Basketball Recruiting, 8-2

The July evaluation period is over and this is how it looks while the dust is still settling. UCLA's targets are dwindling, but it's getting easier to envision the recruiting class. And a look at UCLA's targets in the rising junior class...

The situation is getting interesting for UCLA basketball recruiting. With essentially three scholarships available and their targets starting to dwindle, UCLA will look to fill some primary needs with this class.

The biggest priority right now is ensuring that Mike Fey stays committed to UCLA and gets qualified. Fey, who had signed a NLI last November, didn't qualify academically this spring. The plan is for him to go to a JC this fall while re-taking the SAT to attain a qualifying test score. The problem is that UCLA had to void his NLI when he didn't qualify, which officially opens up his recruitment, making it legal for any other school to recruit him, and we've heard that is definitely taking place. With so few big men in the current high school senior class, a guy who is 6-11, athletic and has skills becomes a very valuable commodity. The word is that Fey, though, still completely intends to come to UCLA. But it's still not a certainty until he signs another NLI this November. And then he still has to achieve that qualifying test score.

If UCLA does indeed bring in Fey then it's in pretty good shape. He would give them the true center that is lacking from the roster. Without him, UCLA will be scrambling to find another post player, or have to be satisfied with T.J. Cummings essentially playing center in the 2002/2003 season. If Fey doesn't come to UCLA, they would then have four scholarships to give in this class.

If they don't get Fey, the most likely candidate to fill the vacant post position on the roster is 6-9 Erazem Lorbek from Slovenia. Assistant Jim Saia spent most of the second half of the July evaluation period in Europe scouting Lorbek. Scouting reports said that Lorbek looked very good. Apparently, though, Lorbek cannot take the SAT untilNovember, restricted by Slovenian school, and would not be able to commit until the spring signing period, at the earliest. UCLA is, then, in a holding pattern for Lorbek. The most likely scenario of Lorbek becoming a Bruin is a scholarship is inadvertently available in spring and Lorbek qualifies by then and wants to commit.

If UCLA doesn't get Fey, and there are problems with Lorbek, the situation gets a little dire in the frontcourt. UCLA is still pursuing Brad Buckman, 6-8 SR PF, Westlake (Tex.) High, but the reliable word is that he's very sewn up for Texas, his father being long-time golf buddies with Texas Coach Rick Barnes. Buckman and the entire Pump N Run AAU team visited UCLA unofficially earlier this week.

But, assuming Mike Fey does become a Bruin by winter, UCLA will have three more scholarships to give. More than likely they would ideally like to give two out during the November signing period and then hold one open for Evan Burns, 6-6 SR SF, Los Angeles (Calif.) Fairfax. UCLA needs to wait to see if Burns will qualify. As I've said in previous reports, the good money is that he will. Burns is not prepared to go to the NBA, unless he makes some very dramatic improvements on the court between now and spring. But Burns is one of the highest-profile recruits to come out of Los Angeles recently, and is easily among the top ten players in the country. Without really the NBA as a realistic option, there is too much riding on Burns qualifying and playing college basketball for him not to qualify. The Burns camp, I believe, will make sure Burns does the work he needs to get qualified.

That leaves the two other scholarships that UCLA would like to give away by November. One of the targets for Novembe was Antoine Wright, 6-6 SR SF, Groton (Mass.) Lawrence Academy. While the player won't own up to it, good sources indicate that Wright verbally committed to Texas A&M. A&M had been on Wright before spring, before any of the recent onslaught of national recruiting attention, and it apparently has paid off with a commitment from Wright.

UCLA recognizes that it has a need for a scoring shooting guard and thus Hassan Adams, 6-4 SR SG, Los Angeles (Calif.) Westchester, and Kelenna Azubuike, 6-5 SR SG, Tulsa (Okla.) Victory Christian, have become UCLA's primary targets.

