It’s become clear throughout the last three weeks that UCLA has stepped up its recruitment of center Chance Comanche considerably. After offering him this spring, which was later than most programs who are seriously involved with the five-star, the Bruins have attended nearly every game he’s played this July. Other major, obvious priorities in Vegas included Jaylen Brown, Chase Jeter, Stephen Zimmerman, and Brandon Sampson, all of whom were seen multiple times by multiple UCLA coaches.
Unlike last year, when UCLA was still sorting out which players were actually interested in being Bruins at this point in the cycle, the staff does appear to have honed in on some more realistic options, particularly in the backcourt, while trying to make something happen with the key elite big men in the West. This has allowed for UCLA to focus on fewer targets and have a better presence at more of their games, which is likely a step in the right direction.
Probably the most exciting news to come out of the third July evaluation period was Jaylen Brown’s statement that UCLA is likely his leader at the moment, confirming what we’ve been reporting over the last few weeks. It’s significant for many reasons, chief among them the simple fact that the five-star small forward from Marietta (Georgia) Wheeler has the potential to be an instant impact player upon arrival in college. He's about 6-6 and showed very good athleticism, great competitiveness, and an excellent feel for the game this week, and from what we’ve heard, he wasn’t close to 100% this week after a long summer season.
He’s also a linchpin recruit. If UCLA secures Brown, virtually any combination of other players in addition to him could be considered a successful class. If UCLA locks down Brown, current commit Aaron Holiday, the 6-0 guard from North Hollywood (Calif.) Campbell Hall, and just one other wing/guard it’s recruiting, even without an elite post, it would be a successful class, because Brown is indeed that talented.
If UCLA fails to earn a commitment from Brown, though, then other warts in the class might become more apparent, particularly if the Bruins strike out on the elite post prospects they are pursuing. The ultimate success of this recruiting class may hinge on Brown’s decision.
As of now, like we said, UCLA is doing well with Brown. One source close to the recruitment estimated the odds of his decision at 50% UCLA, 30% Kansas, and 20% everyone else, including Kentucky. We’ve heard as well that Brown will likely commit within the next two months, but that he may wait to sign until April, which will make this recruitment one to watch and monitor over the next eight months.
Prince Ali, the 6-3 shooting guard from Weston (Fla.) Sagemont Upper School, who was not in Vegas, earned an offer from UCLA last week, and the official offer seems to have elevated the Bruins into pole position for the four-star. He’ll visit on August 31st, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he pulled the trigger soon thereafter.
Brandon Ingram, the 6-8 four-star shooting guard from Kinston, North Carolina, was recently offered by UCLA and the staff spent a good amount of time watching him in Vegas. We heard from a source close to the recruitment that there’s very little chance for UCLA to break into the mix. Ingram grew up a big Duke fan, and there’s a good chance that’s where he ends up.
We haven’t heard anything new on 6-3 shooting guard Eric Davis from Saginaw (Mich.) Arthur Hill, to indicate that he’s favoring UCLA, but the Bruins will earn an official visit in August. Everything we heard previously, though, indicated that the Michigan schools were in the lead.
Right now, if we had to pick the most likely guard class for UCLA to end up with, it’d be Brown, Ali, and Holiday. Like we said up top, that class would be a fairly successful one, whether UCLA secures an elite post player or not, because Brown is such a talent, and the three guards/wings would go a long way toward filling out the rotation in the backcourt.
While there’s no sugar-coating that UCLA is not looking good for posts in the 2015 class, this weekend saw the Bruins gain some positive momentum with five-star center Chance Comanche, the 6-11 prospect from Los Angeles (Calif.) View Park. Prior to this weekend, UCLA was rarely mentioned among the schools recruiting Comanche hardest, but he was quick to point out in our conversation with him that UCLA’s recent recruiting efforts have made an impact. We’ve heard pretty consistently that Arizona is the leader here, and Comanche does have an official visit scheduled for Tucson in September, but UCLA does appear to have made up some ground.
Getting Comanche would obviously be key, because big man recruiting outside of him looks fairly bleak.
We learned this week that Stephen Zimmerman, the 6-11, five-star center from Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman, likely has a top two of UNLV and Kansas, with the Running Rebels likely in the lead. Over the last six months, this recruitment has gone back and forth, but the consistent theme has been those two schools sitting near the top. The Bruins will get an official visit from the center on October 24th and, of course, UCLA will and should continue to recruit him hard, since his recruitment has changed direction several times, but as of now, it doesn’t look good for UCLA. He revealed he has arranged all of his official visits: North Carolina 10/3, Kansas 10/10, Kentucky 10/17 (Midnight Madness), UCLA 10/24, and Arizona 11/7.
