The most prevalent news was the verbal commitment of De'End Parker, the 6-5 guard/wing from City College of San Francisco. Parker is arguably the best JC player on the west coast, playing on the best JC team in the state. He's been playing point guard for CCSF, but it's thought he'd play off the ball at UCLA. Taking Parker is entirely insurance on Tyler Honeycutt leaving after this season, and we increasingly hear that Honeycutt will indeed leave. A scout we trust who has seen Parker says he's a very good athlete who plays hard, and has a chance to be a very good defender, and if that merely ends up being the truth it would be a gain in terms of UCLA's roster for next season.
We've also heard that the rumors about Larry Drew transferring to UCLA are mostly grounded in fact. The former North Carolina point guard left the Tar Heels in mid-season, requesting a transfer from UNC's Roy Williams. A few weeks ago, his mother tweeted that he would be coming to UCLA and, from what we've heard, it's true. Drew, in fact, could be enrolled in time for spring quarter, which would be very beneficial, allowing him to participate in the team's spring workouts.
With the addition of Parker, and if UCLA does actually add Drew to the roster, it definitely impacts UCLA's recruitment of the 2012 high school class. Drew would sit out the 2011-2012 season, but be a senior in 2012-2013 and, of course, take up a scholarship. Parker would, then, be a senior himself that season. So, those are two scholarships that UCLA would have had to give to the 2012 class.
It's a bit of a dilemma sometimes – deciding whether you take someone who can help you win immediately as opposed to thinking more long-term. Most college coaches, including Ben Howland, are focused on the most immediate needs to win now, and recruit accordingly. If taking Parker helps UCLA next season, then Howland will do it. If taking Drew helps UCLA win for that one season – 2012-2013 – then Howland will do it. He'll do both, even if it means potentially burning rides that would have gone to four-year players from the 2012 class on two guys who will be out of your program by the 2012-2013 season.
It's becoming even more of a dilemma since UCLA could be in a situation where it might need as many rides as it can get for 2012 since there are many indications the Bruins are doing very well with some elite prospects in that class.
In trying to project how many scholarships UCLA will have to give, for the sake of argument, we won't figure in Tyler Honeycutt as being on the roster for the 2012-2013 year, which would be his senior season. Counting Parker's commitment, that means there are nine known players who will be on the roster that season. If you then count Drew, that's 10, which leaves only three scholarships left to give.
Now, we are confident the scholarship situation will change. More than likely someone currently on the roster, who is slated to be on it for that season, won't be. We have said before that there are reports Reeves Nelson will have left the program by that time, his senior season. After watching Josh Smith as a freshman this season you'd have to think he could have a legitimate chance to go pro after his sophomore year, and not make it to the 2012-2013 season, which would be his junior year. There is always the possibility of a transfer.
The problem is that, besides Honeycutt (whose early departure we already figured in), UCLA might not know if another scholarship will be available for the 2012-2013 season when it has to recruit the 2012 high school class, which is between now and the signing period in November.
More than likely, however, you can expect UCLA to recruit the 2012 class this summer like it has at least four scholarships to give, and possibly five.
I think it's safe to say that, if UCLA has upward of five elite prospects wanting to come to Westwood, there will be scholarships for them.
In fact, UCLA has a good chance to bring in an elite recruiting class in 2012, since we've continued to hear that a number of elite recruits have legitimate interest. Now, the skeptical recruitnik would say, "Yeah, we heard that last year, blah, blah, blah." And that recruitnik would, for the most part, have precedence on his side. We have, though, in the past, told you objectively when we thought UCLA's recruitment of a nationally recognized prospect was a pipe dream. Of course, going after national prospects inherently has its disadvantages – for one, trying to get someone from the east coast to come to the west coast is tough. But after talking to a few sources, we think UCLA does have a legitimate chance at some national recruits in the 2012 class. What makes this class different? Well, first you can't really lump them into a "class" because each recruitment, no matter what year, is different. It could merely be that, in the 2012 class, UCLA coincidentally has a legitimate chance with a number of elite national guys. It could also be that UCLA is 22-9 as opposed to 14-18 last season. It could be that recruits are perceiving a good situation for them – coming into a program that has righted itself and will, for the foreseeable future, be competing for a Pac-10 championship and a deep run in NCAA tournament.
