Sunday, November 29, 2009

pete carroll has no class.

We had 3 timeouts with a minute left.  He had a 2 TD lead and should've run out the clock.  We are trying to build a mentality of playing hard to the end in our program.  He was just trying to theatrically show up a beaten opponent, after hypocritically complaining about the same thing happening to him just 2 weeks ago vs Stanford.  Way to celebrate after that play, pete.

What a classless jerk.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Finally seeing glimpses of Howland ball, but no Drago

UCLA beat Pepperdine 71-52 and is starting to look like a completely different squad from the one we saw lose to Fullerton in double OT a week ago.


Our shooting was much better - FT 13-15, 3 point shooting 8-19, and FG percentage 54%.  Compare that to last week's Fullerton debacle when we shot 31% out of a total 84 shots, which is by far the most shots a Howland coached UCLA team has ever thrown up at the rim.

Drew Gordon has arrived as a force inside.  He put up 19 points on 8-10 shooting, 3 blocks, 6 boards on Friday and another 18 points on 6-7 shooting, 3 blocks and 9 boards yesterday.  While on Friday he had one of the best blocks I've ever seen (where he wound up, swatted it cleanly with no body contact and then gathered in the ball), more impressively, last night he scored 9 points, including 5 clutch FTs, late in the 2nd half after Pepperdine had pulled within 5 points to help UCLA go on a 14-2 run to put the game away. 

Michael Roll - I would bet that if Roll shoots above 50% on his 3s, we would win that game.  He really is our only consistent outside threat right now.  He also might be our best distributor with 5 assists last night.  I've noticed that his defense has improved so much over the years under Howland.

Malcolm Lee's shooting form looks better.  I'm sure someone has worked with him this week since it almost seemed like he was purposefully working on extending his arm all the way, especially on FTs.  He also plays less frantically, now that he's had a few games under his belt.

Our defensive rotations look much improved.  Also, our team has started to draw a few of those vintage Howland charges on out of control players.

The one positive I see out of Drago being out, is that our freshmen big men are getting a lot more playing time especially Lane and Nelson.  They clearly will both be big contributors to our program.

A double digit win over an inferior team is a good way to springboard us into a tough 3 game schedule over this weekend.


We still need work on attacking a zone defense, just like all Howland teams.  There were a few bright spots such as Keefe's flash to the FT line for a jumper or Jerime's penetration for a layup early in the first half.  But more often than not, we passed the ball around the perimeter without really knowing what to do.

James Keefe needs to score.  He only took 2 shots in 31 minutes of play.  I think eventually his baseline jumper, which extends out to the 3 point line, will be important for us.

Bobo needs to play.  What a sad commentary on Bobo that freshmen Lane and Nelson are getting almost 10 minutes a game in Drago's absence while Bobo never got off the bench.  He needs to really apply himself to the point that Howland trusts him.

Mustafa hit 4 big jumpers for us and looked a lot more settled on the ball yesterday.  So why is he listed in the negatives?  Because Mustafa should never play.  We will get hurt by good teams when this liability is on the court.

Dragovic under arrest

For the 2nd time in 2 years, Dragovic couldn't help but get involved in some kind of physical confrontation that was investigated by authorities.  Last year it was his girlfriend and this year it was a stranger at a concert whom Dragovic pushed through a glass case, lacerating the guy's achilles tendon.  This time the DA has decided to press charges of felony assault.  While there are conflicting reports as to who's really at fault, there is no question that trouble follows Dragovic around.

In my opinion, since he's a senior anyway who doesn't play sound defense or good team ball AND we're probably not going to win anything this year, I hope he doesn't come back.  (Its not like he was shooting lights out anyway.)  I'd rather we get Nelson, Lane and even Bobo more minutes so that we can compete for a national championship next season.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bruins in the NBA

Most of any school in history, UCLA has had 102 players drafted into the NBA and 74 players play in the NBA.

Currently, UCLA has more players in the NBA than any other school (tied with Duke) so I thought I'd list who they are in chronological order of when they went to the draft.

Baron Davis - 1999, 1st round, #3 - I can't believe he's the oldest Bruin in the NBA.  He's probably still the most talented and most successful player of the group.  I will never forget the dunk from just inside the free throw line on the UDubb center, then turning and jogging past me as I practically had a seizure in the 1st row.

