The basketball program, though, has a chance over the next year to right itself in terms of its recruiting and its long-term well-being.
This spring – between now and the late signing period in April – the UCLA staff will try to find a player or players who could impact the team next season. UCLA is full in terms of scholarships for 2011-2012, but there is some expectation that someone – perhaps more than one – will leave the program due to NBA aspirations or merely transfer.
Then, UCLA will also dedicate a great deal of time to recruiting the all-important class of 2012, which will sign their NLIs next November. You could make the argument that, given how UCLA has recruited recently and how many spots it will have to fill, the 2012 class might be the most important of Howland's UCLA career.
The first step, as we said, is to continue to look for someone UCLA can sign in spring, who will enroll next fall. That would encompass current high school seniors and JC prospects. As of right now, UCLA isn't seriously pursuing very many prospects in either category, mainly because it has quite a bit of time between now and the April signing period and so much will unfold between now and then in determining just how many scholarships are, indeed, opening up.
Even though it's early in the 2010-2011 season, it doesn't appear definitively that either Tyler Honeycutt or Malcolm Lee would be ready to put their name in the NBA Draft this spring. We've also heard that Reeves Nelson has early-NBA-jumping aspirations. Of course, quite often it's not a matter of whether a college player is actually ready, but what they want to do, despite better judgment. Kids in this situation, too, can have people in their ear compelling them to put their name in the draft. There is also the added element of the potential NBA lockout; most observers believe it will inspire college players to remain in college, but there is still quite a bit that will happen in regard to the impending lockout between now and spring and it's far too difficult to predict how it will affect the decisions of each college player. If we had to guess, we'd say that Honeycutt goes, but Lee and Nelson stay. You'd have to say, though, that there is still a distinct chance that all of them return for the 2011-2012 season.
There is also the general possibility that a player could transfer from the program. We won't speculate about what player(s) on the roster would be the primary candidates, but suffice it to say that it's a possibility.
The most distinct possibility for a spring signing is with DeAndre Daniels, the 6-7 forward who is now at Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy. If you don't remember the saga, Daniels, who is rightfully a 2010 recruit, attended Woodland Hills Taft a year ago, and intended to be re-classified into the 2011 class. Then, at the end of last summer, it appeared Daniels would possibly enroll at a four-year program this fall, discovering he was, in fact, eligible academically. UCLA, having a scholarship open, recruited him aggressively, but Daniels chose to take another year of high school. He couldn't do it in Southern California, since the CIF almost never re-classifies and grants another year of eligibility unless it's highly unusual – and valid -- circumstances. So Daniels is now taking another year of high school in Florida. UCLA has continued to recruit him and, from what we've heard, is doing well with him.
If UCLA were going to seriously pursue another player to sign in spring, it would be a guard. Ideally, it would be a point guard, but the net could be thrown out wider to include wings if Honeycutt and/or Lee decide to make the NBA leap, or if there is a player the UCLA staff perceives as an elite talent that is available at a position other than point guard. Howland's intention is to always fill up all 13 scholarships for the immediate season, and you'd have to assume he'd intend to do so this spring.
So, as of now, UCLA is monitoring perimeter players to potentially pursue for spring.
Elijah Carter, the 6-2 combo guard from Wolfeboro (New Hampshire ) Brewster Academy, is a name that has been mentioned. Carter has said he intends to wait until spring to sign, which is almost always a good choice since so many prospects tend to get better offers if they wait until spring. Carter is probably talented enough that he'll have a number of big-named programs after him by April, and we're hearing UCLA will watch Carter this season. Carter is a high-scoring guard who is still understanding how to play the point guard position.
Not necessarily Carter, but a combo guard, actually, might be a good fit for UCLA in spring. He'd come in for the 2011-2012 season, when UCLA would have two senior point guards on its roster in Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson, and he could then also help to lend depth that season and for the 2012-2013 season when, theoretically, UCLA would bring in a freshman point guard. He wouldn't probably scare away a 2012 point guard, and it would give the Bruins some insurance if that freshman point guard isn't quite ready to run the show; the combo would have been in the program for a year, know what Howland wants out of the point guard spot, and be able to bridge the gap until the 2012 frosh point guard is capable.
Of course, ideally, UCLA would like to get an elite point guard. But after all the elite ones have been picked over there isn't much left out there. There is always the possibility that one will emerge during his high school senior season.
UCLA will also look into the JC option again, as it did with Lazeric Jones. It could be a hard sell for a JC point guard, though. With probably only two years of college eligibility, he'd come in for 2011 when UCLA has two senior point guards, and have just one more year remaining.
Looking beyond next season and projecting recruiting needs for the 2012 class, UCLA would still need perimeter players. Even if UCLA brought in a point or combo guard this spring, it would almost certainly need a point guard in the 2012 class. Every program needs two, ideally. Also, more than likely the guard signed this spring isn't going to fulfill UCLA's wishes for the type of player it would want to take over the point guard spot for the foreseeable future (especially if it's a JC guy), so UCLA would be looking for that caliber of point guard in the 2012 class.
The problem is the 2012 high school class is incredibly bereft of point guard talent on both the west coast and nationally. The highest-ranked point guard in the nation is ranked only 19th, and there are only two point guards among the top 25 players in Scout.com's top 25 for 2012, and a lower-than-average amount in the top 100. And despite the 2012 class being pretty talented generally in the west, the position that lacks talent in the west is, of course, point guard. Now, take into consideration it's early, and there are always elite prospects that emerge when you're talking about players heading into their junior seasons of high school.
