Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bruin bball's back

So I'm going to tonight's first UCLA bball exhibition game vs Concordia.  Nevermind that I've never heard of Concordia.  They've probably never heard of the majority of our players either.

It looks like we're not supposed to be a Pac-10 contender this year, much less a final four contender but we're UCLA - we've always got a shot.  They're predicting we finish 3rd behind Cal and Wash.  I suppose that is a rational conclusion since our only 3 upperclassmen may be the most pathetic out of any major college bball program.  They are also the whitest and also the most ... umm, grounded.  James Keefe, an absolute failure at PF after his McDonald's All-American hype, Nikola Dragovic, a 6-9 euro 3-point shooter, and Michael Roll, a decent shooting guard who will finally get his chance to start.  With no significant juniors to speak of, the rest of the squad are dominated by talented but raw underclassmen.  It will be interesting to see who steps up as the leaders of this squad especially when your most experienced players aren't the best players.

I'm still a little sore at Jrue Holiday's early defection to the Sixers' bench when he could be running this team and earning his way into the lottery next spring.  The hastily labeled Fab Five freshmen never came close to living up to their expectations, most clearly exemplified by a subpar showing from Jrue, who was widely considered as possibly the best player in the country.  Now, we've got 3 players at the 2 guard spots and lack the ability to contend.

Oh well, lets look at the guys we do have.

Jerime Anderson So 6-2 PG - This sophomore true PG will have to run the show after Jrue's early departure.  Hopefully, he turns out to be a capable playmaker we think he is.

Malcolm Lee So 6-4 G - Athletic, long-armed but thin, this versatile hybrid scoring guard will be a big piece to build around this year and beyond.  While comparisons to Westbrook are probably unfair, I think he has the defensive skills to excel in Howland's system.  He could end up being our best player.

Mustafa Abdul-Hamid Jr 6-2 PG - This unimpressive junior may be pressed into backup duty since we are so thin at PG.  Thanks Jrue.

Michael Roll Sr 6-5 G/F - Probably our best pure shooter, the senior leader has clearly improved over the years under Howland's tutelage.   His defense, formerly a concern, is likely good enough to merit him major minutes this year.

Mike Moser Fr 6-8 G/F - A 4 star recruit that was originally bound for Zona, he seems to be versatile enough to contribute at both G and SF for us.

Tyler Honeycutt Fr 6-7 SF - There are high hopes for this 5 star recruit.  Recovering from a spinal stress fracture, he is uber-athletic and highly-skilled but thin.  If healthy, I hope we give him a lot of minutes to let him develop this year.

Reeves Nelson Fr 6-7 F - This elite prospect was also given offers by UNC and Duke but opted to stay in-state.  While he seems on the shorter side of  most PFs, he is said to be a crafty low post scorer and possesses great leaping ability.  Howland likes these tough and scrappy players.

Nikola Dragovic Sr 6-9 F - Nikola had his coming out party last year to supply some of the frontcourt scoring missing after Love and Moute's exit.  He's a streaky 3 point shooter and is always willing to take it in crunch time.  Personally, I think his interior defense is suspect and he can only take us so far.

James Keefe Sr 6-8 PF - For me, Keefe has been a massive disappointment.  On paper, he seems to have what it takes to be an excellent college player.  But on the court, he plays like he has little bball instinct.  He's got this year to fulfill some of that McDonald's all-american promise.

Brendan Lane Fr 6-9 PF - A long, lanky recruit from Rocklin has some potential but probably won't contribute much this year.

Drew Gordon So 6-9 PF/C - Drew is likely our starter at center.  A tough rebounder and decent inside scorer will have to anchor our team inside.

J'Mison Morgan So 6-10 C - It looks like Bobo is in much better shape this year after having lost significant weight in the offseason.  He clearly has the physical tools to be a great college center but does he have the mental drive?

Anthony Stover Fr 6-10 C - The last of a very tall freshmen class is still raw and is unlikely to contribute this year.

If it were up to me, here's my starting lineup:

Anderson, Lee, Roll, Keefe, Gordon

Dragovic, Honeycutt, Morgan, Nelson, Moser

We've also been hit by the injury bug bigtime this summer/fall.  Let's see -  from bigs to guards: Jamison's knee, Keefe's shoulder, Gordon's knee, Lane's ankle, Honeycutt's fractured spine, Moser's back, Roll's ankle, Lee's concussed head, Anderson's groin.  That's 9 scholarship guys.  Oh yeah, lets not forget Howland's appendectomy.  So not a great start to the season and this was before Howland's hard practices were in full swing.

But, after all that Howland has done for us, namely 3 straight final fours, it is okay to have a true rebuilding year.  But just one.  After all, we are still UCLA.  Next year, we should expect to win the Pac and make a deep run in the tourney.  Meanwhile, why not believe that we can surprise some people this year?  College basketball is ultimately about coaches and we have one of the best there is.

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