Earl Watson - 2001, 2nd round, #40 - Though he's the same year as Baron, he stayed and started every game for 4 years to become a UCLA legend in his own right.  He's been a reliable role player in the NBA.

Dan Gadzuric 2002, 2nd round, #34 - The 7 foot "Flying Dutchman" was rumored to be among the fastest players end to end on the court.  Maybe not the quickest learner, he's figured out how to rebound and block shots.

Matt Barnes 2002, 2nd round, #46 - Self-proclaimed "Sactown's finest", this versatile forward blossomed his senior season into a good jump shooter and used it to springboard into a productive NBA career as a journeyman.

Jason Kapono 2003, 2nd round, #31 - Perhaps the best pure shooter in the NBA, he won back to back 3 point shootout contests.

Trevor Ariza 2004, 2nd round, #44 - Everyone, including new UCLA coach Howland, thought that Ariza was making the wrong decision when he declared after his freshman year.  He lucked out since NY didn't have a 1st round pick and made him their rookie project.  One of 2 players on this list to win a ring.

Jordan Farmar 2006, 1st round, #26 - The first 1st rounder from UCLA since Baron Davis in 99 (a shocking fact for a tradition rich college powerhouse like UCLA), Farmar won a ring as a backup.  This marks the beginning of a series of 1st round picks.

Ryan Hollins 2006, 2nd round, #50 - Under Howland's tutelage, this lanky 7 footer emerged in the tourney, helped UCLA to get to the championship game and now has a good career as a backup center.

Arron Afflalo 2007, 1st round, #27 - A 3 year starter at UCLA, he was picked 1st round for his defensive mentality and tremendous work ethic.

Russell Westbrook 2008, 1st round, #4 - An athletic revelation his sophomore year, Westbrook was selected higher than any Bruin since Baron Davis and given the reigns to a rebuilding Thunder squad.

Kevin Love 2008, 1st round, #5 - The best big man UCLA has had in over a decade left UCLA after 1 season.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute 2008, 2nd round, #37 - A hardworking, versatile, defensive-minded glue guy, he definitely earned his place into the NBA.

Jrue Holiday 2009, 1st round, #17 - The 2nd consecutive top ranked prep player to leave UCLA after just 1 year.  He could've been drafted in the lottery had he stayed 1 more year.

Darren Collison 2009, 1st round, #21 - Continuing the great recent tradition of UCLA point guards, Collison surprised many by staying for his senior season and then again surprised many by being drafted in the 1st round.  He has shown his ability to produce at the NBA level in Chris Paul's absence.  Having taken us to 2 Final Fours, he will always be a legend to me.

Other players who were drafted or played in the NBA during my time there include:

Jelani McCoy 1998, 2nd round, #33 - he only had a skill: shot blocking, but he did it really well.

Toby Bailey 1998, 2nd round, #45 - he was good at all things, great at none.

JR Henderson 1998, 2nd round, #56 - a PF with the body of a SF.

Jerome Moiso 2000, 1st round, #11 - tall, lanky, skilled PF who likely didn't have the mental toughness to make it.

Dijon Thompson 2005, 2nd round, #54 - a supremely talented scorer who never looked like he wanted to play defense.

Ray Young 2005, Free Agent - Looked and played more like a linebacker than a guard, he had raw  athleticism but never any skills to make it.

Cedric Bozeman 2006, Free Agent - a highly touted PG coming out of HS, he never fulfilled the promise he showed.  Like Hollins, he did emerge as a productive college player his senior year but his lack of scoring ability hindered his dreams of NBA stardom.

While there are 14 current players in the NBA, there are really only perhaps 3 bonafide starters (Baron, Westbrook and Love).

Its also interesting to note that out of Lavin's 11 recruits that have played or are playing in the NBA, only 2 were drafted in the 1st round (Baron and Moiso).  7 of those 11 are still in in the NBA (Baron, Watson, Gadzuric, Barnes, Kapono, Ariza, Hollins).  You could argue that 3 - Ariza, Hollins and Bozeman developed under Howland's coaching.

