UCLA Hoops Preview

Over the next several weeks DevilsDigest.com will bring you a comprehensive breakdown of the upcoming 2002-2003 basketball season in the Pacific-10 conference. Included in this analysis will be the projection of team records, and post-season individual awards. The seventh section of this multi-part series looks at the UCLA Bruins.

UCLA Bruins (Los Angles, California)
2001-2002 Record: 21-12 (11-7 Pac-10)
Posteason: NCAA Sweet 16
Returning Starters: 2
Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starters in Bold)

PG-Cedric Bozeman, 6'6, 183 So. (4.0 ppg, 3.8 apg, .413FG%, .280 3pt%, .286FT%)
SG-Ray Young, 6'4, 210 Sr. (Redshirted; extensive experience)
SF-Jason Kapono, 6'8, 213 Sr. (16.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, .459FG%, .453 3pt%, .856FT%)
PF-T.J. Cummings, 6'10, 223 Jr. (7.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, .510FG%, .745FT%)
C-Mike Fey 6'11, 245 Fr. (Original 2001 recruit)


Key Returning Reserves:

Dijon Thompson, 6'7, 192 So. G/F (4.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg, .429FG%, .271 3pt%, .870FT%)
Andre Patterson, 6'7, 205 So. F (2.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg in limited minutes)
Jon Crispin, 6'2, 195 Jr. G (transfer from Penn State)
Ryan Walcott, 6'1 170 So. PG (limited minutes)
John Hoffart, 6'10, 279 Jr. C (limited minutes)

Recruiting Class:

Mike Fey, 6'11, 245 C (Capital HS, Olympia WA)
Ryan Hollins 6'11, 215 F/C (Muir HS, Pasadena CA)
Jon Crispin, 6'2, 195 Jr. G (Penn State, Pittman NJ)
Matt McKinney, 6'8, 200 Fr. F (Santa Ynez HS, Santa Ynez CA)
Marcedes Lewis, 6'6. 240 Fr. F(Long Beach Poly HS, Long Beach CA)


In his six seasons as head coach at UCLA, Steve Lavin has led the Bruins to five sweet sixteen appearances, matching a record held by Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. He holds a 139-59 mark as a head coach, giving him a 69.6 winning percentage in his UCLA tenure. Both his win total and winning percentage are unmatched by any of his peers at the collegiate level in their first six seasons at their respective institutions. He is also the first ever UCLA coach to have won at least 22 games in each of his first three seasons.

Despite these impressive achievements, Lavin's job performance has been the subject of intense scrutiny since his promotion from assistant coach and recruiting coordinator under Jim Harrick, who in 1996 when was fired for unsavory recruiting practices. There is a widely held belief by many, that despite the near unparalleled success, Lavin has mostly underachieved as head coach as evidenced in part by last year's sixth place Pac-10 finish despite top 5 national recruiting classes in at least 3 of the previous 5 years. Another knock on Lavin is his perceived inability to develop players over their careers.

The situation has created strongly polarized encampments throughout the Bruin community, one fiercely loyal to Lavin and the other bent on seeing him fired. With new Athletic Director Dan Guerrero in place, and burgeoning apathy reaching a critical mass this may be the sink or swim season for the beleaguered head coach. The Bruins lose three of the four most productive players in Dan Gadzuric, Matt Barnes and Billy Knight. The senior trio accounted for over 38 points and 17 rebounds per game in the 2001-02 season and that type of veteran production and leadership will be difficult to make up for.

Jason Kapono, a three-time first team All Pac-10 will shoulder the bulk of the load offensively. Arguably the best shooting forward in the league, Kapono has spent the off-season working on his quickness and physical fitness in order to not only further dominate at the collegiate level, but also to prepare himself for next year's NBA draft in which he projects to be a second round selection. He should see most of his time at small forward, but it's possible that he could play some at power forward if the Bruins go with a smaller more athletic lineup. Point guard Cedric Bozeman is reportedly back at full speed after a somewhat disappointing freshmen campaign in which he injured his knee and generally struggled shooting the ball. The former McDonald's All-American could very well be the key to this team and he will need to step his level of play up significantly on both ends of the court. The other likely backcourt starter is senior Ray Young who is coming off an elected redshirt year used to work on his perimeter game and overall skill level. Young has quite a bit of game experience, even starting a lot of games early in his career.

