Basketball Practice Update

Once again, our top-secret sources have given us an update on what's been happening in behind the closed practice doors with the UCLA basketball team...

Dan Gadzuric still looks terrific. He's blocking shots, dominating the glass, and even hitting short jumpers and jump hooks. He's also passing the ball very well out of the post and running pick and roll plays very well. If he plays like this in the regular season, some educated observers believe that he has a chance to be as good as any post player in the country and a NBA lottery pick. The coaches have been saying publicly for the last two years that Dan has had that potential, but it appears that his production might have actually caught up to his potential for the first time. He seems to be much more relaxed and instinctive on the court, not thinking as much, as if his grasp of the fundamentals has really improved. Dan also looks really tall. He might be closer to 7-feet than 6-11. In our preseason preview, we questioned whether Dan would be a big scorer and suggested that 12 points per game would be realistic. We might have egg on our faces on that call…

Dijon Thompson and Andre Patterson are both playing really well. They (and Cedric Bozeman) are noticeably more athletic than the rest of the team, and that athleticism is playing to their advantage in the types of offensive and defensive schemes the Bruins are working on. Andre is regularly beating Matt Barnes and TJ Cummings on the boards at both ends (it's always important to remember that some guys play better than they practice, and vice-versa) and scores fairly effortlessly inside against anyone not named Gadzuric. With his long arms, he plays like a 6-9 player. Dijon is simply a highly-skilled player with the whole package. He's also the 3rd tallest player on the team. He's close to 6-8. Dijon does need to pick up his intensity defensively, and sometimes will go for stretches where he disappears at times. One assumes this is just a question of maturity, plus the depth and experience of the team.

Cedric Bozeman is scary. He looks to be a legit 6-7, and he looks like a really good point guard. He is the quickest player on the team (though this team lacks great quickness), and he has had some dazzling moments in scrimmages, though they don't always show up in the box score. He doesn't shoot very much, and is focused on getting the ball to everyone else. Often, he is the guy who makes the key pass which leads to the pass which leads to the fast-break basket, so Ced doesn't get an assist on that play. But the Bruins have a real transition game for the first time since '98 and Bozeman appears to be the prime suspect in the case. Obviously, given the team's overall lack of great quickness, it's hard to make predictions about how Cedric's size will truly translate once he starts facing up against a high caliber of quick guards, but he certainly looks awfully good out there. His outside shot is very solid.

Among the veterans, Rico Hines looks to be moving ahead of Ray Young as the first backcourt player off the bench. Rico's leadership, consistency and improved skills seem to be making a bigger impression so far than Ray's flashes of athleticism and talent (Ray has had some great scrimmages and some not so great scrimmages). Hines has emerged as the clear-cut emotional leader of the team, and his energy could very well make the difference in how far the Bruins go this year. Every champion needs a player with a special fire, and Rico is that type of player. The Bruins are very fortunate that Rico redshirted last season, because they would have really missed his leadership otherwise.

TJ Cummings continues to show flashes of powerful, aggressive post play and improved range on his jumper, but has also continued to be somewhat inconsistent and mistake-prone. The coaching staff is making him play a lot at the center spot and he's still adjusting to playing the position (yes, he played there last season, but he spent the summer working on wing skills more than post skills, which is wise for TJ down the road as far as the NBA goes, but may not necessarily fit in with the role he will play for the Bruins this year and next year, ala a Matt Barnes-type scenario).

Ryan Walcott is also playing well. He's been hampered by tendinitis in his knees (similar to what Tyus Edney and Dan Gadzuric went through). When the Bruins scrimmage, Walcott has shown that he can break the press effectively, and also dish out some assists and consistently nail the 3. With his lack of game experience and the nagging tendinitis, it's still too early to make predictions on when Ryan might start making regular contributions to the team. He has more talent that Moose Bailey or Jason Flowers, but lacks their experience and size (Flowers was pretty thick). He could eventually develop into a solid backup point guard for the Bruins, and when that could happen, whether it's this year or further down the road, is anybody's guess.

So, as of right now, it sounds as if you will have a team with Bozeman, Knight, Kapono, Barnes and Gadzuric starting, and Young, Hines, Thompson, Patterson and Cummings all slated to play in every game off the bench, for a 10-man regular rotation.


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