UCLA basketball coach Ben Howland may be crisscrossing the country on recruiting trips in advance of the Bruins’ upcoming season, but it didn’t take much to convince him to stop by the Goleta Boys & Girls Club for the organization’s annual fundraiser: Howland is an alumnus of the club.

“Let me just say I’m so proud to be from Santa Barbara … this is always home for me,” said Howland, who is entering his seventh season as head coach of the storied men’s program at UCLA.

At age 8, Howland began going to the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County’s Goleta clubhouse, 5701 Hollister Ave. As he prepares for his 29th year as a collegiate basketball coach (16th as a head coach), he said the drive and values that were instilled in him on the club’s courts continue to have a tremendous impact on his coaching philosophy.

“The Boys & Girls Club really taught me the importance of representing your community and honoring history and tradition,” said Howland. “That’s what I’m trying to do these days at UCLA.”

History and tradition are certainly two things that UCLA basketball has in spades. Howland spoke at length Wednesday about his friendship with legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, whom he affectionately referred to simply as “Coach>” Wooden, who will be 99 on Oct. 14, won 10 national championships in 12 years in Westwood, including seven straight, a record that will surely never fall. He also compiled an unprecedented four undefeated seasons of 30-0.

As Howland succinctly put it, “John R. Wooden is the greatest coach in the history of sports.”

Howland hasn’t done a bad job himself during his tenure as UCLA’s most scrutinized sports figure. Over the past four seasons, his teams have made it to the Final Four three times. With the Bruins’ tradition of success looming large, he understands that nothing short of a national title will do.

“A championship is what is expected,” said Howland, “that is my only goal still.”

Howland will have his work cut out for him trying to bring a title back to the blue and gold, a feat last achieved in 1995. He lost four starters from last year’s squad, but seems confident in a strong recruiting class this season.

“I’ve learned that I’m a much better coach when I have really good players to coach,” Howland joked at one point.

The Bruins will have a chance to find out just how good they are when they face No. 1-ranked Kansas at Pauley Pavilion on Dec. 5.

Howland took some time after the Boys & Girls Club event to talk about his longtime friendship with Noozhawk sports columnist Paul Yarbrough. The two have known each other since childhood, and Howland recently was a reference for Yarbrough’s successful application to become head boys’ basketball coach at Oakridge (Ore.) High School.

“I’m just really happy and excited for Yarby,” Howland said. “It’s a great opportunity, and I know he’ll do an outstanding job.”

When asked about a rumor circulating around the Noozhawk digital water-cooler that Yarby had dunked on him in the eighth grade, Howland laughed and replied, “Clearly that’s not the case.”

This was the fourth year that the Goleta Boys & Girls Club has held a fundraising event, and the night was an unequivocal success. Attendance, which was down around 50 people last year, soared to more than 260 last week. Although the donations have not all been tallied, United Boys & Girls Clubs CEO Michael Rattray was confident that the collection would surpass the club’s goal of $30,000. That included a $10,000 donation from Santa Barbara Bank & Trust. In addition, it was announced just before the conclusion of the festivities that the grand total would be matched by Oracle, a pledge made by Oracle chairman Jeff Henley.

Founded in 1949, the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County has four clubhouses — Goleta; Westside, 602 W. Anapamu St.; Carpinteria, 4849 Foothill Road; and Lompoc, 1025 W. Ocean Ave. — and operates Camp Whittier overlooking Lake Cachuma in the Santa Ynez Valley. Through a variety of programs the Boys & Girls Clubs provide opportunities for sports; social, emotional and cultural education; learning instruction; health and well-being; and community involvement. Click here for more information.

On Oct. 22, the Goleta club is hosting a “Lights On” open house for anyone interested in becoming a part of the organization. Click here for more information.

The clubs’ major fundraiser, the 27th Annual Simply Elegant Kids’ Auction, is scheduled for Nov. 14 at Glen Annie Golf Club. The gala includes live and silent auctions, a gourmet dinner, live entertainment and dancing. For more information, call United Boys & Girls Clubs development director Magda Arroyo at 805.681.1315.

— Kevin McFadden is a Noozhawk contributor.