In contrast, Howland has 7 first rounders and 1 second rounder in just 6 years of recruiting and coaching (not including the aforementioned Ariza, Hollins and Bozeman).  The last 2 years, UCLA has lost 5 players to the NBA while only Darren Collison left as a senior.  This accounts for the down year UCLA is currently experiencing.  Can you imagine a lineup right now with Love, Westbrook and Holiday (plus Michael Roll and Drew Gordon)?

Jim Harrick, who won our 1995 championship, recruited the 3 players who all played as seniors during my freshman year - McCoy, Bailey and Henderson.

Just for fun lineups:

Lavin's best 5 (still in the NBA, sorry Moiso):
Baron, Ariza, Kapono, Barnes, Gadzuric

Howland's best 5:
Collison, Farmar, Westbrook, Moute, Love

Best Five:
Baron, Westbrook, Kapono, Moute, Love

Thursday, November 19, 2009

World Cup 2010 Field of 32 has been set, but not without controversy

Concacaf (35 teams - 3 or 4 berths - playoff with Conmebol)

USA - finished top of the group again.
Mexico - after several coaches and a lot of angst, they qualified as they should.
Honduras - they should name a city after Bornstein, whose stoppage time goal vs Costa Rica essentially clinched it for Honduras and eliminated CR.

Conmebol (10 teams - 4 or 5 berths - playoff with Concacaf)

Brazil - playing more like Italy these days, but winning like Brazil.
Paraguay - beat both Brazil and Argentina in qualifying.
Chile - first booked ticket since WC 98.
Argentina - why is Maradona still their manager?
Uruguay - after missing in 06, back where they belong.

UEFA (53 teams - 13 berths)

Spain - The best team in Europe.
England - Capello has them playing with a new confidence.
Germany - I read somewhere that they've never lost a road qualifier?
Netherlands - the first group in Europe to qualify.
Italy - not convincing, but won their group.
Portugal - lost their group but won their playoff, even without CRonaldo.
France - why is that idiot Domenech still their manager?  Henry's handball.
Denmark - Surprisingly beat out Portugal and Sweden to win their group
Serbia - Shockingly beat out France to win group.
Slovakia - Only had to contend with a down Czech Rep.
Switzerland - Easiest group in UEFA.
Slovenia - sent Hiddink's Russians home in shame in playoff.
Greece - conquered Sheva and the Ukrainians in playoff.

CAF (53 teams - 5 berths, 1 host nation)

South Africa - host nation
Ghana - Essien will be there.
Ivory Coast - So will Drogba and Kalou.
Nigeria - and Jon Obi Mikel.  wow, Chelsea has a lot of CAF players.
Cameroon - And of course Eto'o.
Algeria - beat out Egypt in extra game playoff.

AFC (43 teams - 4 or 5 berths - playoff with OFC)

Japan - naturally
South Korea - who else.
North Korea - Okay, I understand Japan and So Korea qualifying, but how does China not qualify above North Korea?  The Chinese are communist too, except they have a few billion more people to choose from.
Australia - Not sure why Australia gets to compete in the Asian conference.


New Zealand - Oceania isn't even guaranteed a WC berth.  The winner from OFC has a playoff vs 5th place AFC team.  NZ beat Bahrain to qualify.

Hand of Henry

Okay, so the controversy continues to grow over France's qualification vs Ireland in that playoff.  I definitely believe that had Ireland committed the handballs which led to a goal which eliminated a football country as big as France, Fifa might actually do something about it.  But as it stands now, there's no way anything will change.  If it were up to me, I would make France and Ireland replay a 45 minute period.  If there is still no score, then play another 45 minute period.

Henry did commit handball but it is entirely up to the ref to make that call.  Even if Henry admitted to the handball on the spot, the ref still has to make the call based on what he saw.  Therefore, as I've always said, instant replays for goals should always be used.  Always.  The game is interrupted anyway, so why can't they review goals, especially when there's controversies involved?  Everything should be up for scrutiny, including offsides, goal-line calls, handballs. The only thing that shouldn't be reviewed are fouls.  Fouls not called during the course of play on the field cannot be called as a result of the replay.  Also, the running clock should be stopped on replays (as well as other stoppages in play such as injuries, cards, substitutions, goals but I digress).

