UCLA coaches have been doing time in three different locations this week. Head Coach Steve Lavin was at the Fairfax tournament, watching 6-6 SR SF Evan Burns and 6-4 SR SG Hassan Adams. The word is that UCLA feels they're doing well with Adams, but there could be some strong competition from Arizona and Kansas, as well as other national programs. Arizona has made Adams it's #1 recruiting target, so UCLA is in for a battle for him.
Lavin spent a couple of days at the Big Time in Las Vegas, then returned to L.A. for the Fairfax tournament, leaving assistant Gerald Madkins by himself to cover the Big Time, which is near impossible for one man. Madkins was putting in time at the games of 6-6 SR SF Antoine Wright, as well as a caravan of coaches from Miami, Tennessee, Cincinnati, USC, Arizona,Virginia, Texas A&M, Arizona State and Kansas. The word is that Wright will unofficially visit UCLA in August, but that he'll take his official trips and not decide for a while. If you remember, Wright's childhood favorite was UCLA, and his mother would prefer he stay close to home. Texas A&M has been on Wright for quite a while, and on Friday he listed all of the schools above, along with North Carolina (a recent addition to the list) and Pittsburg.
C.J. Watson, 6-1 SR PG, Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman, is another whose recruitment has changed so quickly I couldn't even report on it because it would be outdated within hours. Watson has improved his stock as much as any west coast player this week, vaulting from a mid-major recruit to a certain high major. Before his AAU team, Pump N' Run, lost prematurely on Friday, he was easily proving to be one of the best players at the tournament and one of the top 10 point guards in the country. Watson told us Friday that his list of schools included Iowa State, Minnesota, Oregon, USD and UNLV, but I'm hearing that other programs continue to jump on the bandwagon. Watson even admitted that, while he was at the tournament, he hadn't called home or really spoken to his AAU coach or high school coach, so he wasn't aware of what other schools were recruiting him. Watson's long-time favorite school is Arizona, and he'd probably snatch up an Arizona offer in a second. The word is that Arizona loves Watson, but has the point guard position covered for a while. If Arizona didn't, they would almost certainly offer Watson, and there's a slight possibility they still could. Watson did say that he's going to visit UCLA's campus unofficially when he's out in Los Angeles for the Pump tournament this week. Combine how good Watson has become with the fact that he's a good student and a very nice kid, Watson is fast becoming possibly too good for UCLA not to recruit heavily.
Madkins also did time watching 6-6 SR SF, Kelenna Azubuike, who still has UCLA high on his list. It's pretty certain Azubuike will take an official visit to UCLA in fall.
Sean Phaler, 6-9 JR PF, Villa Park (Calif.) High, has probably generated the biggest buzz among west coast juniors at the Big Time. He went off for 45 points Friday, which gets him tied for the most points scored in a game during this year's tournament, and tied for eighth on the all-time Big Time single-game scoring list. And he did it against the Prep International team, which is loaded with talent, going up against the likes of one of the best players in the country in Lenny Cooke. Phaler was unstoppable, hitting his outside jumpers, mid-ranges, scoring in the post, basically scoring at will. Comparisons are starting to be made to Keith Van Horn since Phaler is rail-thin (weighs only 165 pounds). The word is that the early leaders for the junior are Stanford and UCLA.
UCLA has started sniffing around 6-6 SR SF Marquis Kately, San Francisco (Calif.) Riordan, who is easily one of the best prospects on the west coast and a potential future pro. Kately, though, has a long way to go to qualify academically and UCLA will more than likely not be able to recruit him. Cal is on him hard and has offered.
Brad Buckman, 6-8 SR PF, Westlake (Tex.) High, has been getting some attention from Lavin. Lavin is an old friend of Buckman's high school coach and, after Buckman has looked great at the Pump Camp in Los Angeles and here at the Big Time in Las Vegas, UCLA has stepped up its recruitment of him, trying to use the Lavin connection. The problem is there is a stronger, deeper connection between Buckman's father and Texas head coach Rick Barnes. The two are old friends and the word is that, in the end, Buckman isn't going anywhere but Texas.
UCLA assistant Jim Saia has spent the second half of the July evaluation period a little east of Vegas and L.A. – in Slovenia. He's there for a 16-and-unde tournament that has 6-8 Erazem Lorbek playing in it. The early word is that Lorbek is the real deal and that UCLA is in a good position with him. With Europeans it's always a crap shoot whether he'll qualify academically, go pro, stay in Europe, etc. But Lorbek now has shown he's good enough for UCLA to make a concerted effort to sift through it all.
Side note: I actually watched C.J. Watson play with incoming freshman UCLA point guard Cedric Bozeman, who was in Vegas just to watch the tournament. With the new NCAA rules having changed, incoming freshman can start taking classes the summer before their first year, so Bozeman will move to campus this week. He said he'll be playing in the Men's Gym pick-up games, and expects both his fellow Bruin freshmen, Dijon Thompson and Andre Patterson, to be playing also.