Hoops Recruiting Update

it's perhaps the biggest recruiting weekend for UCLA head coach Ben Howland since he's arrived at UCLA, with three main targets -- <b>Ryan Wright</b>, <b>Alfred Aboya</b> and <b>Luc Mbah a Moute</b> -- taking their official visits...

The recruiting updates are getting easier to write, with fewer possibilities for UCLA left on the board.

Jon Brockman, the 6-7 power forward from Snohomish (Wash.) High and Brandon Costner, the 6-7 power forward from West Orange (NJ) Seton Hall Prep, recently decided to go elsewhere (Brockman either to Washington or Duke, and Costner to North Carolina State, respectively).

Also, some of the other post players that UCLA had started to recruit more seriously recently committed elsewhere before UCLA could get them to visit officially. Jeff Pendergraph, the 6-8 center from Etiwanda (Calif.) High, committed to Arizona State right after his official visit last weekend. Brayden Bell, the 6-9 center from Salt Lake City (Utah) Brighton, committed to Ohio State.

So, UCLA's prospect list is dwindling. It is, of course, disheartening for UCLA fans when big targets such as Brockman and Costner decide to go elsewhere after UCLA had spent so much time recruiting them. But it is also a bit disconcerting for many when they see recruits like Pendergraph and Bell also commit elsewhere.

How could this have happened?

It's not actually that difficult to understand. It stems from a combination of many different factors.

First, the class of 2005 was very weak in the west, particularly so in Southern California. There wasn't truly one post in Southern California that would have the academics to get into UCLA that the UCLA staff deemed able to play at this level, which we tend to agree with.

So, UCLA then knew it had to go outside of the area, which presents an inherent problem in trying to lure top flight recruits away from home to go to school at UCLA. Now, as history will tell you, that's a difficult proposition in any given year, and even moreso when you're trying to sell a UCLA program that had suffered two losing seasons in a row.

In many ways, there wasn't much that the UCLA coaching staff could have done. They found themselves in a tough situation.

If perhaps, though, the staff did err it might have been in believing that they, as UCLA, would undoubtedly be able to get a couple of out-of-state frontcourt prospects in 2005. Perhaps this led them to not develop a back-up list of prospects and recruit them seriously enough earlier on. Perhaps getting off the likes of Artem Wallace, the 6-9 center from Toledo (Wash.) High, who now, in retrospect, looks pretty good, wasn't necessarily a good move. UCLA got on the likes of Pendergraph and Brayden Bell probably too late, while other schools had offered them early and been on them hard for quite some time. It would be easy, then, for other programs to negative recruit against UCLA in such situations – telling the recruit that UCLA was only looking at them as a back-up option while they were on the top of their list. Along this same mindset, the fact that UCLA had to schedule visits with Bell and Pendergraph for later, in October, to enable them to see how the situation would play out with Brockman, Costner, etal, enabled the other programs to get earlier visits with the second-tier recruits and get the edge.

The 2005 recruiting class, though, will be a success, depending on how this upcoming weekend goes. On Friday, UCLA will entertain three of the remaining four available players its offered on official visits: Ryan Wright, the 6-8 post from Mississauga (Ontario, Canada) Loyola Catholic; Alfred Aboya, the 6-7 post from Tilton (NH) Tilton School; and Luc Mbah A Moute, the 6-6 wing from Montverde (Fla.) Montverde Academy.

From what we've heard, UCLA still has a very good chance at Wright. He visited Michigan State the weekend September 18th, and came away saying that the Spartans had moved slightly ahead as his leader. He recently commented that his three schools – UCLA, Michigan State and Stanford – are all even once again. There was talk that the Wrights hadn't made plans to visit Stanford, even though The Bootleg is reporting that Mr. Wright has in fact purchased airfare to accompany his son on his official visit to Stanford October 8th. He hasn't, as of yet, completed his Stanford application, which even Stanford watchers concede isn't traditionally a good sign. Mr. Wright insists, though, that his son will complete it. Wright did say recently that he's getting tired of the recruiting process and wants to end it soon. The ongoing theory here is that Michigan State has an advantage is location – being just four hours away from the Wright home. UCLA and Stanford have the education advantage, which is important to the parents.

UCLA also has a good shot at Aboya, a native of Cameroon (as is Mbah a Moute). Aboya had committed to Georgetown when he first arrived in the States about a year ago, but then reneged on his commitment, wanting to check out other schools. UCLA got involved with him this summer through dilligence, and he now has it down to Virginia, Georgetown and UCLA. He reportedly visited Georgetown September 17th, and will visit Virginia October 15th.

Mbah a Moute is also getting recruited by Georgetown, as well as Virginia Tech, which he visited officially last weekend.

If UCLA could get all three of these prospects to go along with already-committed point guard Darren Collison from Etiwanda (Calif.) High, you'd have to consider it a successful recruiting year, considering how down the class of 2005 is, and how thin it is in SoCal.

If UCLA misses on the two post players – Wright and Aboya – or even just one, you can probably expect them to looking to find one for the spring signing period. Many times elite players emerge by the spring of their senior years, or UCLA would look more seriously into a possible foreign player.

It's an understatement to say that this weekend is the biggest in the UCLA basketball recruiting season, and probably one of the biggest recruiting weekend yet of Head Coach Ben Howland's time at UCLA.

The other possibility still remains of D'Andre Bell, the 6-4 wing from Pacific Palisades (Calif.) High. Bell visited Georgetown a couple of weeks ago, while he's also said that Michigan State was his leader. He reportedly visited Georgia Tech last weekend. UCLA could get an official visit from Bell on either the weekend of October 8th or 15th.

The UCLA staff has also made contact with Dior Lowhorn, the 6-6 power forward from Berkeley (Calif.) St. Mary's, within the last couple of weeks, He visited Texas Tech officially, while San Francisco is the other serious consideration at this time, but Texas Tech was thought to be the biggest competition. Ben Howland recently had an in-home visit with Lowhorn, according to sources close to his AAU program, and it's believed UCLA has offered. He could visit sometime during the first half of October.

If UCLA did indeed get the three recruits visiting this weekend – Wright, Aboya and Mbah a Moute – it would satisfy some of the basic roster needs for the next few years. UCLA needs more frontcourt players, particularly athletic, physical ones, which Wright and Aboya both represent. Mbah a Moute is a very athletic, well-built wing, who would satisfy Howland's need for a big, physical three that can rebound and play defense, at the very least. The resulting recruiting class of four – including Collison – would complement the four freshmen that came in this fall with the 2004 class very well. You would have two point guards, three wings and three post players for a well-rounded combination. It would also keep a good level of talent coming into the program during a slim recruiting year for talent, and bridge the program to the 2006 class, which has exceptional talent, some of which UCLA is doing very well with early.

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