UCLA Hoops Preview

Over the next few weeks DevilsDigest.com will endeavor to bring you a comprehensive breakdown of the upcoming 2003-2004-basketball season in the Pacific-10 conference. The fourth part of this multi-part series looks at the <!--Default For UCLA is to ignore-->UCLA Bruins.

UCLA Bruins (Los Angeles, California)
2002-03 Record: 10-19 (6-12)
Postseason: None
Returning Starters: 3
Head Coach: Ben Howland (first season)

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starter(s) in BOLD)

PG: Cedric Bozeman, 6-6, 197 Jr. (7.3 ppg, 3.2 apg, .408 FG% .312 3PT% .512 FT%)
SG: Brian Morrison, 6-2, 184 Jr. (sat out 2002-03 following transfer from North Carolina)
SF: Dijon Thompson, 6-7, 195 Jr. (14.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, .497 FG% .368 3PT% .743 FT%)
PF: Trevor Ariza, 6-8, 200, Fr. (Parade All-Ameican at Westchester HS, Los Angeles, CA)
C : Ryan Hollins, 6-11, 215, So. (4.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, .594 FG% .491 FT%)

Key Returning Reserves:

T.J. Cummings, 6-9, 215 Sr. (10.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, .455 FG% .813 FT%)
Ryan Walcott, 6-1, 180, Jr. (3.9 ppg, 3.2 apg, .330 FG% .311 3PT% .683 FT%)
Josiah Johnson, 6-8, 233, Jr. (10.2 minutes per game)
Michael Fey, 7-0, 257, So. (8.4 minutes per game in 2002-03)
Jon Crispin, 6-0, 195 Sr. (8.4 minutes per game in 2002-03)

Key Losses:

Jason Kapono (16.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Ray Young (10.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
Andre Patterson (7.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg)

Recruiting Class:

Trevor Ariza 6-8, 200 Fr. (Parade All-American at Westchester HS, Los Angeles, CA)

Recruiting Class Grade: B

UCLA only signed one player in Steve Lavin's final year at the helm of a beleaguered Bruin program; however that player was second-team Parade All-American forward Trevor Ariza, a player who should have an immediate impact due to his length, athleticism and versatility, especially in light of the fact that the Bruins are shallower now than in years past.

Team Overview:

And so the cycle begins anew. Ten years into his head-coaching career, Ben Howland is now ready to take captainship of the most storied program in college basketball history – UCLA. Or is he?

While no coach can truly be ready for the yeoman's task that perpetually exists in Westwood, Howland is certainly the correct hire for the job. His resume includes, most recently, four years as head coach at Pittsburgh where he led the Panthers to back-to-back Sweet-16 berths and in 2002 Howland was named National Coach of the Year.

His Pitt teams were known for strict, aggressive man-to-man defense, excellent rebounding and steady, intelligent guard play with an emphasis on sharing the basketball. Last season, the Panthers led the Big East Conference in scoring defense, rebounding margin, field goal percentage and assists per game.

Prior to his four-year stint at Pitt, Howland did an extraordinary job in five seasons at Northern Arizona University, guiding the Lumberjacks to successive regular season Big Sky Conference Championships and the school's first-ever NCAA appearance. His teams at NAU led the nation three years in a row in three-point shooting and this fact, more than anything else, speaks to the versatility of Howland. Simply put, he can win in a variety of ways.

This year, he will attempt to guide the Bruins back to a level of respectability following the program's first losing season in 55 years. Howland will also have to find a way to replace outgoing seniors Jason Kapono and Ray Young as well as Andre Patterson, who transferred due to academic disqualification.

Howland knows the Pacific-10 is a guard-oriented league and with that in mind he started by going out and successfully recruiting one of the nation's top high school point-guard prospects from his own backyard – Taft product Jordan Farmar.

One minor problem: Farmar is still only a high school senior, leaving Howland with junior Cedric Bozeman as the primary player in charge of running the show in Westwood. Normally, having a former McDonald's All-American player -- as Bozeman is -- in charge of a new offensive system would be comforting, but in this instance, it is not necessarily so.

Bozeman has largely struggled in his two years in Westwood, under performing in his role as facilitator of the offense and suffering from injury. Even so, Howland has reportedly been excited by what he has seen from Bozeman in a limited number of workouts this fall.

The tall, rangy guard will, apparently, play exclusively at the point this season. He'll have to do a better job of directing the offense, making open jump shots to keep defenses honest and performing admirably at the free-throw line. Expect Ryan Walcott, a more traditional point guard, to spell Bozeman, and perhaps even garner significant minutes should Bozeman struggle.

