So, everyone wants to know: How did UCLA get to this point and where can it go from here?
The overview of what we published two weeks ago in the last recruiting update still holds true:
UCLA currently has four scholarships open for the 2013-2014 season. UCLA, though, intends to give out 5 to 6 scholarships to the 2103 class. That's based on the UCLA coaching staff anticipating some players currently on the roster for the 2012-2013 season might not be on the roster the following season. It's generally thought to be a pretty decent bet that Shabazz Muhammad, the elite 6-5 freshman small forward, will not be in Westwood in 2013-2014. There is also the possibility that Kyle Anderson, the 6-8 freshman point forward, could opt to go pro early after this upcoming season. We'd also have to anticipate there could be one or two other players on the current roster for this season that might not be on it for the following season.
You can't, then, know UCLA's exact needs for the 2013-1014 season, but it's not difficult to surmise.
With the graduation of UCLA's only true point guard, Larry Drew, after this season, it's pretty clear UCLA is in need of a point guard.
UCLA has four true post players currently on the roster, and three of them (David Wear, Travis Wear and Josh Smith) will be gone, at the latest, after the 2013-2014 season. That means, as of right now, for the 2014-2015 season, UCLA currently projects to having only one true post player, Tony Parker, on the roster. It's easy to speculate that post players are a top priority.
That would mean, then, UCLA is targeting one point guard and two post players for the 2013 class. And the rest being guards and wings to fill out the 5 or 6 they intend to bring in.
So far, UCLA has verbal commitments from Zach LaVine, a 6-3 guard from Bothel (Wash.), and Allerik Freeman, a 6-3 guard from Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep. LaVine is the #25-ranked prospect in the nation, and is a very good get for UCLA, being a very good shooter, with a good feel and some exceptional athleticism for his size. Freeman, the nation's #58-ranked prospect, is a scorer, with a good shot and ability to muscle his way to the basket.
But neither is a true point guard. Both have been described as combo guards at some time in their recruitments. LaVine is a talented player, who has some very flashy scoring talent to go along with some point guard skills. His body, though, still looks like it's developing and he could grow into a wing. Freeman was, a couple of years ago, a combo guard, playing point guard quite often for his AAU team, but became more of a shooting guard this spring and summer when he played more and more off the ball, shot it more often and played with more of a scorer's mentality.
So, even with those commitments, UCLA's primary recruiting needs for the 2013 class remain -- that of a point guard and post players.
If UCLA doesn't get a true point guard, it might have to opt for LaVine or Freeman to run the point as a true freshman. Much depends, too, on whether Anderson decides to stay for his sophomore season, since he can play point on the offensive side of the court. A priority for the 2013 class, then, would be to bring in a prospect that is athletically suited to guarding the point guard spot. At this point we'd have to say that more than likely LaVine or Freeman probably can't do that.
If LaVine or Freeman did have to run the point as a freshman that would present a challenge. In Ben Howland's time at UCLA, only one true freshman has come in and run the point, and that's Jordan Farmar, who struggled in his first season. It's not an easy proposition to do, and particularly not easy having to do it in Howland's system -- and especially if you're not a true point guard or inexperienced as the position coming into the UCLA program.
UCLA is still recruiting some prospects that will probably make their decisions by November 14th:
Stevie Clark, 5-9, PG/SG, Oklahoma CIty (Okla.) Douglass. He took his last and final official visit this last weekend to Oklahoma State, which is supposed to be his leader. It's apparently between OSU, Baylor and UCLA, but we feel, at this point, it'd be an upset if he committed to the Bruins. Howland actually was in Oklahoma Tuesday to see Clark and the longer he holds out in committing elsewhere the better it is for UCLA. There is a question of whether Clark is a point guard; perhaps he'd be able to, at least, defend the position.
Rysheed Jordan, 6-3 PG, Philadelphia (Penn.) Vaux Roberts. He was scheduled to visit UCLA -- but his mother got ill that weekend. Since then, his interest in UCLA has waned, mostly because, from what we've heard, he realized that he probably wants to stay close to home.
Isaac Hamilton, 6-4 SG, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco. UCLA continues to recruit him, despite him saying publicly, and to others privately, that he's not seriously considering UCLA. Ben Howland went to St. John Bosco last week and met with Hamilton, and is keeping on the fullcourt press. It'd be a considerable upset for UCLA if they did, indeed, get Hamilton on November 14th. We still differ in our opinion of how good Hamilton is; We're not saying Hamilton isn't a good prospect, but we feel he just isn't as good as many other scouts -- and UCLA -- believe he is.
Gavin Schilling, 6-8 post, Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep. As we reported previously, we've heard from reliable scouting sources that he's a prospect on the lower end of the high majors -- a good athlete with a good body that plays hard but is raw skills-wise. UCLA hasn't offered Schilling as of yet but you can probably expect that to happen fairly soon. There is also a plan for an official visit in the works, but the word is that Schilling, as of now, plans to wait until spring to decide. Perhaps an official visit my change his mind. Missouri is probably UCLA's toughest competition, while Villanova, Oklahoma State and Arizona are also recruiting him.