To improve refereeing during the game, there should always be a permanent goal-line referee stationed at each end as well as an additional ref on the field of play.  As it stands now, there are 2 sideline refs and only 1 ref for the rest of the field of play.  That's ridiculous in itself.  While it is the nature of this game to have major controversies, Fifa should be held responsible to fix the issues within their control.  These are easy solutions.

Tim Lincecum wins NL Cy Young Award

Tim captured a 2nd consecutive Cy Young Award with an ERA of 2.48.  He finished with an impressive 15-7 record in what was supposed to be a down year for the Giants and led the NL in strikeouts with 261.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Still looking for our real season opener

UCLA's 2009-10 season opened in disappointing fashion last night as we went down to Fullerton 68-65.  With 3 average college players as our senior leaders and a couple handfuls of green sophomores and freshmen, it appears that we will need a couple months to become a cohesive unit capable of competing in the conference.

Critical moments in the game for UCLA:

- Roll's missed front end of a 1 and 1 FT at the end of regulation.  He could have put UCLA up by 3 with seconds to play.

- Jerime and Malcolm's missed shots at the end of regulation and the first OT could have put away the game.


- Down 10 points (43-33) with about 15 minutes to go in the 2nd half, we went on a 15-2 run to actually pull ahead 47-45 with about 7:30 left.  Our defense and rebounding during this time was above average.

- We held them to 40% shooting and forced 19 turnovers.

- Michael Roll has stepped up to be our main offensive cornerstone.  While Howland admittedly overused him last night (49 minutes), he almost has to be on the floor for our offense to be productive.  He and Malcolm led us each scoring 17 points.  He was also the only one to shoot a decent percentage from 3 point land.

- Reeves Nelson, whom Howland called probably our best interior scorer after the game, contributed 11 points in just 12 minutes (Dragovic and Keefe combined for 7 points in 72 minutes) and a memorable block, which probably looked better live from my view behind he basket than on TV.

- While their scoring was atrocious, Dragovic surprisingly grabbed 14 boards while Keefe contributed with 9.


- Dragovic shot 2-14 (1-9 from 3 point line).  As a senior starter, we cannot have this kind of performance.  Had he scored more than 2 points in regulation, we probably would have won.

- Jerime Anderson shot 1-11 including several missed layups late in the game.  UCLA shot a lousy 31% mostly due to these 2 rim-clangers.  Jerime also only had 3 assists in 40 minutes of action.

- Malcolm Lee (7-23) also shot poorly but it is clear that he will never be a great spot up shooter (1-8 from 3 point line).  His form is shaky and out of sorts especially when he is on the move.  Needs to work on extending his shooting elbow for a more consistent shot.

- FT shooting, 8-17 for 41.7%.  3 point shooting, 5-29 for 17.2%

- We essentially went with a 7 man rotation.  We need to work Moser and maybe Bobo in a little more.  It will help when Tyler comes back.

- Our offensive was completely stagnant when Fullerton smartly went to a zone defense.  We could use some more off the ball movement instead of 4 guys standing there while Roll runs back and forth along the baseline.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The moment Belicheat completed my weekend

It was a great weekend in sports.  The 49ers was gifted a much needed victory, UCLA football finally won convincingly, Pacquiao maintained his hold on his Ring mag pound for pound title, the Galaxy booked their place in the MLS final... and Peyton managed to put down his nemesis in memorable fashion.

In fact, the only team that didn't come through was US soccer in their friendly vs Slovakia but if I had to choose a team to lose, they were it.  The game didn't mean much especially with Donovan out of the lineup (having just powered the Galaxy to victory the night before) among others.  Plus, the US actually played a better game, created more chances and only lost on an iffy penalty call on Bornstein.

But, back to the topic at hand.  The Patriots vs Colts was billed as this season's edition of Peyton vs Brady.  However, I do think its interesting that whenever they talked about the battle of wits, it was always Belicheat vs Peyton, instead of mentioning Brady, or Caldwell for that matter.  Anyway, I thought Andrea Kramer's poll of living HOF QBs was extremely interesting.  When asked who they would rather have as their QB, 13 chose Manning, while only 2 chose Brady (Elway and Bradshaw on the strength of Brady's 3 titles) and 5 (including Montana, disappointingly) abstained.  Thirteen of the15 most qualified judges of QB talent has more respect for Manning's ability than Brady.  Obviously, this massively increases my respect for Peyton more than ever before.