It also definitely is a contributing factor that the word is out Howland puts players in the League. It seems the playing style of running and gunning is starting to lose its luster a bit in recruiting circles, and recruits are caring more about learning fundamentals and how to play defense in the way that NBA teams like – and draft. We've maintained for the last couple of years that, while critics said Howland's style of play hurt him in recruiting, he had a far more powerful pitch: "Come to UCLA and I'll teach you what it takes to make it in the League." As we've said, Howland merely needs to emphasize his natural identity of fundamentals, defense and playing hard, and doesn't have to sell any trendy style (like getting out to run more, like he attempted to sell at the beginning of this season). If he sticks to his identity, he'll continue to turn out players better prepared for the NBA as he has, and recruits will notice, as they now have.
The key to UCLA's future under Howland, regardless of ranking, will be the type of recruit he brings in. We've learned that for Howland's program to be successful he needs players who are good athletes willing to play hard and play strong defense. We now understand it's not necessarily Howland's emphasis on those elements that creates those players and makes for successful teams, but the fact that he, for whatever reason, recruited players who were capable of learning it and playing it. He's gotten away from that recruiting philosophy at times, but the 2012 class could be a very strong return to a group of players who share those characteristics.
Right now there is definitely a top tier of 2012 recruits on UCLA's recruiting board. These are the guys that have UCLA scholarship offers, that UCLA has been recruiting aggressively and are really targeting at this point. In the past couple of recruiting seasons UCLA had a similar list, but this year it is a bit different – mostly because, from what we're hearing, the Bruins have legitimate shots at them.
It appears there are six primary targets on this list at this point. That's not to say that UCLA isn't recruiting or hasn't offered other guys. But these are the truly elite prospects that UCLA has a legitimate shot to get.
There are also other prospects that UCLA is actively recruiting, but for various reasons don't make this super elite list. It could be that, like we said, that UCLA hasn't seen them enough and they could very likely jump into the list by summer. So, in no way, of course, is this list comprehensive and, of course, UCLA's priorities and focus will change considerably between now and summer.
But here are the Superior Six (the number next to their name is their current national ranking by Scout.com):
#3 Shabazz Muhammad, 6-5 SF/SG, Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman. We've reported that UCLA is doing well with Muhammad, and probably leading for him. We reported, too, that he could potentially be one of those Pied Piper of recruits, a guy who leads others to the school to play with him. Perhaps Muhammad's most significant talent is the heart, desire and effort he brings to the court. Greg Hicks said that Muhammad is such a huge recruit because it isn't very common that the best player on your team is also the one who will always play his ass off. Muhammad is not only a potential recruiting Pied Piper, but potentially a guy who can really help to permanently change back UCLA's culture under Howland to one of players who play hard.
#5 Brandon Ashley, 6-8 PF, Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd. UCLA had some ground to make up since Ashley's AAU team is the Oakland Soldiers, the same as former UCLA player Drew Gordon. UCLA assistant coach Phil Mathews did a great job of repairing the relationship with the Soldiers when he recruited Josiah Turner, and he's continuing to do a good job while recruiting Ashley. What could really benefit UCLA is that Grant Jerrett, the other elite power forward in the west for 2012, has already committed to Arizona, and the Wildcats just got a commitment from 2011 post Angelo Chol. It was believed that Ashley had been favoring Arizona, but he very well could think things are getting crowded at the power forward position in Tucson. If Ashley came to UCLA, there wouldn't be a power forward in the program younger than a junior, and there are some definite pure fives on the roster, like Smith and Anthony Stover, so Ashley wouldn't ever be forced into playing the five like at some programs who don't have a true center. From what we hear, UCLA, because of all of these factors, is doing better with Ashley. Howland usually never goes out to watch recruits outside of the Los Angeles area during the college basketball season, but he has gone up to the Bay Area at least a couple of times in the last couple of months to see Ashley. He's done it for Muhammad and Ashley, knowing how significant both of these recruits are.