Dion Wade, 6-5 SF, Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep. Wade is reportedly an athletic three-man. Originally from Belgium, this is his first year at Findlay, and he's getting some solid recruiting attention, from Oregon State, Georgia Tech, Auburn and others. UCLA has yet to offer, but there is possibly an official visit in the works. If he does visit, it's probably pretty likely UCLA offers.
UCLA is also looking internationally, for any viable big man possibilities, but those probably won't develop enough to report about until closer to the spring signing period.
It's pretty much what we warned about back in spring as a pretty likely scenario, which stemmed from a recruiting approach that was a bit risky.
Easily the biggest mis-step has been UCLA's inability to get a commitment from a point guard. If UCLA fails to do so in the 2013 class, it will be five high school classes in a row, since 2008, in which UCLA failed to get a commitment from a high school point guard. It's very difficult for a program to compete at a high level in college basketball with that kind of recruiting result.
First, one primary factor that has caused the poor result with 2013 so far was a lack of both elite high-major point guards and post players in the west, and even nationally. UCLA, because of this, went out and recruiting predominantly recruits from outside of the west.
There was a little bit of hubris, then, that came into effect, not in going out to recruit nationally, which UCLA should and must do with every recruiting class, but in believing it was doing better with those national prospects, and then neglecting to continue to scout, evaluate and recruit the West Coast with enough aggressiveness. It's plainly evident now that UCLA, when recruiting nationally, needs to stay on top of west coast prospects, constantly scouting them to determine whether any have developed enough to be worthy of a UCLA offer, or to "keep warm" some recruits as a fall-back option if the more-coveted recruits opt to go elsewhere. It's the same scenario UCLA has fallen into in the last five years, not recruiting a west coast prospect seriously, missing on national recruits, and then circling back to try to get back in on the west coast recruit but being too late.
Essentially, too, UCLA over-valued recruits from outside of the west and under-valued recruits from the west. We feel there were recruits who emerged in the west who were just as good as those from the east coast that UCLA was pursuing. And the mis-evaluation on both coasts is not only in terms of the recruits' talent, but also included mis-reads in perceiving what kind of chance UCLA would have in getting them.
In terms of specifically trying to find a point guard, UCLA's primary recruiting need, UCLA simply didn't do what it needed to do to make sure it secured a point guard in this class. Even if UCLA thought the east coast point guards were better that those in the west, and even if they over-estimated their chance with those prospects, they failed to keep warm the west coast point guards that, now, would be looking pretty good as part of the 2013 class to sign in November.
When it comes to post players, and even wings, if you had to generalize, while there was definitely a factor of mis-reading their chances with many prospects, it was probably more a case of not appropriately adjusting the context of their evaluations. It was a year when post talent was considerably down, and most programs adjusted according, recruiting and pursuing players that they might not in other years. Most programs were conceding they had to loosen their standards because of a lack of talent. UCLA tended to do the opposite, narrowing its list of bigs coming out of July because of mis-reads on their chances with some of them but also a lack of context. It's critical to adjust your recruiting approach based on context, i.e. the talent level available in a certain class, being able to accurately compare recruits to each other who are from different time zones, etc.
Then, also, the buzz from the 2012 class probably tended to give the program false hope with the 2013 class. When you sign the #2 (and some outlets called it the #1) class in the nation in April, it does cause some recruiting buzz. In recruits' minds, when a program gets three McDonald's All-Americans, and such high-profile players like Muhammad and Anderson, that program is on the upswing. But then the news came out that the eligibility of UCLA's prized freshmen was being investigated by the NCAA, and the buzz over the class tended to be muted a bit. Here's the thing, though: The recruiting buzz created by signing the 2012 class was a bit of a shaky one, anyway. How good a program is recruiting is a bit of a factor in a recruit's decision, but by far the biggest factor is how well the program has recently done on the court, and UCLA hadn't been doing well for the last four years. Merely signing a good class isn't going to erase that record in recruits' minds.
There were other factors, too, that contributed, and some of them are pitfalls that are difficult to avoid.
So, where does UCLA go from here with the 2013 class?
After UCLA gets the official NLIs for LaVine and Freeman on November 14th, and potentially any others from the other prospects remaining on their list, it will look toward the spring signing period to fill out more of the 2013 class. UCLA will need probably at least 3 more recruits for 2013, and profoundly needs to get a point guard. While it's difficult to say what prospects, and what level of prospects, will be available by spring and whether UCLA has a viable chance with them, it doesn't look promising right now to get a point guard on the talent level that would be capable of coming into UCLA as a freshman and being able to start effectively. Perhaps one will, against the odds, emerge by spring.
The staff has been trying to stay involved with a few other nationally elite prospects who have indicated they'll wait until spring to decide, but that will be a long road, the recruitments will be circuses, and UCLA is probably on the outside looking in anyway.
The biggest factor to salvaging the 2013 class: that Muhammad and Anderson are eligible for the majority of the 2012-2013 season, the Bruins look good and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, there are some talented prospects available in spring, and those recruits perceive that the program is again on the upswing.