2002-03 Pac-10 Preview #5 - UCLA Bruins

<p class=txt>A year ago, I picked the Bruins to finish atop the Pac-10 Standings. At the time of my preview, it appeared that UCLA would have 5 Seniors and 1 Junior that were all heading into their final years in Westwood, so my gut feeling was that they would go out with a bang. Instead, UCLA finished 6th in the Pac-10's final Standings…and found a way to be one of the most up and down 'yo-yo' like teams in recent NCAA memory.

The Bruins lost in the 1st Round of the Pac-10 Tournament, before closing strong in the NCAA Tournament with a run to the Sweet 16, even knocking off a #1 Seed along the way. It was the 5th Sweet 16 appearance for the Bruins in the past 6 years.

Fortunately for UCLA, one of the Seniors used his redshirt year last year…and the one Junior who had NBA aspirations decided to stay for his Senior Year. That will help Coach Steve Lavin tremendously, as instead of losing 4 starters from last years team…its more like he's losing just two. And for an embattled coach, that's a bigtime blessing. Those blessings aside, UCLA lost their biggest impact recruit for 2002 when Evan Burns became academically ineligible…as did Andre Patterson, a would be sophomore who will at least miss the fall semester with GPA trouble. Burns was a highly sought-after post player who could also score on the wing, and signed on with San Diego State. He would have likely been an instant starter. Patterson was truly a big spark with his solid rebounding skills, and played well in limited minutes last year. Patterson might be able to return to the court in the 2nd half of the year however.

The Outlook for the 2002-03 Bruins seems to be extremely scattered as well. Some pre-season magazines have the Bruins rated as high as #11, while some have them completely out of the top 25. That reasoning comes from the 'you-never-know-who's-going-to-show-up' Bruins…and its why I list them right smack dab in the middle of the Pac-10, and likely #25 in my AP Rankings *(That's the Aaron Prince Ranking System, btw). 

So that basically sums up last year, and some of the concerns over the summer for Coach Lavin and his program. Here is what the roster looks like for the start of 2002-03;

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starters in Bold)
PG-Cedric Bozeman, 6'6 190 So. (4.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.5 apg)
SG-Ray Young, 6'4 210 Sr. (7.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.4 apg in 2000-01)
SF-Jason Kapono, 6'8 215 Sr. (16.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.1 apg)
PF-T.J Cummings, 6'10 225 Jr. (7.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 0.5 apg) 
C-Michael Fey, 6'11, 245 Fr. (Capital HS, Olympia WA)

Key Returning Reserves: 
Jon Crispin, 6'0, 190 Jr. (Redshirt in 2001-02 - Transfer from Penn State)
Ryan Walcott, 6'1 175 So. (2.5 ppg, 0.5 rpg, 1.2 apg)
Dijon Thompson, 6'7 210 So. (4.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.1 apg)
John Hoffart, 6'10 275 Jr. (0.4 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 0.1 apg)
Josiah Johnson, 6'8 240 So. (0.8 pgg, 0.3 rpg, 0.1 apg)

Recruiting Class: 
Ryan Hollins, 6'10 210 Fr. (Muir HS, Pasadena CA)
Michael Fey, 6'11 245 Fr. (Capital HS, Olympia WA)
Marcedes Lewis, 6'6 235 Fr. (LB Poly HS, Long Beach, CA - signed on a Football Scholarship)
Matt McKinney, 6'8 200 Fr. (Santa Ynez HS, Santa Ynez CA)

Out of all the programs in the Pac-10, there is no other intensity-laden job like Lavin's…and it doesn't take a minute to swing by the UCLA fan's board, and see how many people want him out. Nonetheless, when you take your program to five of the past six Sweet 16's, your going to make a statement. 

Most of the success that UCLA encountered last year came when frosh Cedric Bozeman played the Point Guard spot with more assertiveness. He is a natural 2-guard, and thinks shot way before pass…as he's certainly not a 'creative' type. He has an adequate handle though, and should improve on his paltry 4.0 ppg average, cause he can flat out score. When Coach Lavin is looking for a more consistent PG, he turned to Ryan Walcott…an Arizona prepster and 1st cousin to NBA stud Mike Bibby. Walcott played some big minutes last year, and should improve on his numbers as well. Ray Young will likely reclaim his 

starting 2-guard spot after red-shirting a year ago due to a knee injury. Young is a superior athlete, and is very underrated on the defensive end. He's always lacked a consistent outside shot however. Backing up Young is transfer Jon Crispin, the Bruins 2nd transfer from Penn State in 3 years (Ryan Bailey was the other). Crispin is a three point specialist, and plays a tough man-to-man `D - as some of his former Big 10 opponents can tell you.. 

In the frontcourt, Jason Kapono will lead the way. A catch & shoot wing, Kapono can score from just about anywhere on the court, however, he prefers to play around the arc. He is an excellent passer, and needs about two feet from a defender to be open…which has made him a 3-time All Pac-10 performer in just three seasons. Unfortunately for Kapono, he's often passive on the court…as defense's have keyed on taking away his three-point shot (since he shoots 45%!)…and since Jason's game is usually sparked by his outside shot, it makes it tough for him to get going sometimes. Kapono spent part of the summer here in Sacramento, working on his defense & driving game - keys for him to play at the next level. Joining Kapono in the frontcourt is newcomer Michael Fey, a Washington State-native who is finally eligible to play after an 18-month layoff. A popular HS prospect, Fey had a nice summer…and could contribute some solid minutes. He's replacing a four year starter in Dan Gadzuric, so some rather lofty shoes to fill. T.J Cummings will also try to replace Matt Barnes, but Cummings will likely average the same amount of points as Barnes a year ago (13.5 ppg). He's certainly a talented offensive player, but needs some heavy improvement in his rebounding and defensive abilities. The Bruins have some intriguing and talented bench players too, led by Dijon Thompson…a combo-wing who played some big minutes during the NCAA Tourney. He's an inside-out option too, and had a excellent summer…and some feel that he should be able to beat out Ray Young for the starting 2-guard. Stay Tuned. 

Additionally, Coach Lavin also has some remarkable frontcourt athletes at his disposal in newcomers Matt McKinney, Marcedes Lewis, and Ryan Hollins. Hollins is really a plan B for Fey, as he's much thinner…but former UCLA-assistant and now Head-Man in Seattle at UDub, Lorezno Romar, thought enough of Hollins to recruit him at both St. Louis and Washington. He had a quality summer too, and some believe he could be the surprise player for the Bruins this year. Lewis is viewed as a Tony Gonzalez/Teyo Johnson type, as he was the #1 recruit Nationally at the TE position for football…and he's also a solid rebounder. Lewis could bring some serious toughness to the Bruins, and that might be needed with the loss of Barnes, who was an enforcer type. McKinney might be the best of the group, since he's

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