Adams has blown up this summer and is more than likely a future McDonald's All-American. UCLA got on him late and are playing catch up with him. Cal is probably the leader, having been on him for a while,but the word is Arizona is making a good run. But Kansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Boston College, Seton Hall, Connecticut, Arizona State and San Diego State are hot on his trail. UCLA is definitely in for a battle, and probably a battle right up to the wire in November. Adams Latest Recruiting Update

UCLA is doing well with Azubuike. In fact, sources indicate that UCLA could be his leader at this point. Azubuike's family is from Africa and UCLA is pretty well-known and respected there, especially acadmeically, and academics are also a high priority for the Azubuike family. He will definitely trip to UCLA officially in fall and UCLA might expect a verbal commitment from him during the trip. Azubuike Story, 7/9

With two scholarships to give for fall, and one probably going to a shooting guard, possibly Adams or Azubuike, the other might end up in the hands of C.J. Watson, 6-1 SR PG, Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman. Watson had an excellent July, proving he's one of the best point guards on the west coast, if not the best, and is among the top 5-10 in the nation. Watson, as a member of the Pump N Run team, was on campus earlier this week. He'll also take an unofficial visit later this month and the word is that UCLA will want him to take an official visit later in fall. UCLA hasn't offered, and the word is that Watson would more than likely commit soon after a UCLA offer was extended. With a scholarship more or less being held for Evan Burns, one hopefully going to Azubuike or Adams, Watson would seem to make a very nice complement to the class. If it looks very good with Fey, then it is less likely UCLA would be inclined to hold a scholarship for Lorbek in spring, and be more inclined to give it to Watson in fall. When Watson comes on campus, shows what a quality kid he is, plays with the current players in an informal pick-up game, it might be hard for UCLA not to offer him. There is an argument that UCLA might want to save its scholarships until the next high school class is available, but UCLA would be in need of a point guard anyway in that class, and there aren't any on the west coast that are better than Watson. So, many factors look positive in the case of UCLA moving on Watson.

Speaking of the rising junior class, UCLA is looking good early on with many prospects in that class. The problem will be a scholarship crunch. UCLA will have its 13 scholarships filled, and will gain one back if Jason Kapono goes pro after next season, his junior year. There is always the possibility of transfer or a player walking on for a year, but it's too difficult to speculate about that at this point. One scholarship is not much to have available for a high school class that has more talent and more depth on the west coast than the current senior class, and especially since many of the elite rising juniors on the west coast like UCLA. Sean Phaler, 6-9 JR PF, Villa Park (Calif.) High, blew up this summer, scoring 45 points in a game at the Big Time against top ten national senior, Lenny Cooke. Phaler has indicated that UCLA and Stanford are his early favorites, but that he'd prefer to stay close to home. UCLA coaches spent some time the last few days of the July evaluation period at his games. David Padgett, 6-10 JR C, Reno (Nev.) High, had a very good summer, showing that he's one of the best post prospects in the country. Padgett, also on the Pump N' Run team, got a tour of the UCLA campus, along with his father. Padgett also has indicated that UCLA and Stanford are his early favorites. Possibly the one who could end up better than just about anyone in the class is Ekene Ibekwe, 6-9 JR PF/C, Carson (Calif.) High. Ibekwe's is improving and growing at an incredible rate and it's impossible to say how good he might be in a year. Sources say that Ibekwe has UCLA as an early favorite. UCLA also looks good for Marcus Williams, 6-2 JR PG/SG, Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw. A player to follow, as UCLA discovered this July, is Ayinde Ubaka, 6-1 JR PG, Oakland (Calif.) High, probably the best point guard prospect in his class on the west coast. UCLA coaches watched him both at the Big Time and the Elite Eight tourney in Berkeley, as did coaches from Arizona and other big-named schools. Ubaka's childhood favorite is UCLA and sources indicate that UCLA would be the team to beat for him. UCLA would also have to be considered one of the early favorites for Omar Wilkes, 6-2 JR SG, Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola. Wilkes is the son of former Bruin Jamal Wilkes and is one of the best guards in his class on the west coast.

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