Friday, November 11, 2011

2011-12 UCLA Basketball Preview

There has seemingly been less anticipation for UCLA Basketball around Westwood leading up to this season.  I think its partly due to the overbearing media attention given to the outrage over Neuheisal's failure to revive our football program, Saturday's victory over ASU notwithstanding, and partly due to the fact that no games will be played at home on campus at Pauley Pavilion as a result of the arena's renovation.

I, of course, am much more concerned with UCLA basketball than football simply because our school is actually invested in basketball's success.  We actually try to win championships in basketball and we can realistically contend for the Pac-12 title.  Why should I get emotionally invested in football when financially, our school isn't (or can't be)?  It's ridiculous to expect great success when we can't afford to pay nationally competitive head coach and assistant coach salaries, especially with the cost of living here in LA.  Plus, I feel a stronger connection to our bball program - sleeping outside Pauley before home games and sitting front row while the likes of Baron Davis was throwing down on the competition.  There's the traditional and historical element.  In bball, we have 11 national titles.  John Wooden's the greatest coach ever in any sport.  Pauley Pavilion is the West Coast mecca of bball.  Do I need to go on?  Don't get me wrong, I love Bruin football, but Bruin basketball will always be paramount for me.

So, even with the disappointing and regrettable early departures of Honeycutt and Lee to the locked-out NBA (my thoughts here), UCLA has still been picked to finish 1st in the new Pac-12.  That perhaps is an indication of the overall weakness of the conference rather than the overall quality of our team.

The fact of the matter remains that we lost 2 of our 4 best players.  Without Honeycutt and Lee, we are now void of experienced perimeter scorers and will struggle to maintain balance in our attack as well as defend opposing perimeter players.  Reminding me of our situation 2 years ago after Jrue Holiday's surprising early defection, we have a shortage of game-proven guards.  Of course, back then we were talking in terms of just having enough usable guards on scholarship in our rotation.  This year, we probably don't have the requisite experienced guard play to advance far in the tournament.

Thinking back to 2 years ago, after Darren Collison and other last vestiges of our Final Four glory years graduated, we were in our rebuilding year (09-10), finishing 5th in conference.  We allowed for that one season knowing that the last time Howland had such a poor year ( his first season at UCLA in 03-04), he directed a young team back into the tournament the next season.  The following season, 05-06, was the beginning of our 3-peat Final Fours.

Last year, we rebounded from the previous rebuilding season by contending for the Pac-10 all the way until the last day, finishing 2nd.  We then made it to the 2nd round of the NCAAs.  My point?  This year should've been our Final Four run.  This is the year that we've spent 2 years building toward, since the moment Collison last stepped out of Pauley.  We should be national championship contenders.  And we would've been, had Honeycutt and Lee not derailed Howland's plan and inexplicably left for the professional ranks, disappointingly via the 2nd round, even in the face of a possibly cancelled NBA season.

That may be the big picture outlook, but let's look forward to who will represent UCLA basketball this year.  Undoubtedly, as weak as our backcourt might be, our frontcourt is equally as strong.  Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith are clearly the best players on this team on whom shoulders will we rely on for the bulk of our scoring.  Besides them, we have 4 other big men who have Div 1 experience and create a frontcourt depth likely unchallenged by any in the conference.

In the backcourt, we are led by a senior PG and I hope his solid play this year will make us forget that he was a juco transfer.  After him, we have 4 question marks at guard.  Will PG Jerime Anderson build on his much improved play from off the bench last year, or will his off-court misdiscretion haunt his last year?  Will sophomore Tyler Lamb step into the limelight and show that he can stick a jumper and defensively to his man?  Will freshmen Norman Powell's athleticism translate into minutes?  Is juco transfer De'End Parker even any good?

Also, will Howland's experiment in using a 6-10 big man in David Wear at SF work to our size advantage, or to our defensive speed disadvantage?  I have honestly not seen a college team find much success using 3 big men on the court.  There is only so much real estate inside.  Instead, usually teams default to a 3 guard lineup, preferring speed and athleticism.  However, I've yet to see the Wears play with my own eyes, so I'm holding out hope that they're freakishly athletic with consistent downtown range to boot.

Lastly, how will our team respond to essentially having zero home games?  Seeing as we're not even close to the dominant team in conference, this road season will probably have a major effect on our team, making it difficult for me to see why the media has picked UCLA as conference favorites.  Aside from that, I'm again just glad our players had the chance to experience that kind of win over Arizona in their last home game.  For Lazeric and a few others, that was the last time they would play in Pauley.

