This game was a monumental moment in our family. It was my younger son's first UCLA bball game. Can't tell if he enjoyed it or not.
My older son definitely did. Joe Bruin was dancing around, the tubas were shiny and 8 claps were nonstop. He's also got the finger-in-the-air-during-free-throws thing down. Since he attended more games than any alumni I know last year (and we've got a hoop in the backyard and a little tykes hoop in the living room), he's really been into basketball. Also, he recognizes and likes the letters and logos of UCLA now, so we've got him brainwashed pretty good. All that to say, it was a pretty big thrill for him, and therefore for us.
Reeves Nelson was out with a hip flexor, but since this was just a preseason match, I was more interested to see our newcomers for the first time. Joshua Smith was who I thought he'd be - a wide presence in the paint on defense and a post option on offense who has great hands. In the last decade, Kevin Love has been the only other player who I recall being a viable option in the post. Being able to dump the ball inside now will make a huge difference in our offense. There have been times in the last few years where we are completely confused on offense and were unable to get off a good shot. Not that this won't happen to us this year, but now, at the very least, we can send it inside to Joshua for post move and he can kick it out for an open shot if double teamed. Simple. What I didn't expect to see was our big man diving on the floor for a loose ball. I think the crowd collectively winced. With a sprained and wrapped up thumb, Joshua wasn't able to score or rebound normally in this game, but I at least got to see him on the court with my own eyes. He is definitely not 6-10. He still needs conditioning work. He probably needs to develop a few go-to post moves. And he is definitely a huge piece of our success this year.
Tyler Lamb was the newcomer standout on the night. For a freshman, he clearly showed way more than Mike Moser did in limited minutes last year - I guess that's why we let Moser walk. There was one play where Lamb cut baseline, absorbed contact before altering his release, which went in. On the night, he shot well: 6-9 (including a 3) for 17 points in just 21 minutes of play. He also seems to be committed to defense, though he could still use some Howland training. In addition to scoring, he also finished with 3 offensive boards and 3 assists. He won't produce like this against Pac 10 opponents, but he will be part of the core rotation (unlike Moser).
I didn't see anything extremely special from Zeke Jones on the night but there were moments that were encouraging. He made a 3 off the dribble with the clock winding down. He dove into the lane and made an off balance floater while absorbing contact. These were the kind of gutty PG plays that I don't really remember from Anderson last year. However, I didn't see tremendous playmaking ability or outrageous court vision from him either. He finished with 7 points, 4 assists, 3 turnovers.
Anthony Stover has claimed that he once blocked 19 shots in a HS game. Though he only had 2 here, his length alone will be hugely important to our defense. I think we're all going to love this kid. He seems to run pretty hard up and down the court. Which brings me to the Wear twins for next season. We've got Smith, Nelson, Lane and now Stover. I don't expect any to leave next year. How will the Wears fit in? 6 big men for 2 spots?
As for the sophomores, Brendan Lane had a terrific game in Nelson's absence. He looked noticeably thicker - he said he added 20 pounds of muscle - and was very confident on his shot. 14 points, 7 boards, 4 assists. Honeycutt was obviously our most talented player. 15 points, 15 rebounds! However, I'm starting to not really like his off the court demeanor. In interviews he comes across as a little smug and affected. Its as if he knows his ability and that he's headed to the NBA this year. Hopefully I'm wrong.
Malcolm Lee is rather underwhelming so far. Our most veteran player, especially at SG, should be our top scorer and most influential presence on the court. Instead of jumpers, I want to see him attacking the basket too. That said, his shooting form seems to have improved a lot. Before, he never straightened his shooting elbow all the way. Still, he'll never be mistaken for a 3 point specialist. The one bright spot was the fact that he hasn't turned the ball over in 53 minutes of preseason play.
We were 3 for 21 on 3s in the first exhibition. Tuesday, we were 8 for 19 - 42%, not bad. Which is more indicative of our team?
Jury's also out on our new uptempo offense. I can honestly say that it was difficult to tell the difference except that there were not as many extremely stagnant possessions. Its hard to say if this was a result of playing an inferior team or not. Of course, last year we struggled in our Concordia exhibition so perhaps this change is good.
Last year, we also embarrassingly lost the season opener to Cal State Fullerton, which essentially set the tone for the rest of the season. Friday, we have a chance to start anew vs CSUN. As my son would say, go buuuins!
Norman Powell signed his LOI. This 6-3 senior will be the most athletic player we've had since Westbrook (who would be a senior this year). Powell will likely spend most of his time at the 2 and should fit right in with the Howland defensive mentality. This signing is significant simply because he could very well be our only recruit next year, besides the Wear transfers.