Crunch Time for Hoops Recruiting

With the currently recruiting contact period ending Sunday, it looks like UCLA could finish its class of 2004 recruiting for this fall fairly soon. The situations with Malik Hairston, Maarty Leunen and Josh Shipp could pop...

With the crunch period ending on Sunday, it's crunch time for UCLA basketball recruiting.

There are various situations with a few different recruits that could come to a crescendo. If not soon, at least by the signing period, which runs between November 12th and November 19th.  But the general feeling is that some things could pop soon.

Just to review, UCLA has three scholarships already earkmarked for the class of 2004, with only one more officially available. However, UCLA has been operating since spring like they will have five scholarships to give to this class, and have been aiming to get a commitment from two more players.

With Farmar filling the much needed point guard role, Afflalo satisfying a need for at least one wing, and Mata filling the role of the true low-post player, it gave UCLA some flexibility in what it's wanted to do with the last two rides.

The Bruins have definitely been looking toward filling one of those other two rides with a true wing. The other ride ideally would go to a scoring, face-up four man, but it very well could have gone to another post player if there was one good enough who wanted to commit that had good academics. 

The other potential scenario would have been UCLA filling its last two scholarships with two more frontcourt players.  If two of them wanted to commit before a wing does, UCLA very well could take them and call it a day.

But with many of the recruiting situations with different players coming to an end soon, there are a dwindling amount of scenarios that could happen now.  It could mean that UCLA leaves a ride open and waits until spring to see if there are any other prospects worthy of interest.  And this very well could end up being the best-case scenario anyway.

COMMITTED PLAYERS:

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.

LATEST ON TARGETS:

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 was thought to be a co-leader with Ohio State, but since his visit to UCLA on September 12th, the word is that UCLA has fallen down Hairston's list.  He took an official visit to Kansas on September 19th, and it was thought the Jayhawks were making a strong run. Kansas, though, with the commitments they've received recently, probably only have one more ride available, with the intention that it will go to a post. So the Jayhawks could be out of the Hairston sweepstakes.  Recently Hairston has said that Michigan has climbed back in, and the word is that they are a legitimate option.  Howland visited Hairston a day after his official visit to UCLA and the visit reportedly went well. Assistant Ernie Zeigler will go back to visit Hairston one last time this weekend, as will coaches from Ohio State, Michigan and many other schools trying their luck at pulling off an upset.  Sources have indicated that what Hairston does could depend greatly on what his teammate, Joe Crawford, does. Crawford had committed to Michigan previously, but then de-committed.  If Crawford does indeed decide to go to Michigan, Hairston will probably go to Ohio State or UCLA.  If Crawford goes elsewhere, it probably gives Michigan the best chance to pull the last-second upset.  The word previously is that Hairston thought UCLA was too far away, but there are other indications that his family was happy with him going to UCLA. The general consensus, though, among recruiting types is that Ohio State couuld be in the poll position. While Hairston has said he could wait, some opinions close to the situation think that, with the contact period over soon, he could make a decision shortly after that. 

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.  Leunen officially visited Westwood Sept. 12th, the same weekend as Malik Hairston.  He visited Gonzaga September 19th, and took a mid-week visit to Oregon on the 23rd, and then finished his official visits with a trip 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.  Howland visited Leunen recently, and Gonzaga and Oregon will have visits over the next few days. There had been some talk in recruiting circles that UCLA looks pretty good with Leunen but, admittedly, the Leunen camp has kept it pretty close to the vest. The most recent rumor is that Oregon State has become a longshot, and that Oregon is leading for him.

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, but he has good size and a good feel for the game. Shipp made the top 100 national rankings by TheInsiders.com. He's a solid player and a good kid (with good academics). UCLA offered him September 14th, and he also has offers from Washington and Oregon, and a conditional offer from Stanford if he improves his verbal score on the SAT. Many thought that Shipp would commit when UCLA offered, but he took his official visit to Oregon September 19th. He did tell us around that time that UCLA had a slight edge.  Shipp then visited UCLA September 26th and many thought he'd commit then, but again he didn't. He has one more visit planned -- for Washington -- October 10th. The option of Stanford looks like it's fading since he doesn't have the opportunity to retake the SAT (unless he doesn't trip to Washington and takes it on October 11th).  Many feel, once again, that Shipp might not make it to that Washington trip and commit to UCLA before that.  But, as we laid out above, he's bucked conventional wisdom a couple of times. UCLA coaches will almost certainly go by Fairfax one more time in the next couple of days to give Shipp love one last time.

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.  The son of tennis star Yannik Noah, he is a well-traveled, international kind of kid who wouldn't be phased by going across the country to school at UCLA. Florida could be the leader, and other schools are involved. Recently it looks like UCLA has fallen with him, but the Bruins are still trying. 

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 Colombia, 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 had been in the mix for him, along with Florida, St. John's, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, N.C. State, Illinois, Louisville and Florida State. UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland had an in-home visit with him earlier in the month of September.  Lately, though, it looks like UCLA is off his list.

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 tripped to BYU on Sept. 19th, and has a plan to visit Arizona State on Oct. 4 and UCLA on Oct. 11. He's also said he'll visit Oregon and Oregon State.  Arizona State has been thought to be the leader for a while, with his family wanting him to stay close to home. BYU recently has been rumored to be also toward the top of his list, due to his Mormonism.

Players that are now off the UCLA recruiting board for one reason or another: C.J. Giles, 6-10 C, Seattle (Wash.) Rainier Beach; Randolph Morris, 6-10 C, Fairburn (Georg.) Landmark Christian; Davis Nwankwo, 6-9 C, North Bethesda (Mary.) Georgetown Prep; 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.


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