In the frontcourt the likely starters are junior TJ Cummings at power forward and freshmen Mike Fey at center. Cummings has largely frustrated and disappointed throughout the past two seasons after a spectacular early portion of his freshmen season two years ago. He has shown an inability to play within the team concept on offense, instead shooting the ball from just about everywhere and also has been ineffective defensively and on the glass. Fey comes in a season removed from being widely regarded as one of the best post recruits on the west coast. After failing to qualify for school admissions last fall, Fey re-took the entrance exams and gained admittance during the academic year. He's a big-body with decent mobility and legitimate developing post moves and should be able to contribute somewhat effectively in a league that looks to be in down year in terms of standout post players.

The players that look to see the most time off the bench are Ryan Walcott, Jon Crispin, Dijon Thompson, and Ryan Hollins. Andre Patterson should be able to re-gain his eligibility for the winter quarter and his athleticism, versatility and willingness to mix it up underneath the basket are essential to the success of this team. Walcott is a poor man's version of former Bruin point guard Earl Watson. Not particularly quick or athletic Walcott gives an excellent effort, has a decent handle and can distribute the ball somewhat. Crispin should see quite a bit of time at the off guard position, particularly if the Bruins are struggling shooting the ball from the perimeter. Thompson will play most of his minutes in a backup role to Kapono, but brings more athleticism to the floor defensively and in the trapping full court defense that the Bruins like to employ. Hollins could probably benefit from a redshirt year to add size and strength, but his athleticism and skills with the ball are tremendous for a player of his height and he may be forced into early action. Big man John Hoffart has reportedly improved his physique quite a bit in the off-season and has impressed in early workouts. It's conceivable that he could see some time in the post as well, particularly when the Bruins get into foul trouble or need a defensive spark.

Recruiting Class Grade: B -

The best recruit of the class, Evan Burns was released from his scholarship commitment after failing to qualify. He's now enrolled at San Diego State. Even still, if you include original 2001 recruit Mike Fey and Penn State transfer Jon Crispin this is a pretty good group of new players. Fey is a big-bodied center with modest skills and quite a bit of upside. Some questions have already been raised about his work ethic and fitness level, plus his hands and footwork have been just average thus far in workouts. Jon Crispin is a pure shooting tenacious player with the ability to play at either guard position. Ryan Hollins is an extremely athletic albeit extremely thin interior player with tremendous upside. He has a tendency to be overly timid and hover out around the perimeter too much, but has a chance to be a special player down the road with added strength. The best high school volleyball player in the nation a year ago, Matt McKinney, accepted a basketball scholarship, which will allow him to play immediately on the hardwood for the Bruins, though he'll redshirt in all likelihood. Marcedes Lewis signed a football scholarship and is one of the premier tight end recruits in the nation. It's unlikely that he'll see any tangible court time early in his career.

Noteworthy:

-Jason Kapono has been listed among the 30 male pre-season candidates for the Naismith Award, and the top 50 candidates for the Wooden award, each given annually to the best player in the college game. Other Pac-10 candidates are Luke Walton, Jason Gardner, Luke Ridnour and Luke Jackson.
-Kapono should become only the 4th player in Pac-10 history to be named to the all-conference squad in each of his 4 seasons.
-Beginning this year UCLA has closed its men's basketball practices to the general public. Select groups are allowed access for a fee.
-Andre Patterson has been rule academically ineligible and will attempt to re-gain his status with the team via coursework at a local community college. He could be back in late December at the earliest.
-UCLA begins the season ranked #12 nationally in the ESPN/USA Today pre-season poll.
-The Bruins will meet Duke University in the Wooden Tradition Nov 30th in Indianapolis on CBS. Non-conference games are also scheduled with Kansas, Michigan and Georgetown.
-The top two rebounders on the team, Dan Gadzuric and Matt Barnes are gone from a season ago, leaving Jason Kapono has the team's leader in this category at 5.2 per contest.

Outlook:

It should first be noted that at UCLA any form of prognostication under head coach Steve Lavin is destined for failure. The Bruins will almost certainly suffer terribly disappointing losses and remarkable underdog victories and at the end of the day an NCAA tournament appearance is almost a guarantee. Lavin has been mockingly labeled by UCLA fans with the moniker "Stevie 16" for his uncanny ability to keep his job by picking up two wins in the NCAA tournament despite underachieving throughout the season in 4 of the previous 5 years. The trend could continue this year, but with a new athletic director in place, the big question in Westwood is whether a similar result will still be enough for Lavin to keep his job.

Pac 10 Prediction: 11-7
Postseason: NCAA Tournament

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