the Bruins beat Washington in Seattle to clinch the conference regular-season title, Athletic Director Dan Guerrero was noticeably absent from the celebration after having sat behind the UCLA bench.
"It wore on us a bit," Anderson said. "There was a lot of pressure."
Now a new, far less heralded freshman class has come in: guards Bryce Alford, Noah Allen and Zach LaVine. The Bruins have 12 players on scholarship after finishing last season with eight.
"We can just focus on basketball," Anderson said. "We are ready for some basketball. That's the way we want to go this year."
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