#13 L.J. Rose, 6-1 PG, Houston (Tex.) Second Baptist. Rose is currently the #2 point guard in the nation, and sources are indicating UCLA is doing well with him. He will play in an event called the All-American Championship during Final Four weekend in Houston, and he'll be playing on the same team as Muhammad and UCLA-committed senior Norman Powell. Rose has ties to the L.A. area, and potentially coming to Los Angeles from his hometown of Houston isn't that big of a stretch (compared to, say, Quinn Cook coming all the way from the east coast). Right now Rose is clearly UCLA's #1 priority at point guard.
#22 D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, 6-3 SG, Indianapolis (Ind.) North Central. One of the handful of the best shooting guards in the country, we've heard the Bruins have a legit shot for him.
#28 Jordan Adams, 6-5 SF, Mouth of Wilson (Virg.) Oak Hill. It's funny how these kids meet up on the AAU circuit. From what we've heard Adams is close with a few other names on this list. He's a big, strong, physical kid – just the type Howland likes – who can shoot, which is also what Howland likes.
Xavier Johnson, 6-6 SF, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. It's a significant oversight that Johnson didn't make the Scout.com top 75, but we're pretty confident, after a very good junior year and what we would anticipate will be a good spring, he'll easily make it onto the list by summer. Johnson has switched AAU teams, joining Dream Vision, the outfit run by Shabazz Muhammad's father, so that Johnson can play with Shabazz, and they've talked publicly about playing together in college.
It bears mentioning that Phil Mathews is the primary recruiter for most of these prospects, and was the recruiter for Parker.
More Potential Big Targets:
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. UCLA has verbally offered Longrus.
#21 Kyle Anderson, 6-7, Jersey City (New Jersey) St. Anthony's. Considered an elite national prospect, he's so good with the ball many consider him a point guard. He has visited UCLA unofficially, so the Bruins will have a shot, but we've heard the distance will be a factor.
#60 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. UCLA is showing him a good deal of interest. The only reason he isn't on the top list is that UCLA hasn't offered him yet, but that could change by summer.
Tyrone Wallace, 6-3 CG, Bakersfield (Calif.) High. He's a long 6-3 and an okay athlete, with great vision and passing, but he has a wing's body and looks like he could get bigger. His shooting and ballhandling have a ways to go. So much will depend on how Wallace fares this summer when Howland can see him. He's a guy that you have to project, similar to current Stanford freshman Anthony Brown.
#38 William Goodwin, 6-7, Decatur (Georgia) Southwest Dekalb. A prospect getting national attention who has said UCLA was on his short list. He's not among the top list since we haven't heard UCLA has a legit shot with him. But that doesn't mean UCLA doesn't. He plays on the same AAU team as Jordan Adams and has said they could be a package, but we know those never come to fruition.
#72 James Robinson, 6-2 PG, Hyattsville (Maryland) DeMatha Catholic. UCLA is trying with him, but we're skeptical that ultimately they'll have a chance.
Skylar Spencer, 6-7 PF, Los Angeles Price. A long, nice athlete who is a good defender and shot blocker at this point, and has great upside.
Grant Verhoeven, 6-9 C, 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.
Ryan Wright, 6-5 SF, Palmdale (Calif.) High. A nice, well-put-together athlete.
Jordan Tebbutt, 6-5 SF, 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 SG/SF, Compton (Calif.) High. A big-bodied kid with good skills. Came to UCLA's camp.
Isaac Hamilton, 6-4 SG, Los Angeles Crenshaw. A skilled scorer who is also a good athlete, and one of the best shooting guards in the west for 2011.