From Monday to Wednesday, the UCLA coaching staff conducted an individual camp for high schoolers, with some of the best, young talent on the west coast participating.
The UCLA staff had hands-on interaction with these prospects, taking them through three days of pretty intense drills, while also spending off-court time with them and their families.
60-70 high school players (including the incoming freshman recruits) played under the championship banners of Pauley Pavilion and in the beautifully renovated Men's Gym. They stayed overnight in the suites, ate at UCLA's dining facilities, worked with the UCLA strength and conditioning staff, interacted with UCLA players, spent time all through campus, toured the new training facilities and much more. Coach Ben Howland and his staff had so much time to work with the players, giving them a chance to evaluate them, not just in garbage AAU ball, but in highly-structured drills. It not only gave the coaching staff a chance to recruit the players and their families, but get to know them so much better than they ever could in any recruiting environment, being able to evaluate their abilities in drills and see how they react to demands of hard work.
Not to dwell on the past, but it's astounding to consider that this is the first time this has been done at UCLA.
Up until now, under the previous staff, UCLA had only conducted its conventional basketball camp, with hundreds of kids of any age. Such a camp is only intended to make extra money for the coaching staff. This one, this week, isn't intended to make money, which might have been why the previous staff never did it.
The format of the individual camp is really beneficial. Rather than individual camps, many programs have team camps. The individual camp is far superior since, with team camps, entire high school teams compete in a tournament format, not giving the coaches the ability to work with the players individually.
This week there was more talent at UCLA's basketball camp than any AAU event in April on the west coast. It's exciting to think what this camp will be like in the next few years when even more elite talent participates. In a couple of years, it should be like a mini-shoe camp.
One of the most impressive aspects of the camp was the current players and their participation. Cedric Bozeman, Dijon Thompson, Brian Morrison, Michael Fey, and Janou Rubin (Ryan Hollins was there, but didn't participate, sitting out apparently because of a minor knee injury) not only worked the camp as referees and pseudo-coaches, they were on hand to demonstrate Coach Howland's drills. They did so with great effort and efficiency, looking very well-disciplined, hard-working and sound fundamentally. If you were a high schooler at the camp, you would have been impressed with how the UCLA players appeared, and have adopted Howland's philosophies and approach to the game. Howland repeatedly praised the returning players for how efficient and effective they were in the execution of the drills. (Howland also pointed out to the campers how much bigger Mike Fey is, as a result of dedicated weight work).
It's also eye-opening to watch Coach Howland in a teaching environment such as this. The depth of his basketball knowledge and attention to details and fundamentals is captivating. It's also a great opportunity to see how a prospect will respond to Howland's demands. Even in an environment like this, where you would probably think that Howland might take some edge off of his approach, he didn't. At one point in the camp, when he was explaining a drill, a player had his eyes closed and his head leaning up against the wall. Howland pointed him out and said if he wanted to sleep he should leave.
Most of the players in camp responded very well, recognizing that Howland's demanding approach is what any player needs to realize his capabilities. A few of the key prospects even commented that they really appreciated Howland's demanding style and enjoyed seeing it this week.
The camp was organized and structured to truly push the players over the course of three days, and they were visibly tired and beat up by Wednesday.
The entire coaching staff did an excellent job in conducting the camp. Assistant Kerry Keating was responsible for putting together and organizing the camp, and it was run smoothly and efficiently, especially for the first year.
A few other highlights and notes:
-- Earl Watson and Don MacLean spoke to the campers, and it was said that both were very impressive. Watson, among other things, emphasized bringing a warrior mentality to the game, commenting about how he and Baron Davis would go after each other brutally every day in practice and then be best friends off the court. Coach Wooden was scheduled to speak to the campers but had to cancel.
-- There were a number of times over the course of three day that there was a type of future"dream team" on the court at the same time. At one point, playing together were Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo, Alex Tyus, Alex Stepheson and James Keefe. Another time, there was Farmar, Afflalo, Lorenzo Mata, D'Andre Bell and Ryan Wright.
-- For any UCLA fan, and the UCLA coaches, it was great to see the likes of Keefe, Stepheson, Wright and others wearing UCLA jerseys.
Here's a rundown of the standout individual players in the camp.
Arron Afflalo – If you had to choose one player among the 70 or so that was dominating it was Afflalo. His shot was on, his intensity was turned up (as it is always), and many times he was just plainly unstoppable. He is so strong physically, but also so good in many aspects of the game, from passing to defense, that he really has a chance to have a big impact as a freshman next season. Howland worked with him quite a bit, particulary in getting Afflalo's shot off quicker. In the same vein as Watson and Davis squaring off in practice, at one point this week Afflalo and Jordan Farmar found themselves on opposite teams, guarding each other. Two very competitive kids, Afflalo and Farmar got very intense against each other, with the type of competitive fire the roster needs.
Jordan Farmar – He has added some muscle and doesn't look near as skinny as he did. He has been nursing a bit of tweaked ankle and sat out the last afternoon because of it. His play was breathtaking over the course of the camp, and there probably isn't a better recruiting tool than arranging for Farmar to play with prospective recruiting targets like Keefe or Stepheson, being recipients of so many of his nice passes hitting them in the chest.
Lorenzo Mata – He showed up one evening and was very, very impressive. He is clearly 6-9 and has gotten bigger and more muscular. His game has continued to develop, being aggressive in the post, catching the ball and posting up more comfortably. He is very athletic, especially with his ability to get off the floor repeatedly. He dominated the younger post players in the camp for the night. When he had a put-back dunk on a quick second jump during one game, Howland's eyes lit up.
Josh Shipp – Shipp sat out the last two days due to some unspecified injury, but looked good the first day. When he plays with Farmar and Affalo, the three of them know how to play so well, and are already getting to be very comfortable with each other, that it's a great thing to watch. It looks like he's shortening up his stroke and getting it off quicker.
DeAndre Robinson – The walk-on looked impressive this week, having put on 10 pounds since he graduated from high school. At about 6-4, he's a great athlete with a very live body who is very good around the basket, particularly in finishing. His outside shot still has a ways to go, as does his ball-handling, but this is a great pick-up as a walk-on.
Daniel Stewart – The word is that he'll walk on to the program this fall. He's a 6-7 post player from Los Angeles King Drew, weighs about 215, with long arms and good athleticism. He also reportedly has a 4.0+ GPA and a very good SAT.
Part Two, which will look at the high school prospects who participated in the camp, and a photo galllery, is coming soon...