If you project out UCLA's depth chart for the 2012-2013 season, it's vastly over-loaded in the frontcourt, with six players who will still be in the program that are currently on the roster. The backcourt would consist of Powell (who would be a sophomore), Tyler Lamb (junior) and Matt Carlino (junior). So, not only would UCLA need a point guard, or two (like we said), it would need a shooting guard and a small forward. It would have four, and possibly five, scholarships to give, so after a point guard and the two wings, it would probably need a center, since Anthony Stover and Josh Smith would be juniors, and centers are always hard to find.
And it's interesting how this all works. To recruit the 2012 class, this current season (2010-2011) has a particularly significant impact. Remember, 2012 recruits will be seniors-to-be this coming spring and summer and then (more than likely) sign in November, 2011. After last year's highly disappointing season, it's critical that UCLA show well in 2010-2011, since it's the season that 2012 recruits will base a great deal of their decision on.
So, here are some of the players UCLA has offered and has been recruiting and/or scouting in the 2012 class. Of course, this list will change drastically in just the next several months.
EARLY LIST OF 2012 PROSPECTS:
Tyrone Wallace, 6-3, Bakersfield (Calif.) High. He's the guy UCLA needs to go after hard. Wallace has a very good natural point guard feel, is a very good passer and has good quickness for being 6-3. His issue is whether he'll actually grow out of being a point guard or not. He's continued to get bigger and he still looks like a baby. He's not, at this point, a great shooter, and that has kept some programs – including UCLA – from offering him just yet. Wallace has been to UCLA's campus and the Bruins are recruiting him.
There is some considerable logic in offering Wallace now. First, Wallace could very well not end up a point guard, but looking at UCLA's projected backcourt depth in 2012, they need a whole lot of backcourt bodies. If Wallace doesn't end up a point, he could end up a two-guard and being one of the most talented guards on the west coast it's worth offering him since you have so many spots to fill. And, with the lack of point guards in the west, if Wallace ended up more of a two guard you'd at least have someone who has some point guard skills. Secondly, UCLA has wasted a great deal of time recruiting nationally in recent years without very much to show for it. It's clear that UCLA felt it should be able to attract national recruits – but it clearly hasn't. While it's been out chasing national guys, there is a long laundry list of west coast prospects that they neglected, either intentionally or unintentionally, that opted to go elsewhere – guys that could definitely be helping them right now if they were on the roster. We hope Tyrone Wallace doesn't get slow-played or mis-evaluated and doesn't become the next name on the laundry list.
Brendyn Taylor, 6-0, Los Angeles View Park. After Wallace, it gets pretty slim in the west for point guards. Taylor is the other possibility at this stage; he's probably not an elite high major, but he has the potential, with some good athleticism and skills.
Shabazz Muhammad, 6-5, Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman. Muhammad is the Holy Grail. He is a top five national player and would be the recruit that provides the program the boost it needs. The opinion among insiders is that UCLA is doing much better with Muhammad than many of his Internet interviews suggest.
Xavier Johnson, 6-6, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. Johnson is a long, active athlete who has a very good sense of how to play. He's been to UCLA's camps and it's known that he favors UCLA.
Roscoe Allen, 6-7, Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman. Very skilled offensive player. A kind of poor man's Tyler Honeycutt.
Kyle Anderson, 6-7, Patterson (New Jersey) Patterson Catholic. Considered an elite national prospect, he's so good with the ball many consider him a point guard. He recently visited UCLA unofficially, so the Bruins will have a shot.
Katin Reinhardt, 6-4, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. A talented shooting guard who might have some issues to overcome. But one to watch. He attended UCLA's camp last summer.
Ryan Wright, 6-5, Palmdale (Calif.) High. A nice, well-put-together athlete.
Jordan Tebbutt, 6-5, Tualatin (Ore.) High. Another well-put-together player who can shoot from the outside, but could end up being a four man.
Victor Robbins, 6-4, Compton (Calif.) High. A big-bodied kid with good skills. Came to UCLA's camp.
Richard Longrus, 6-6, Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd. A player with some considerable upside. Offensively still very raw, but has the athleticism to guard multiple positions.
Jordan Adams, 6-5, Mouth of Wilson (Virg.) Oak Hill. One of the better wings in the nation, UCLA has offered, but will be battling many east coast powers for him.
Isaac Hamilton, 6-4, Los Angeles Crenshaw. A skilled scorer who is also a good athlete, and one of the best shooting guards in the west for 2011.
Grant Jerrett, 6-8, LaVerne (Calif.) Lutheran. One of the best bigs in the west and in the country. He's long, athletic and has a good post feel, and his perimeter skills continue to improve.
Brandon Ashley, 6-8, Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd. It's a toss-up between him and Jerrett who is the best post in the west for 2012 at this point. He's a great athlete, with excellent quickness for his size.
Robert Upshaw, 6-11, Fresno (Calif.) Edison. He's the best true center prospect in the west. He is still gawky and doesn't move smoothly, but he continues to improve at a very good rate and, when he finally grows into his body, he could be a big-time player.
Grant Verhoeven, 6-9, Visalia (Calif.) Central Valley Christian. Probably not quite at UCLA's level just yet, but has improved, and if he continues to improve he could be. Fundamentally sound and skilled.
Skylar Spencer, 6-7, Los Angeles Price. A long, nice athlete who is a good defender and shot blocker at this point, and has great upside.