That said, we haven't won a conference title since Kevin Love's single season 07-08.  Its time.  Let's Go Bruins

These will be our main contributors:

Point Guard

Lazeric Jones, Sr, 6-1
The lone returning perimeter starter was hampered by hand injuries last year and he didn't finish out the season as strongly as he could have.  PG is the ultra-important position in Howland's offenses but since he does not possess the NBA kind of talent that we've had in the last decade, Zeek's focus will be slightly different.  In addition to being the main perimeter playmaker, he will also have to be the calming and consistent influence on an otherwise immature perimeter crew.  Feeding Josh and Reeves inside will be his primary goal.  Being able to stick a consistent outside jumper would be a plus.  I think Zeek is well primed to have an excellent senior season.

Jerime Anderson, Sr, 6-2
Had Jerime worked his behind off going into his sophomore year, we'd probably would have never even heard of Lazeric Jones.  The job was gift-wrapped for him when Jrue defected, but he completely and utterly wasted his chance.  Then, shocking everyone last season, his turnaround performance off the bench was gave us great hope that this year's perimeter void would not be so cavernous.  He was essentially our best 3 point shooter and he even did it in the clutch.  Then, the curse of the laughable titled fab five recruiting class struck again, and deceived Jerime into somehow thinking that stealing a macbook was a brilliant idea.  How that affects his season after his two game suspension will be key to our team.  At the end of last year, I thought that Jerime would be our SG starter in the backcourt, along with playing backup minutes at PG.  Clearly now, Howland never intended to do that, but its unquestionable that Jerime will be the first G off the bench.

Shooting Guard

Tyler Lamb, So, 6-4
It was a relatively disappointing freshman season for Tyler, as Jerime took most of the bench minutes at guard.  But in just over 12 minutes per game, Tyler shot only 33% from the field and a horrific 20% from the arc.  Not good enough for this season's likely starter at SG.  In the offseason, he's been working at eliminating a side spin in his shooting motion.  But Howland has given him the starting job because of his defensive abilities, and the fact that he's got a couple inches on Jerime.  Based on his humble attitude and desire to get better, I think we'll see a big improvement from Tyler this year.   

Norman Powell, Fr, 6-3
Youtube is full of athletic highlights from this leaper but the stereotype of great athletes excelling in high school basketball without ever needing to learn strong fundamentals is probably true with Norman.  He likely won't see a lot of minutes as he learns proper defensive skills and how to run offensive sets.  At least he's at the best place to learn fundamentals, and he seems to have the right mindset about it.


De'End Parker, Jr, 6-6
Howland's 2nd juco transfer in two years, De'End will have the chance to compete for minutes at SF, especially if David Wear can't guard faster and more athletic opponents.  Though he played big minutes previously at PG for SF city college, he can now concentrate on the wing.  I like his size, but with his recent injury, we won't really know his true skill set and how big of a contributor he might be this year.  I do know this: we could really use a slashing scorer from the perimeter. 


David Wear, Rd So, 6-10
Ahh, the Wear twins.  Apparently, they are both fairly complete and versatile basketball players.  They can shoot from the outside, score in the paint, pass and handle like guards and have high basketball IQ.  Hey, anyone that was slated for big minutes at UNC as Roy Williams recently stated, has my vote of confidence.  The big question continues to be whether or not David can defend smaller and quicker opponents.  With the lack of experience on the perimeter, let's hope Howland's gamble pays off.  Of course, Howland has seen the twins in practice for an entire season already.  Its rumored that the twins are consistently among the best practice players.

Power Forward

Reeves Nelson, Jr, 6-8
Reeves is the 3 year-startin', inside-bangin', passion-inspirin', undisputed heart and soul of our team.  He is a tornado of desire, though undersized (probably closer to 6-6 than anyone would like to admit) but has great hands for rebounding and inside scoring.  It is a testament to his commitment that he can consistently put up nearly 14 points and 9 rebounds a game.  Defensively, even though sometimes at a severe height disadvantage, he's been able to lock down guys like #1 overall pick, Derrick Williams and Kansas' 7 footer Cole Aldrich.  With Josh Smith inevitably taking a bigger inside scoring role this year, Reeves might not be our first post option, but will be freed up to create havoc on the weak side.  In our only exhibition, he actually drained two 3 pointers, which was astounding to me, considering he only made 4 all of last year.  Ask me in 10 games whether or not I believe he's really added an outside jumper.  A bigger point of improvement would be if he could maintain his focus and intensity, even if things don't go his way early.

