With the commitment of Lorenzo Mata last week, UCLA now has three scholarships given out, with only one more officially available for the 2004 class. However, UCLA is operating like they will have five scholarships to give to this class, and are aiming to get a commitment from two more players.
With Mata filling the role of the true low-post player, it gives UCLA some flexibility in what to do with the last two rides it wants to give out. The Bruins are definitely looking toward filling one of those rides with a true wing. The other ride might ideally go to a scoring, face-up four man, but could also very well be given out to another post player if there was one good enough who wanted to commit that had good academics.
Jordan Farmar, 6-2 PG, Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft. Thank the Lord. UCLA's committed point guard had a stellar spring and summer and cemented his place as one of the top two or three point guards in the country and a likely top 25 national recruit. In the summer he showed that he's everything the UCLA programs needs – a real point guard with great leadership skills, intelligence, maturity and good academics. It's a completely different world to ponder if Farmar had actually committed to Florida back in spring like he was close to doing (watch the video interview). Watching him play this well this entire summer would have been torture for the UCLA coaches, and would have made it desperation time to get a point guard. He could be the biggest get for the UCLA basketball program since Baron Davis.
Arron Afflalo, 6-5 SG/SF, Compton (Calif.) Centennial. He had a solid summer, playing well at the ABCD, leading the camp in scoring, and then struggling somewhat in the Big Time playing on a team that didn't play well together. His shot was inconsistent for most of the spring and summer, but it's not a big worry since he's shown to be a better shooter in the past and has a very nice stroke. With good academics, Afflalo is a huge piece of the puzzle to getting UCLA back to where it needs to be over the next several years. Not only is he talented, but Afflalo is a warrior, much like Farmar, and he'll bring the needed toughness.
Lorenzo Mata, 6-9 PF/C, South Gate (Calif.) High. He's a great fit as a player -- the kind of true low-post guy that UCLA needs. He's big, athletic and plays hard. And he's only played organized basketball for a few years and is just at the beginning of his basketball learning curve. Physically, he's gotten bigger and has the body that could continue to fill out. From a talent standpoint, Mata right now is one of the best shot blockers in the west, is quick off his feet and rebounds well. Offensively he has great potential, going from having nearly nothing offensively to showing some great natural scoring moves out to 12 feet or so this summer. He went from being practically unknown to a top 70 national recruit, at least. And you have to give the kid a great deal of credit, too, for making a commitment to UCLA a reality for himself. Not coming from a great academic background, or a school that's known for its academics, Mata didn't do much academically for his first two and a half years in high school. But when he got motivated halfway through his junior year -- and was told that going to his dream school, UCLA, was a possibility, Mata applied himself. He replaced a number of core classes in his spring semester, and did so again this summer. His GPA improved considerably and made it possible for UCLA to accept his verbal commitment. Among prospects that don't have stellar academics, he's the type of student-athlete UCLA will invest in -- a kid who has shown that he's motivated to put in the work academically and improve. He'll still need a passing SAT score to qualify, but he's studying with a tutor and is expected to achieve one. If we had to project, we think that Mata, with his background story, incredible upside, and penchant for playing hard combined with his sometimes awkward appearance, will quickly become a Pauley Pavilion favorite.
Malik Hairston, 6-4 SG, Detroit (Mich.) Renaissance. He emerged this spring and summer as one of the best wings in the nation and a consensus top ten national recruit. UCLA is doing very well with him, and it's thought that the Bruins co-lead with Ohio State, while Kansas is making a push. Michigan State and Kentucky are also involved. With good academics, he'd really make UCLA's first recruiting class under Ben Howland a huge success. With these three playing for you on the wing – Farmar, Afflalo and Hairston – UCLA would have a backcourt set for some time. He had originally planned to visit UCLA officially last weekend, but rescheduled it for Sept. 12th. He'll visit Ohio State this weekend, and then Kansas the weekend following his UCLA trip. Whether Hairston comes to UCLA will depend greatly on his visit -- whether he feels comfortable being across the country. Much could depend on having known UCLA assistant Ernie Zeigler, who is from the Detroit AAU scene, for a while. Also much could depend on how close Hairston has become with Farmar. All of this will possibly contribute to how comfortable Hairston feels on his visit.
Maarty Leunen, 6-8 PF/SF, Redmond (Ore.) High. Leunen received an offer from UCLA about mid-July, after the UCLA coaches had seen him enough during the summer evaluation period. He's considering the Bruins as well as Gonzaga, Oregon, and Oregon State. He's the type of player that would fit into Howland's system well -- a skilled, face-up four. He does have just average athleticism and size, though. He'd be a solid get, someone who knows how to play and is a good kid. In what is shaping up into a huge weekend for UCLA basketball recruiting, Leunen will officially visit Westwood on the same weekend, Sept. 12th, as Malik Hairston. He'll then visit Gonzaga the next weekend on the 19th, take a mid-week visit to Oregon on the 23rd, and then finish with an official visit to Oregon State on Sept. 26th. There are those that believe Leunen is more a small-school type of guy, but he's said himself that he grew up a UCLA fan and likes the big city environment of Los Angeles.