It was a depressing game to watch until the 4th quarter.  The Brady to Moss/Welker connection was unstoppable and there were times when the Colts defense was doing their best to not cover Moss.  Since the Colts running game was nonexistent, Peyton had to be extremely accurate to score.  Already being down double digits for most of the game, it didn't help that Peyton uncharacteristically threw a couple terrible interceptions in the 2nd half as well.  Down 17 points in the 4th quarter?  Not good.  Well after a flurry of back and forth scores, the Colts were gifted a long gain on a borderline pass interference call.  Then a Addai TD made it a 6 point game.  Then the real fun began.

Brady took over the ball at his own 20 needing a first down to just about kill the game off.  Strangely, the Pats burned a timeout before 1st down - something about not having the right personnel?  Then, after a couple short gains and an incomplete, the Pats were faced with 4th and 2 with just over 2 minutes in the game.  A first down would win the game.  Belicheat burns his last timeout and decides to go for it.  As soon as I saw Brady and the offense walk out there, I knew they weren't just going to try and draw the Colts offside.  I knew Belicheat's arrogance had prompted him to go for the 1st down right then and there.  If I was a betting man, I would've wagered that they would get their first down.

Colts blitzed and Brady quickly threw to Faulk, who bobbled the ball and was pushed backwards as he tried to control it.  Looked to me that he got it, but the officials ruled it short of the first down.  Unbelievable.  Even worse, Belicheat didn't have any timeouts to pull an Andy Reid and challenge the spot, though the replays were inconclusive.  Shocking.  He had just made the kind of emotional and arrogant decision that you'd expect to see from a frustrated immature high schooler who got tired of getting hacked all game and tried to posterize somebody instead of dribbling out the clock.  Pete Carroll made a similiar 4th down decision vs Texas in 2007 to lose that game.  Afterwards, analysts rightly brought up the point that he would lose the confidence of his defense especially in the the next big moment of this season.

Facing a disheartened defense, the re-energized Peytons marched the 30 yards with ease while also masterfully wasting the clock until a Wayne double-move freed him up for a quick slant TD.  Game over.  Belicheat had snatched defeat from the hands of victory.

Had he opted to punt, Peyton would've had 2 minutes to march 60 or 70 yards.  Is it possible that he would've still won the game?  Yeah, possibly but remember he had thrown 2 interceptions to go along with the 2 TDs the Colts scored in the 2nd half.  So, it was a 50-50 chance at best, or worst.  I think that Belicheat knew that his defense was worn down but more than that, I think deep down, Belicheat didn't want to give Peyton the opportunity to be the hero.  He would rather win the game based on his gutsy play-calling than give Peyton another game winning notch on his belt.

In the aftermath, Belicheat may be getting roasted nationally but I don't think his team will splinter the way many are predicting.  I think the Patriots will still win their division and be a contender in January.  True, they probably won't have home field advantage in the playoffs but if they come back to Indy then, the entire Pats squad will be fired up to avenge this bitter loss.  That said, I'm glad Belicheat is getting blamed.  Its about time ESPN's lovefest with the Pats stops.

The Sports Guy wrote an article recently talking about some of the sports figures he hates.  He included Peyton into the list alongside A-Rod and Kobe.  You gotta be kidding me.  If anything, Brady is the one who belongs on the list with primadonnas A-Rod and Kobe.  Nobody else tries to run up the score on other teams in garbage time like Brady does as if BCS votes depend on it and then reacts so bushleague.  He's the one who whines and gets 15 yard flags called even when a defender doesn't even TOUCH him.  Brady's also the one who is essentially a publicity chaser, dating and impregnating an actress only to dump her for, what is clearly a step up - a model.  So no, The Sports Guy, Brady belongs with A-Rod and Kobe.  He is, as they all are, just plain unlikable.