Travis Wear, Rd So, 6-10
The twins have refused to elaborate as to why they decided to leave UNC after just one year.  I'm still a little uncomfortable with accepting guys that abruptly left a solid basketball program without great reason, but based on their reputation and work ethic, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.  This is clearly different from the Larry Drew situation, which bothers me to no end.  Travis will actually be our starter at C even though the bulk of the minutes will belong to big Joshua Smith.  Howland intends to keep Joshua from picking up early cheap fouls.  However, Travis will likely get the majority of the minutes after Reeves and Josh.  Here's hoping that his versatility is accompanied by physical toughness on the interior.

Brendan Lane, Jr, 6-9
I like Brendan.  As I stated last year, I wish he would have transferred after last season so that he could find some playing time in Div 1 somewhere.  Between the Wears and Stover, I just don't see how Lane will get any minutes this year.  Nelson and Smith will get about 30 min each and the other 20 min at PF/C will clearly get divided by T. Wear and Stover.  But I'll admit that its a credit to him that he's willing to stay and compete.  Still, for a 4 star HS recruit, he has been a mild disappointment.


Joshua Smith, So, 6-9
If all things go accordingly, I won't expect Josh to ever set foot in Pauley again.  This should be his breakout year and his NBA stock should be very high next June.  He will be the focal point of our offense, the primary option, and the go-to-guy down the stretch.  He'll take the most shots, get fouled the most and open up the floor for everyone else.  Especially without Honeycutt or Lee this year, our Pac-12 hopes lay on our frontcourt strength, and therefore mostly on his massive shoulders.  He will have the most to do to make up for the 16 points per game we lost to the NBA.  This past offseason, we were all just hoping that he's improved his conditioning, added a few more post moves, and worked on his FT shooting nonstop.  It's his time.  I'm expecting something around 18 points, 10 boards a game, (compared to only 11 points and 6 boards in 22 min last year).  And please don't commit cheap fouls.  And while I'm at it, come back next year too, please?

Anthony Stover, So, 6-10
An instinctive shotblocker, we'll be relying on Stover's length to spell Josh Smith and guard the paint.  Any scoring from putbacks would be a bonus.  However, I would like to see a big improvement in terms of rebounding.  He only averaged 1.5 boards per 8 min last season.  Also, he needs to work on his footwork and lateral mobility to become a truly effective man on man defender.

PG Lazeric Jones
SG Tyler Lamb
SF David Wear
PF Reeves Nelson
C Travis Wear*

Bench: C *Josh Smith (de facto starter), PG Jerime Anderson, G/F De'End Parker, C Anthony Stover

Limited minutes: PF Brendan Lane, SG Norman Powell
Our true rotation will probably end up being 9 strong, with these two only receiving scrap minutes, barring injury.

So, no more excuses.  I recognize that Arizona is in reality the actual favorite for the Pac-12 this year.  I know we don't have homecourt advantage this year, ever.  But I don't care.  Let's win our conference.  Let's make a solid run in the tournament.  And, should everyone stay another year, let's win a national championship in 2013!

Two 2012 Recruits Signed!

Yesterday, Howland signed two big time recruits on the first official day of signing day.  Without question, his hiring of East coast AAU coach, Korey McCray, is revolutionizing UCLA's recruiting nationally.  There isn't any reason why we aren't in the running for the best players nationwide, just as UNC, Duke and Kentucky perenially are.  Hopefully we move in that direction, especially with the new and improved Pauley Pavilion opening next year as another draw.  That said, its also disappointing that Arizona can continuously come into southern California and steal blue chippers right from our backyard.

Kyle Anderson, PG/SF, 6-8
Kyle is a point forward and has been rated as high as the #2 overall recruit by  ( has him at #4).  He would be the highest ranked recruit we've had here since Jrue Holiday 2008 and Kevin Love 2007.  This is a major get for Howland for several reasons.  First, he's from New Jersey, not exactly a part of the country where we've made major in-roads.   In the past, we've concentrated on snagging the best West coast recruits.  Secondly, he's an elite PG - the likes of which we haven't been able to lure here since Jrue Holiday.  Howland has churned out NBA point guard, one after another (Farmar, Westbrook, Collison, even Holiday) and it took 4 years to get another great PG here?  What are kids thinking?  Howland has already essentially handed him the 2012 starting PG job.  Lastly, and I love this part the most, he's here to learn to play defense from Howland.  Will he stay for more than 1 year?

Jordan Adams, SF, 6-5
The direct result of hiring Korey McCray was signing his AAU 4-star recruit, Jordan Adams, our first 2012 commitment.   Not a high flyer, but he's a strong, versatile and skilled scorer - the opposite of Norm Powell, I suppose.  He kind of reminds me of a James Harden-type player.

Howland expects to sign possibly 2 more to this class.

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