Josh Shipp, 6-5 SG, Los Angeles (Calif.) Fairfax. He had a great Nike Camp in July, where he hit a majority of his jumpers and threw down impressive dunks. But then he came back to the west coast and came back to Earth. He's not overly quick, and needs to pick up his intensity at times. Shipp recently made the top 100 national rankings by TheInsiders.com. He's a solid player and a good kid (with good academics). He's been offered by USC and Washington, and others. Stanford could be a contender, though, if Shipp is accepted by Stanford admissions, but the general read on the situation is that if UCLA offered he'd commit. UCLA started to get on him more seriously during the last month. He's been on UCLA's campus twice for unofficial visits in the last several weeks. It will be interesting to see if UCLA pulls the trigger on Shipp if Hairston makes UCLA wait too long. The Shipp could hit the fan when takes he takes his official visit to UCLA Sept. 26th. If Hairston hasn't decided yet, will UCLA be able to hold off on on offering Shipp?
C.J. Giles, 6-10 C, Seattle (Wash.) Rainier Beach. He proved he's a great post prospect this summer, easily a top 100 national player and among the best 5-10 center prospects in the country. He's big, long and moves really well – and has potential oozing out of him. Many, after watching him this summer, believe he's a potential pro. Kansas probably leads, while UCLA, Arizona, USC and Miami are also the finalists. His father, Chester, played at Kansas.
Joakim Noah, 6-10 C, Lawrenceville (New Jersey) Prep. A Ryan Hollins look-a-like, he really improved his stock this summer, showing good athleticism and improving skills. All of the new recruiting attention as a result of the summer has him a bit turned around and uncertain about favorites, but UCLA might have a chance with him and they're showing interest.
Randolph Morris, 6-10 C, Fairburn (Georg.) Landmark Christian. He had a very good summer, one that confirmed he's among the best center prospects in the country. He's big, with squared shoulders and a muscular body, and is nimble around the basket. He has good grades, thus the reason UCLA is trying with him. It's been long thought he was a lock for Georgia Tech, his brother being a graduate assistant there. Kentucky is thought to also be very strong with him, with North Carolina and Louisville involved. He's mentioned UCLA among his top five, and he could visit officially, but the Bruins are considered longshots.
Davis Nwankwo, 6-9 C, North Bethesda (Mary.) Georgetown Prep. He looked good at the Nike Camp and UCLA was -- and is -- showing interest. He then disappeared and didn't play the second half of the evaluation period, so it made it a little hard on many schools -- including UCLA -- to stay on him. However, UCLA has continued to pursue him. He's got a good body, good athleticism and good width. He's a good student and UCLA will continue to try to make in-roads. If Stanford can't get him in academically, it could open a door. Maryland, Georgetown, Miami (FL) have offered, and the word is that UCLA recently offered, as did he Virginia and Georgia Tech, and Arizona is involved. He's a top 100 national prospect.
Tello Palacios, 6-8 PF, Centereach (New York) Our Savior New American School. Palacios is a top 40 national prospect who was a bit forgottent his summer since he didn't play in the U.S. during the evaluation period. A native of Columbia he returned home for most of the summer. He's considered one of the most skilled big men in the class, and quite athletic. UCLA is in the mix for him, along with Florida, St. John's, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, N.C. State, Illinois, Louisville and Florida State.
Lee Cummard, 6-6 SG/SF, Mesa (Ariz.) High. A true sleeper who is under-rated nationally, Cummard is one of the best players in the west. He's athletic, has one of the best strokes, is a great passer, plays his butt off, and has good academics. He's Mormon, so he'll go on his Mission apparently right out of high school. UCLA is interested, and he'd be recruited with an eye on coming in the fall of 2006. He has indicated he could take trips to Arizona State, Oregon State, BYU, UCLA and Oregon before deciding.
Here are players that are now off the UCLA recruiting board for one reason or another: David Burgess, 6-10 C, Irvine (Calif.) Woodbridge; Al Horford, 6-8 PF/C, Grand Ledge (Mich.) High; Marshall Brown, 6-6 PF, Austin (Tex.) Johnson; Shane Foster, 6-5 SR SF, Kenner (Louisiana) Bonnabel; Mohamed Tangara, 6-9 PF/C, Durham (North Carolina) Mt. Zion; Cornelio Guibunda, 6-9 C, Stamford (Conn.) King & Low-Heywood Thomas School; Jarhon Giddings, 6-9 C/PF, Blacksburg (Virg) High.