Peyton, on the other hand, will go down as maybe the greatest of all time.  Not only is he the consummate professional, he also has revolutionized the way that the position of QB can be played.  As 13 of the 15 most qualified authorities have attested to, there is no comparison.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pacquiao, all time great

For $65 bucks, I was not planning to buy this fight.  I had thought about trying to recruit a dozen or so friends but I didn't think I could stir up enough interest.  I figured I would save the effort for the Pac-Mayweather fight.  Fortunately, someone at my place for poker night wanted to see the fight enough to chip in more than half.  Even my wife couldn't resist that.  You know HBO's 24/7 series knows how to lure in the customers if they can even convince my wife to loosen the family coffers.

Without this generous guest benefactor, I would have missed the fight of the year.  (Okay, so HBO will replay it this Sat but whatever.)  I must admit, I was extremely worried in Round 1 when Cotto's jabs seemed to effectively neutralize Pacquiao's fight plan.  Pacquiao's jabs and straight lefts, which had singularly worked so devastatingly against Oscar, were being stymied by Cotto's solid jabs.  Prefight, the whole match had been framed as Pacquiao's speed vs the strength of Cotto.  For Manny, the question was whether he could take a real punch from a true welterweight champion in his prime, since the only welterweight he had faced was a rapidly declining and soon to be retiring Oscar.  The expert's consensus was that for Pacquiao to win, he would have to outbox Cotto and avoid getting caught by Cotto's heavy left hook, which most believed he could do.  In the aftermath, Pacquiao claimed that he was merely testing Cotto's power early on, trying to ascertain his strength as well as learn the gameplan he was up against before unleashing his own attack.

Rounds 2-4 were worth the price of PPV itself.  Especially in round 2, we saw a true slugfest that we rarely see these days.  Both Cotto and Pac were getting rocked with hard punches and it was difficult to tell who had the upper hand.  While I gave Cotto round 1, I slightly favored Pac in round 2.  Then came the knockdowns.  The 2 punch combinations that dropped Cotto in round 3 and round 4 were shocking to say the least.  Many would say that without the knockdowns, Cotto might have taken those rounds.

Cotto was never the same.  From round 6-9, it was like watching Pacquiao work a punching bag.  After round 10, I was really hoping that Cotto's trainer would have the sense to throw in the towel.  Even though Cotto wanted to finish the 12 rounds, it was painful to watch him retreat and try to hang on.  Personally, I think it was a gutless decision by the trainer to not stop the punishment.  Then again, Cotto seemed like a stand up guy and deep down, I was hoping he could muster some kind of attack and defense to at least finish the fight.  Throughout watching 24/7, I got the feeling that he wasn't marked by arrogance as many title holders are - see Mayweather.  Even after the fight, he was humble, courteous and professional.  I hope he is able to rebound and regain a belt again.  You gotta love boxing, there's always multiple belts that can be won.  While I'm on the topic, I hope Margarito comes clean about his obvious and revolting cheating in the Cotto fight.  He should be banned for life for endangering someone else's life like that. 

Manny became the first fighter to have held titles in 7 weight classes: flyweight  (limit) 112 lbs, junior featherweight 122 lbs, featherweight 126 lbs, junior lightweight 130 lbs, lightweight 135 lbs, junior welterweight 140 lbs, and now welterweight 147 lbs.  That unprecedented achievement is incredible.  Think about it.  He has put on 30 pounds of muscle while perhaps getting FASTER.

I've always appreciated Pacquiao's brash fighting style the most.  He seems willing to mix it up with anyone instead of opting for a defensive strategy, which brings me to Floyd Mayweather.  Mayweather enhances his persona by doing a lot of boisterous talking outside of ring but inside the ring, he is actually a very conservative and defensive fighter.  Sometimes, it is actually a little bit boring, especially in comparison to Pacquiao's fights.  While possessing superior quickness over most opponents, he seems to allow them to come at him and make them miss while raining punishing and lightning-quick counter punches in retreat.

I am not entirely sure if Pacquiao can beat Mayweather but it will be one for the ages.  They have to fight.  There is no other fight that will be more anticipated than this.  I heard that the purse could be as much as $40 mil each.  If anyone postures for more than a 50% share, which the Mayweather camp is likely to do, it will be because they want to duck the fight.  We'll see what the PPV numbers for Pacquiao are for Sat and then we'll know if he has as much drawing power as Mayweather's 1 million buys vs Juan Manuel Marquez earlier this year.  Mayweather also doesn't like to fight under 147 which could pose a problem for Pacquiao since he is probably right around 143.