One advantage the Bruins have with Bozeman at the point is greater freedom at the shooting guard. Howland can easily play a smaller player off the ball and not have a defensive liability due to the fact that his players can switch assignments on the defensive end due to Bozeman's length.

The player most likely to start alongside Bozeman is transfer Brian Morrison, who sat out last season after transferring from North Carolina. Morrison is an athletic, free-shooting guard who runs hot and cold from long range but plays with tremendous confidence. He's also capable of playing some back-up minutes at the point. A second realistic option is Jon Crispin, another player who likes to shoot the long ball with impunity.

At swingman, UCLA's best player, Dijon Thompson will take up near-permanent residence. The team's only strong candidate for all-conference honors, Thompson is a versatile player with well-rounded skills and a high basketball IQ. He can shoot it from three-point range, score from all over the court, handle the ball like a guard, and even direct the offense, in the role of a point-forward.

In the frontcourt, senior T.J. Cummings is academically ineligible for at least the first three regular season games and must pass a full load of classes this fall in order to have a chance at returning towards the middle of December.

While Cummings is out, the Bruins will likely turn to freshman recruit Trevor Ariza, a dynamic forward with endless length and extraordinary potential. Ariza, still developing consistent perimeter skills, will eventually be better suited to play on the wing, but for now, he'll do much of his damage in traffic and on the offensive glass where can exploit his athleticism.

When Cummings returns, the Bruins may elect, at times, to play a big lineup that includes Thompson at guard, Ariza at small forward and either Cummings or Ryan Hollins at power forward. Such a lineup would be a defensive nightmare for opponents, capable of causing endless match-up problems.

Starting alongside Ariza in the middle will most likely be Hollins, a freakishly gifted, albeit somewhat raw athlete, who reportedly has packed more than 15 pounds on his slender physique in the off-season. Hollins displayed only a rudimentary ability in the post offensively last year, but he has all the physical tools necessary to improve his skill set dramatically, and in doing so become a true force for the Bruins.

The player most-likely to be the first off the bench in the post will be Mike Fey, a back-to-the-basket type of player who is relatively unlike Hollins stylistically. Fey is a big, strong banger, who will need to be better conditioned this year and more prepared to rebound and defend in the paint. Another player who might break the rotation off the bench is Josiah Johnson, a strong forward with a nice face up jump shot.

Interesting Factoids:

-Howland is the 12th coach in UCLA history…The Bruins do not return a player who averaged more than 5 rebounds per contest…Cummings is the son of NBA star Terry Cummings…Johnson is the son of former UCLA great Marques Johnson…Walcott is the cousin of former Arizona star Mike Bibby…The Bruins play Kentucky in the Wooden Classic on Dec 6 at The Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim…Ryan Hollins was Honorable Mention All-Freshmen last year in the Pac-10… The Bruins finished last in the league with a -2.31-turnover margin… UCLA was last in three point scoring defense at .380% and steals at 5.0 per contest

Best Case Scenario:

Dijon Thompson will be the catalyst for a versatile and athletic team that wins a lot of close conference games due to good coaching and solid improvement in the fundamental core areas of the game that were lacking in previous years. The Bruins will be tougher, better prepared, more focused, and ergonomically streamlined. Ryan Hollins, T.J. Cummings and Mike Fey will be able to not only hold down the middle, rather, they will turn the painted area into a UCLA advantage on both ends of the court with tenacious, intelligent play.

Worst Case Scenario:

New-coach, same-player syndrome strikes the Bruins as the additions of Brian Morrison and Trevor Ariza are not be enough to immediately offset the ingrained malaise that has seeped into the deeper layers of the program, and the only place the truly matters – the minds of its players. Guard play does not fit the style of Howland, with two frenetic wing guards in Morrison and Crispin that like to shoot-first, think later. Post play leaves a lot to be desired, with less-than physical interior players who would rather face the basket and run in transition that do the requisite brunt work. Howland tries to clean house with a heavy dousing of industrial strength coaching, but it takes the installation of entirely new fixtures to get rid of the Steve Lavin-induced film covering Westwood.


The Bruins have a number of legitimate concerns that should moderately weigh down the team in Howland's first year at the helm. Cedric Bozeman may be improved, but he still probably won't be among the upper echelon point guards of the conference, several of whom will not only be better, but younger as well. Depth and toughness are similar concerns. Then, there is the difficulty in projecting how steep the learning curve will be associated with a newer, more demanding system. Add to all of this the fact that UCLA lost three of its best players from a season in which it went 6-12 in Pac-10 play, and there is the potential for a very average team, great coaching notwithstanding. The Bruin faithful would be wise to collectively set the expectation bar a little low this season, and jump over it in unison. Good things lay ahead.

Pac-10 Prediction: 8-10
Postseason Play: NIT

Sun Devil Source Top Stories