UCLA can look down at most opponents
The Bruins will be big this season. Real big.
The question is: Do they have enough little guys to make it work and contend for a Pac-12 title?
Coach Ben Howland has a physical squad in his corner again, led by 6-foot-10, 315-pound sophomore center Joshua Smith and 6-8, 235-pound junior forward Reeves Nelson. He also has 6-10 sophomore twins David and Travis Wear, transfers from North Carolina, and 6-10 shot swatter Anthony Stover.
How fun would it be for Howland to put all five on the floor at the same time?
The Bruins, of course, will keep at least a couple of guards on the court at all times. There are issues such as floor leadership, ball-handling, 3-point shooting, and perimeter defense that must be addressed.
The backcourt choices aren't nearly so impressive. Senior point guard Lazeric Jones, who came to UCLA from junior college a year ago, was solid but unspectacular at the point last season. Senior backup Jerime Anderson, once an elite recruit, has been so-so and got himself into trouble with the law last summer.
When Tyler Honeycutt (12.8 points per game) and Malcolm Lee (13.1 ppg) took their wing skills to the NBA, the Bruins were left with more questions than answers at the shooting guard and small forward spots.
They brought in another junior college guard, De'End Parker, but he is more a jack-of-all-trades than a scorer. Sophomore Tyler Lamb hopes to improve upon a quiet rookie season, and freshman Norman Powell has big-time potential.
But there are no sure things at the wings.
Howland may go big with David Wear at small forward, and junior Brendan Lane could also get a shot there. Lane is merely 6-9.
"We'll give up some things maybe defensively -- I hope not too much -- but we should be a very good rebounding team on both ends of the floor," Howland said of the prospect of playing three big men at the same time.
--While historic Pauley Pavilion undergoes a season-long renovation, the Bruins will practice in the old men's gymnasium on campus and play many of their home games at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. UCLA also will play four "home" games at the Honda Center in Anaheim and an exhibition at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario.
--Senior G Jerime Anderson, arrested in July on suspicion of stealing a laptop, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of appropriation of lost property and trespassing. He has been suspended for two games. "As soon as everything happened," Anderson said, "I was scared for not only my UCLA career, but my life in general going in a direction that I never really wanted it to go."
--Junior SG De'End Parker, a transfer from City College of San Francisco, has one of the great names in college basketball. It's a fact that he got his unusual first name because his parents decided he was the last of their 10 children.
LAST YEAR: 23-11 overall, 13-5 in the Pac-10
HEAD COACH: Ben Howland, 18th year as head coach (189-83 in eight years at UCLA; 357-182 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Pauley wasn't exactly a sold-out crowd every time, so as long as we have a certain amount, or at least anybody that's cheering for us, I think we'll be all right." -- Junior F Reeves Nelson, on the Bruins being out of Pauley Pavilion this season while the facility is being renovated.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Lazeric Jones, SG Tyler Lamb, SF David Wear, PF Reeves Nelson, C Joshua Smith.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Jones is set at the point, with senior Jerime Anderson in the backup role. Things are far less certain at the two wing spots. Lamb gets the early nod at shooting guard, but freshman Norman Powell, an explosive player with great quickness, could work his way into the job. If Ben Howland chooses to go big, 6-foot-10 David Wear is the most likely candidate at small forward, but 6-5 JC arrival De'End Parker also could slide over from shooting guard. The strength of the team is inside, where 6-10, 315-pound sophomore C Joshua Smith has no natural predator in the Pac-12 and 6-8 junior Reeves Nelson plays with a ferocious motor.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Twins David and Travis Wear lasted just one season at North Carolina before deciding to return home to southern California. Coach Ben Howland said David Wear will split time between small forward and power forward, while Travis Wear can play either power forward or center. Freshman G Norman Powell, regarded as the most athletic player on the roster, could become the fourth true freshman guard to become a full-time starter for Howland at UCLA. De'End Parker, a versatile, selfless 6-5 shooting guard, helped lead City College of San Francisco to the California state junior college crown. He initially committed to Cal, then changed his mind and signed with the Bruins.
--Sophomore C Joshua Smith (10.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg), who has good feet and hands for a big man, dropped about 10 pounds from the end of last season and weighs about 315. He said he wants to have the stamina to play 30 minutes a game this season, about nine more than a year ago, when he occasionally was foul-prone.
--Sophomore SG Tyler Lamb, who made only 20.5 percent of his 3-pointers last year as a freshman, has worked to remove the side spin from his shot.
--Senior PG Lazeric Jones (9.1 ppg, 3.7 apg) is recovered from injuries to his fingers and wrist that hampered him the second half of last season.
Loss of Fontan leaves Trojans in trouble
When USC coach Kevin O'Neill said, "We're going to have an interesting year, to say the least," he wasn't smiling.
The Trojans' fortunes took a huge hit long before the start of practice when senior guard Jio Fontan, the clear team leader and top returning scorer (10.5 points per game), blew out his knee on USC's summer exhibition trip to Brazil. He is out for the season.