Like Freddie Roach, I hope Manny beats Floyd, then retires.  He would go down as one of the best pound for pound fighters of all time.  He could go become president of the Philippines or something.  But he would have nothing left to prove.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Humbled St.

Ahh, much better.  So what did I learn from last night's exhibition game vs Humboldt St?  Mike Roll is the key to our season.  I have never been so happy to see Mike Roll.  Just as we suspected, he was a calming influence on our offense and he knows Coach Howland's system.  That experience showed in that our spacing improved drastically as well as the flow of our offense.  At the very least, his shooting opened up the floor for the rest of the squad to operate.

Jerime Anderson cannot get hurt.  Please. A huge improvement over Mustafa, Jerime was a true point guard out there.  He continually looked to set up other players with good shots.  Malcolm is clearly not a true point guard at heart, as he seems to excel at getting his shot off.

Drew Gordon is a monster inside and will have to be this season.  There is really no other proven banger inside for us.

Dragovic is a ball-hoggin, shootin fool.  While his defense is probably better than all of Europe, thanks to Coach Howland, it still stinks.  If he isn't shooting well, I already know I'm going to be mad at him all game.

I did think it was strange that Keefe only played 16 minutes when Reeves Nelson played 11.  I would have thought that Keefe might even start and play a good 25-30 minutes a game this season.  Either he picked up a knock or he hasn't earned Howland's trust yet.

In big recruiting news of the week, Josh Smith, a 6-9 five star center from Washington spurned the Huskies and chose us.  Josh Smith has already said that he intends to stay to earn a degree unless he's going in the lottery.  I'm fine with that.  At least he's up front about it.  As long as he doesn't start comparing himself to Alcindor (who is fighting a treatable leukemia now) or Walton, I'm okay with that plan.  From the video that I've seen, he looks like a 2 year player to me.

We've also already got 6-4 SG Tyler Lamb, so our recruiting class is off to a good start.  I watched some youtube interviews of these two and they both seem relatively well-spoken, balanced and intelligent.  While Lamb did sign his LOI today, Josh Smith has postponed doing the same.  Some say that he is putting together a signing party but I'm a little worried that he might back out, considering he's right in the Huskies backyard, which is still where his mom is.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A win's a win

I got to go to the first Pac-10 victory of the UCLA football season.  Somehow 1-5 in the conference is not what the bruin faithful were hoping for.  But, a win's a win.

Looking back at this game, our defense played pretty well considering we had 5 turnovers.  Some of these turnovers put us in bad field position but they only scored 23 points on the day.  I think we also had a few stupid penalties as well.  Coach Neuheisel needs to do something about that.  Turnovers and penalties can be mostly remedied by good coaching.

Kevin Prince looked like he has turned the corner.  We were marching down the field at a very encouraging rate.  Hopefully he returns from his cheap-shot concussion and plays on Sat.

The 3 biggest plays of the day (besides the 5 turnovers), in my mind, are the long touchdown to Austin (which apparently wasn't and I'm still confused as to why it wasn't reviewed), the horribly botched Wash FG, and the Rahim Moore interception.

As for the jerseys, I actually thought they looked pretty sweet.  Personally, I like the lighter shade of blue instead of the deeper blue we have now.  Its a nice touch to commemorate Gary Beban's 1967 heisman year and invite him to be a honorary captain.  I actually met him once when I worked at a book store a few years ago.  He was doing a Q&A and a signing in LA and they let me spend much of the hour talking him.  Nice guy.  Anyway, its great that UCLA recognized his incredible achievement.

The alumni were unusually fired up for this game.  We really did need the win.  Man, woman and child guy said we can still finish 7-5.  Now that's a true fan.

After the game, Neuheisel invited everyone who had jumped off the bandwagon to jump back on.  Year 3 is when he really will have to produce.  But first, lets beat sc.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

UCLA exhibition of inexperience

Interestingly, the consistent strength of the UCLA squads of the past decade or so was the greatest weakness last night: PG.  We went from Baron Davis, Earl Watson, Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook (notice I didn't include Jrue Holiday) to now Mustafa Abdul-Hamid?  I don't think so.