While there have been several stories published recently where Chase Jeter, the 6-10, five-star center from Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman, talks about his interest in the West Coast, we’ve heard consistently that Jeter is all but signed with Duke, and has been for several months. As Tracy reported this weekend, about the only thing we’ve heard that could sway Jeter from Duke would be the Blue Devils earning a commitment from No. 1 center Diamond Stone — and even that might not dissuade Jeter from committing publicly.
UCLA should probably wish for that scenario, though. If Duke does get a commitment from Stone, the falling dominos could allow Jeter or Comanche to drop to UCLA. If Stone commits to Duke (not sure of likelihood), and Jeter drops Duke (unlikely), Jeter would likely choose between Arizona and UCLA, from what we heard. If, in that unlikely scenario, he chose UCLA, then great — UCLA gets its talented center. If he chose Arizona, then that might push Comanche to UCLA, which would be a similarly good result.
If you can’t tell, though, that scenario involves a fair amount of straw-grasping. As it stands, we couldn’t say it’s likely that UCLA gets any of the top three centers in the West.
Then there’s center Jean Marc Christ Koumadje, the center from Montverde (Fla.) who may transfer to Sun Valley (Calif.) Village Christian. We got our first look at Koumadje this past weekend, and he’s a legitimate 7’3 or so, and moves well for his height. The concern is that he’s a complete project, looking like he’s years away from being a contributor at a college level, if he ever gets to that point. He’s only been playing basketball for a little over 18 months, and the inexperience shows. Much will depend on his work ethic and acumen, which is hard to judge off limited viewing. To put it bluntly, whether UCLA gets a commitment from him or not will be virtually irrelevant for his first two years in the program. We also didn’t get an impression from speaking with him that he’s anywhere near making a decision about college.
In terms of power forwards, the news is similar. Carlton Bragg, who UCLA watched a fair amount this week, said he’ll likely be in Los Angeles for adidas Nations this weekend, and could visit UCLA while in town. From everything we’ve heard, though, he’ll likely stick with either Kansas or Kentucky. There is a thought from a couple of sources that Brown’s decision could have an impact on Bragg, but we’re not sure if there’s much to that. Ivan Rabb, who is still considering UCLA, is thought to be favoring Arizona and hometown California at the moment.
While post recruiting may not seem like a major key with the haul UCLA brought in last year, getting at least one elite guy would be a welcome insurance policy against Kevon Looney and/or Jonah Bolden going pro after their first year in the program. As of now, there isn’t an elite post prospect that looks particularly likely to be a Bruin, but obviously surprises can happen.
UCLA will host visits from Brown, Ali, Davis, and more over the next month, with Brown first up after adidas Nations. If the Bruins can somehow secure a commitment from Brown in August (and we’ve heard it’s more likely to be September now, after he also visits Kansas and Kentucky), it would help to build some momentum for the visits coming over the next few months. Just based off seeing Brown play a few times this week, he’s clearly the type of player that other elites would want to play with.
Additional Evaluations from Las Vegas
You can read our detailed evaluations of most of UCLA’s targets here, but Greg Hicks had additional evaluations of some underclassmen participating in the various tournaments in Vegas.
Tydus Verhoeven, 6-6 PF Manteca (Calif.) High. A long and slender baby-faced post, Verhoeven is a very intriguing prospect. He has excellent coordination and body control, with big feet and hands. We don’t like to project on height, but he certainly looks like a kid that may get bigger. He’s a good athlete, with above average ball skills and a nice feel for the game. His stroke looked solid out to 15 feet or so and he made a couple nice plays with his back to the basket. This was our first viewing of Verhoeven, but he appears to have quite a bit of upside. He’s definitely one to keep an eye on in the 2017 class.
Christian Popoola, 6-3 SG/PG Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman. A talented lefty, Popoola is a combo guard at this time and it’s possible he plays either position at the next level. He’s got a solid, not great, handle and he showed a fairly good feel and vision. He’s got a nice stroke and, even though his shot wasn’t dropping much yesterday, would appear to be a good shooter with range out to the stripe. It’s still early, but he projects as one of the better guards in the west for 2017.
Charles O’Bannon, 6-4 SF Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman. Our first look at O’Bannon was a disappointing one. He’s definitely a talented scorer with the ability to score in a variety of ways. His stroke looked pretty good out to 17-19 feet and he was effective finishing around the basket. He’s a pretty good athlete, but not at the level of his father Charles or Uncle Ed. He’s got slightly duck feet and lacks their explosiveness. The biggest disappointment, though, was his approach to the game. He was hunting shots all game, showing little inclination, or ability, to pass the ball. He gave very little effort on defense and his body language was not good. Hopefully this game was an aberration or perhaps an indication of immaturity that he will grow out of eventually. He’s definitely got some ability, so hopefully he will develop a more complete game as he matures.