The loss of Fontan prompted O'Neill to label his team "a rudderless ship," according to the Los Angeles Times.
It didn't help matters when 7-foot sophomore forward DeWayne Dedmon, whom O'Neill believes has NBA potential, broke his hand in mid-October. Dedmon was expected to be sidelined for at least a month.
The Trojans figured to be a middle-of-the-pack contender in the Pac-12 this season, even without departed star junior
Nikola Vucevic and three graduated seniors. But they will struggle to overcome the most recent losses.
Only two players on USC's current roster scored a point for the team last season: point guard Maurice Jones (9.9 ppg) and small forward Garrett Jackson (3.2 ppg).
O'Neill, in something of an understatement, noted, "Our problem is going to be lack of experience."
O'Neill may have to scrap his plans to use an up-tempo attack this season, given the loss of Fontan and dwindling numbers.
Things could improve when Dedmon returns, assuming he begins to fulfill the potential O'Neill sees in him. Dedmon did not begin playing organized basketball until his senior year in high school, so his game is undeveloped.
But O'Neill, whose resume includes a season as head coach of the NBA's Toronto Raptors, said, "He's the best athlete of his size I've seen, including in the NBA. He's really talented that way, but he doesn't know how to play."
--As usual, USC has assembled one of the nation's most challenging non-conference schedules. The Trojans will play San Diego State (34-3 last season), Nevada-Las Vegas (24-8), either North Carolina (26-7) or South Carolina (14-16), Nebraska (19-13), New Mexico (22-13), Georgia (20-12) and Kansas (35-3). "Our guys are going to figure out if they're any good or not by early December," coach Kevin O'Neill said.
--Sophomore 7-foot C Dewayne Dedmon has added 35 pounds to his frame and now weighs 255. With Dedmon having played just two seasons of organized ball, O'Neill jokingly suggested Dedmon may foul out of his first 10 games. Dedmon averaged 6.6 points and 7.8 rebounds for Antelope Valley JC last season and blocked 46 shots in 31 games. "I have no doubt this guy will be a huge part of our team and future," O'Neill said. As soon as his broken hand heals.
--The Trojans have five players on their roster who began their careers at other four-year schools. Included are Eric Wise, who was a Big West Player of the Year candidate at UC Irvine before switching schools last summer, and Ari Stewart, who averaged 8.5 points at Wake Forest last season. Both must sit out this season before becoming eligible in 2012-13.
LAST YEAR: 19-15 overall, 10-8 in the Pac-10
HEAD COACH: Kevin O'Neill, 15th year as head coach (33-29 in two years at USC; 206-209 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're basically starting from scratch." -- USC coach Kevin O'Neill, alluding to a season-ending injury to guard Jio Fontan.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Maurice Jones, SG Greg Allen, SF Garrett Jackson, PF Aaron Fuller, C James Blasczyk.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Coach Kevin O'Neill had hoped to split point guard duties between Jio Fontan and Jones, but with Fontan lost to a knee injury, the load again falls on the shoulders of the 5-foot-7 Jones. "He's going to be the anchor of our team," O'Neill said. Jones averaged 34.5 minutes per game as a freshman in 2010-11, and the workload gradually wore him down. Allen is a junior college transfer who brings a perimeter shooting touch, but he may struggle to keep highly rated freshman Byron Moore out of the starting lineup. The only other guard is freshman Alexis Moore, who figures to be the backup at the point. Fuller, a transfer from Iowa, was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick, but he is undersized at 6-foot-6. Blasczyk, who began his career at Texas A&M, offers a huge body at 7-1, 260. The frontline equation will change dramatically when Dewayne Dedmon returns from his broken hand sometime in late November.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: SG Greg Allen, a native of Eureka in northern California, comes to USC from Navarro (Texas) JC, where he was a 40 percent 3-point shooter. He'll be pushed hard by freshman Byron Wesley, a 6-5 wing from Etiwanda (Calif.) High School, who was rated the top prospect in California by one scouting service. Freshman Alexis Moore, a 6-2 point guard from Long Beach Poly High School, is the playmaker in the group and likely will serve as understudy to Maurice Jones. PF Aaron Fuller brings experience of two seasons at Iowa, while 7-foot-1 C James Blaszcyk is raw but huge. Dewayne Dedmon played one season at Antelope Valley JC before enrolling at USC last spring.
--PF Aaron Fuller, a native of Mesa, Ariz., averaged 9.7 points and 6.2 rebounds as a sophomore at Iowa in 2009-10, including a 30-point, 13-rebound performance against Michigan in which he shot 11-for-13 from the field. The game was one of six double-doubles he assembled during the season.
--PG Maurice Jones, the Pac-12's smallest player at 5-foot-7, 155 pounds, scored 29 points against Santa Clara last season in his second college game. He scored in double digits 15 times as a freshman, cracking 20 points on five occasions.
--PF Curtis Washington, a 6-10 sophomore who played in just three games last season, will miss the season after undergoing shoulder surgery in August.
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