Mustafa could not even bring up the ball comfortably much less run the offense.  They harassed him into turnovers in the backcourt.  He would dribble into corners or sidelines and no one on the offense would show for the ball to get him out of trouble.  Even some of his passes were embarrassingly thrown way off the mark and out of bounds.  Now I know that for a 4th year walk-on, he's doing the best that he can.  I partly blame Howland for allowing him to play 36 minutes when he was completely inept and unqualified.  But mostly I blame Jrue Holiday.  Fortunately, Jerime Anderson will be the primary ball-handler for this season.  He might have to play 35 minutes a game.  Hopefully, Howland will allow Malcolm Lee to be the PG (when Anderson sits) just as he did in high school.

So we were down by 3 at the half and down by 8 with around 8 minutes to play.  When Malcolm fouled out with 5 min to go (his 4th foul was a completely bogus charging call.  Hey ref, its not charging if he doesn't even make contact with the defender's torso) after his 2 big shots had just tied the game, I thought it was over.  Mustafa was going to lose the game for us.  I couldn't contain my laughter when he hit the game winning 3 pointer with 15 seconds left.  Since I had been besmirching his game all night long, my friend started yelling, "Apologize!  Apologize to him right now!".  Hilarious.

After seeing the team live for the first time, my first thought is that Michael Roll will be very very important to our team this year.  I think he would have been a stabilizing force in the midst of all that confusion on offense.  Plus, he would've hit a few 3s that we badly needed.  Secondly, we are only 3 guards deep so all three must stay healthy.  We now know that we could lose to a NAIA squad if 2 of our 3 guards are out.

Thirdly, Honeycutt has the tools to be a great player.  He probably lacks confidence right now but one play in particular showed his ability.  He drove baseline with a quickness missing from most of our other players and setup Drew Gordon for an easy dunk.  The fact that Honeycutt started and played over 20 minutes is a sign that Howland likes him.  Mike Moser looks to be in line for about 5-7 minutes a game this year.

Reeves Nelson, though he missed all 4 FTs after effortlessly swishing them in warmups, looks like a capable contributor as well.  I thought he did some positive things on the offensive end and is the perfect hustle guy for a Howland squad.  He may not get a lot of minutes this year with Keefe, Gordon and Drago clogging the PF minutes, but he'll make his mark, I guarantee it.  Conversely, the only good thing Bobo showed was that he had slimmed down.  I still have my doubts about his approach to the game.  You can lose weight just through mindless cardio exercises but you can't get better at bball without mental concentration and determination.  Still, he brings potential offensive post skills that nobody else has including his towering hook shot.

The bright spots I thought were Drew Gordon, our leading scorer with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and James Keefe, to my surprise.  Keefe put in a noticeably solid performance on offense and showed me that he may understand the importance of his role this year.  He even nailed a couple 3s from the wings.

As for our other likely starters, Malcolm Lee looked over-anxious to get started and needs to just settle down.  It seems like he was excited to show off everything he worked so hard on offseason.  He did hit a couple big shots late in the game before fouling out.  However, I was discouraged to discover during pre-game warmups, he never extended his shooting arm fully in his shooting motion.  How could he shoot 500 shots a game all summer and not have been tutored to shoot them correctly?

Dragovic was pathetic as usual on defense, often refusing to hustle to cover open shooters.  He also shot very poorly on the night but perhaps we can chalk up his performance to his food poisoning.  If it were up to me, I wouldn't even play Drago.  He doesn't play Ben ball.

Overall, our offensive spacing and cohesion was terrible so there's a lot of work to be done.  This will be an interesting teaching year for Howland.  I look forward to seeing our growth game by game.

This is how I think our minutes should be dispersed:

Anderson 30 min at PG
Lee 30 (20 at SG, 10 at PG)
Roll 30 (10 at SF, 20 at SG)
Keefe 25 (20 at PF, 5 at C)
Gordon 30 at C

Dragovic 22 (15 at PF, 7 at SF)
Honeycutt 18 at SF
Morgan 5 at C
Nelson 5 at PF
Moser 5 at SF

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.