Tournament Tales: Ryan Hollins

Despite the Christmas-like conditions outside, spring is almost officially here – along with the college hoops mayhem of March. The MAC Tournament is getting down to the nitty-grit down at The Q, with a berth in the big dance at stake.

Several Cavaliers have gone through the brackets during their college days, and every year around now, likes to highlight those days in a feature called Tournament Tales.

Cavs center Ryan Hollins played for one of the most storied schools in the history of college hoops – UCLA. And in his senior year, Hollins got to within one game of joining the many Bruin teams that have won the whole enchilada.

In 2005-06, Ben Howland’s Bruins entered the field of 64, having won the PAC-10 tournament and boasting five players – Hollins, Darren Collison, Aaron Aflalo, Jordan Farmar and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – that would eventually play NBA ball.

In the first two rounds in San Diego, UCLA crushed Belmont before sneaking past Alabama. In the next round, they faced a tough Gonzaga team that ran out to a 17-point second-half lead – including a nine-point edge with three minutes to play. But the Bruins staged a dramatic comeback that led to the 73-71 win and left Adam Morrison sprawled on the floor in tears.

In the Elite 8, UCLA topped John Calipari’s Memphis team, 50-45. They moved on to drop Big Baby, Brandon Bass and LSU in the Final Four. Their opponent was Florida, who ended George Mason’s cinderella run to advance to the Championship.

That Monday night in the RCA Dome, Hollins’ Bruins run came to an end, with Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer leading Florida to the first of two straight national titles.

The Cavaliers big man talks about his memories from that great senior season run in today’s Tournament Tale …

Previous Tournament Tales: Daniel Gibson | Chris Jent

With the school’s historic success, what’s the pressure like on UCLA, come Tournament time?

Ryan Hollins: It’s a lot of pressure. I saw both sides. I saw the winning side and the losing side of it. It’s kind of that ‘fish tank’ theory where everyone who’s surrounds you is watching, and every move you make, people are critical of.

So, definitely going there and knowing that tradition there, things could easily snowball – the right or the wrong way.

You’re one of five guys at the NBA level. Do you keep in touch with your Bruin teammates?

Hollins: Every time we play, we talk. Or when we see each other somewhere, we catch up. In the summer time, guys come back to the gym or we see each other at an event, we talk about the old days. Talk about how the guys are doing now, how our families are doing.

What makes Ben Howland a great coach?

Hollins: The thing that makes Ben good is consistency. If you give Ben a chance to gameplan for a team and the guys follow that gameplan, you’re going to be successful.

He’s probably one of the most thorough coaches in basketball and he’s taught me a lot about the small details of the game.

Ask anybody: Ben is tough at all times. He doesn’t take time off. And that’s a great thing.

What are those three weeks like?

Hollins: I think as a team, you kind of have to hit that zone. We were concentrating on doing everything we had to do to win games. We had complete focus. And I think we gave up “ourselves” for the better of the team. And each and every player did that.

And when we finally did, that’s when the team became successful. We really developed a respect for the game.

Is it tough to tune out all the hype and distractions?

Hollins: During those times, I think everyone cut out the nonsense – (not that we were into anything bad). We just kept to ourselves, kept to our families. Kept everything at a minimum. Because the further along you go, everyone wants to hit you up and give their opinion.

Did nerves hit you at any point?

Hollins: I wasn’t nervous. It was my senior year and I had nothing to lose. So I had the mentality that if I gave everything I had, followed the gameplan and had total focus that I was going to leave there with no regrets.

Do you have one memory from the Tournament that stands out?

Hollins: I think that Gonzaga game was the testimony of our season.

I think we were down 15 or 17 in the second half. And that team wasn’t giving up anything. We just kept fighting. Kept dwindling down the lead. We kept believing. There was no set way we were going to get back in the game, what was specifically going to happen. But we kept digging. We kept fighting. And we took the lead in the final minute of the game and wound up winning.

I just remember the look on everybody’s face. And that’s probably what I remember the most. That look that said we were going to keep digging, keep fighting.