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Maybe it’s just one of those competitive things. That’s all. Just two circling cats, sizing each other up. Two spirited, proud, veteran coaches not about to give an inch, or perhaps a word. UCLA’s Ben Howland and USC’s Tim Floyd will coach against each other for the first time tonight. They are very !ital!respectful!off!. Very careful, too, particularly Floyd. They give each other credit, but it feels almost cautious praise. Feels very proper, almost calculated. Through coaching circles they’ve known each other for more than 20 years, but have no apparent history or particular relationship. Floyd takes almost great pains not to be effusive in his observations of UCLA. This began the day he was hired last year and was asked about competing in the same city as UCLA, and he immediately started going on about Arizona and how it was the conference standard-bearer. Which, even though he has repeated those observations since, apparently has completely escaped his memory. “I wasn’t asked about the rivalry,” Floyd said Tuesday. Ah, yes, actually you were asked about UCLA. “I wasn’t asked about UCLA.” No, really, you were. “No, I wasn’t.” You were asked about elevating your program to a true national level in the same city as the Bruins and immediately bypassed UCLA to go on about Arizona. “That’s not what happened.” You called Arizona the standard-bearer. “I didn’t say that. What I said was, there’s room for two high, national-level programs in this city.” OK, so you know where this is headed. Columnists always getting the last word and all. At his introductory news conference Jan. 14 last year, Floyd was indeed asked about competing against UCLA and said: “I’m not going to use UCLA as the barometer. I’m using the University of Arizona as a barometer because they are the team, in my opinion, that is at the level we are trying to reach. “I’m looking forward to recruiting the same players these people are recruiting and will try to our best in these head-to-head matchups.” Now you could look at this as being dismissive of the Bruins, but it’s actually the smart approach. Floyd has aims on making USC a true national power. The Galen Center is scheduled to be completed next season, giving the Trojans one of few new college arenas in the country. He understandably believes he’s onto something. So how wise would it be to sing the praises of UCLA? To put the Bruins and Howland’s program on some kind of pedestal in the same city where he will battle over top recruits? Sounds like wise strategy. “There hasn’t been any strategy anywhere,” Floyd said. Maybe, but Floyd can’t praise UCLA without adding a qualifier, usually in the form of another Pac-10 school. So, sure, tonight is a big game, but then … “They’re all important,” Floyd said. “Every one of them is important. Don’t try to get us to say it’s not important. I just don’t know how you can put any more importance on it than Washington State or Washington.” See, this UCLA rivalry thing is conveniently lost on Floyd. “I have great respect for what they’re doing,” he said. “I have great respect for Washington, I have great respect for Cal, for Arizona. I have great respect for everybody.” Howland also is careful, but he has a two-year head start at UCLA, his No. 18-ranked Bruins are currently in first in the conference and he speaks from higher ground. “I think their program is definitely on the rise, is going to improve and keep getting better and better,” Howland said. “That’s what we expect our program to do as well. “We want them to be good. It’s good for both ‘SC and UCLA to be good. When we go on the road (in conference), I want them to have to deal with both of us.” Yet when asked Tuesday how well he knew Floyd, Howland said: “I’ve known Tim since I was an assistant at UC Santa Barbara and he was an assistant at the University of Texas-El Paso. “Actually Jerry Pimm, my old boss (at Santa Barbara) used to be the coach at Utah and compete against (UTEP’s) Don Haskins. I’ve known him a lot of years.” Nice history lesson, but no insight to any relationship. Maybe they once fought over the same cheerleader, and maybe they really only know each other professionally. Both took other schools to the NCAA’s Sweet 16 – Floyd at Iowa State and Howland at Pittsburgh – and are trying to duplicate that success here. They are similar in age; Floyd is 51, Howland 48. Both are trying to start something special, and both partially in the other’s way. “We’re friendly from the standpoint from being in this business all these years,” Howland said. “I have respect for him and think he’s a very fine coach.” “I give them great respect,” Floyd said, “just like everybody else.” With all due respect, tonight they start some actual history. Steve Dilbeck’s column appears in the Daily News four times a week. He can be reached at [email protected] AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
7 7 3. N’Golo Kante (signed for Chelsea for £30m) – After such an outstanding campaign at the King Power Stadium, Kante was always set to be a wanted man in the summer transfer window. Among the clubs keen on his signature included Arsenal. At the end of June Arsene Wenger refused to rule out a move for his compatriot, stating his admiration for the midfielder, but it was ultimately Chelsea who sealed a deal. 5. Julian Draxler (set to stay at Wolfsburg) – Draxler has often been linked with a move to north London, with Arsene Wenger reportedly an admirer. Last season the Arsenal manager allegedly tried to sign the forward and this summer he was poised to offer £55m for his signature. Wolfsburg have said the Germany international will not be sold but if Draxler really wanted the move, he would be pushing for it. 7 1. Jamie Vardy (signed new deal with Leicester City) – click the arrow above, right, to see the full list of players who have rejected Arsenal transfers this summer – Reports at the beginning of June claimed Arsenal had activated the release-clause of Vardy understood to be between £20m and £22m. Despite the likelihood of a pay rise and the glorious Emirates turf, the England international wasnt to be swayed. A few weeks later and the 29-year-old agreed a four-year contract extension with the Premier League champions. 2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (signed for Manchester United on a free transfer) – With Ibrahimovics contract at Paris Saint-Germain expiring, he was never going to be short of offers. While he may have chosen a move to Manchester, it was reported that the striker preferred the glamour of London. There were suggestions Arsene Wenger could view Ibrahimovic as a short-term option to help the club to a long awaited Premier League. It wasnt to be, however. 7. Gonzalo Higuain (signed for Juventus) – Its difficult to remember a time when Higuain wasnt linked with a move to Arsenal. Earlier this month reports intensified over the Gunners interest in luring the Argentina international to the Emirates, but their attempts if any offer really was made have been fruitless. The 28-year-old has joined Juventus in a £79m deal with the Serie A outfit meeting his release-clause. 7 6. Ben Chilwell (set to stay at Leicester City) – Chilwell, one of the most exciting young players in the Premier League, saw his name linked with a Leicester City exit for much of the last campaign. Arsenal were said to be interested in January and again in the summer. Liverpool too were reportedly planning a move, but it seems the left back will continue his development at the King Power Stadium. It could be another frustrating summer of activity for Arsenal.Arsene Wenger may have secured an exciting midfielder in Granit Xhaka, but his arrival alone won’t satisfy the Emirates faithful.The club’s supporters, in particular, want a world class centre forward to compete with – or replace – Olivier Giroud.But their pursuit of a new striker hasn’t quite gone to plan.With this in mind, talkSPORT has taken a look at seven top players who have reportedly rejected a move to the Emirates, including a number of reputable forwards – check them out by viewing the slideshow above. 7 7 4. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (signed for Manchester United for £26.3m) – Before Mkhitaryan sealed his move to Old Trafford, Arsenal were said to be monitoring the attacking midfielder. With Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, Arsene Wenger may not be too disheartened by missing out on the former Borussia Dortmund man. But this deal will only have boosted rival Jose Mourinhos already ample ego. 7