Here we are on January 3, 2002. Back on December 3, 2002, we did our first "State of the Program" address. At the time, the Bruins were 2-2 and reeling from a 7-point loss at home to Pepperdine. Dan Gadzuric was averaging 3.5 ppg/3.5 rpg, and with our vast coaching expertise Tracy and I helpfully suggested that the team stop extending their defense and switch to a zone defense instead, as a solution to the team's lack of quickness. Did anyone thank us?
The Bruins were 7-0 in December. Some of their games (Alabama and Georgetown) were fun. Some (UC-Riverside, UC-Irvine, Columbia) were not so much fun, unless you were a fan of one of those other schools. UCLA is now ranked 14th in the country. Why, we're not exactly sure.
Anyway, here's a review of the program as it currently stands, where we see it going and where we'd like to see it go, both this year and beyond:
Jason Kapono has been forced into the role of the team's primary ballhandler and playmaker, and he somehow kept his sense of humor and his scoring average. Jason, by the book: 19.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.7 apg, 51.1% from the field, 83.3% from the FT line, 52.9% from 3, a positive A/TO ratio. If one regards his FT performance against Georgetown as an aberration, Jason is on track to set new career records in every category. More importantly, Jason has added strength, improved his one-on-one skills, takes the ball to the basket with more authority and has been a more physical presence under the basket at both ends. Although he's had a string of slow starts (as have the Bruins… coincidence?), he's clearly emerged as the team's leader and go-to man on the court. He still commits some weak fouls, but his job is to be out there all the time, not sitting on the bench in foul trouble.
Actually, as the Bruins showed against Georgetown, they have quite a few guys they can go to when they need a basket. UCLA has 5 players who can score 20 points on a given night, and no other team in the Pac-10 can say the same. Billy Knight (14.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.5 spg, 48.4% FGs, 79.7% FTs, 47.9 3s) has emerged as a good Pac-10 "2" guard. His unusual ability to hit the 3 from the deep corner has really allowed the Bruins to stretch opposing defenses. At the same time, Billy has really improved his ballhandling, one-on-one skills and athleticism. In the Bruins' matchup zone, he plays the passing lanes extremely well and leads the team in steals. He gives UCLA another clutch FT shooter besides Jason to close out games (except for the G-Town game, but again we'll assume that won't happen again). Billy still lacks the quickness needed to play strong defense up top on quicker guards, and must continue to improve his footwork in order to put his height (6-4, not his listed 6-6) to his advantage.
TJ Cummings (11.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 59.8% FGs, 75% FTs) has one of the sweetest midrange Js in the country. His quickness makes him hard to track for more traditional big men, and he can beat most opposing Cs down the floor quite easily. In the Bruins' last 2 games, he actually got some assists and blocks and played better in the low post at both ends. Those games also saw the unveiling of Lavin's "big" lineup, using TJ and Dan together at the same time, which Lavin promised at his press conference the week before. If TJ can become more of a physical force on defense and on the glass, and score a little inside when he and Dan rotate between the high and low post, he will make himself one of the most difficult matchups in the conference. TJ must also improve his passing and ballhandling. He doesn't have to create plays, he just has to keep the ball moving in the Bruin offense and trust that the ball will come back to him within the rhythm of the offense, so he doesn't have to force up bad shots. TJ has the potential to be an excellent player; with him, it's a matter of willpower, not talent.
Matt Barnes (11.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.2 spg, 48.8% FGs, 68.4% FTs, 44.4% 3s) has put together a number of excellent all-around games of late. He not only appears to be playing like he did last year, but he's better in certain areas as well. This is a guy with a career mark of 19.8% from 3 and 54% from the FT line. Matt obviously worked on his J over the summer, and he's also been taking the ball to his left quite well, another marked improvement from last season. As UCLA's "4" man, he gives the Bruins a superb pressure release against extended defenses, since most teams simply don't have the personnel to press a power forward who can dribble like a guard. Matt is also UCLA's best defensive player, inside or out. Matt does turn the ball over too much, but usually he's turning it over trying to make a play that will lead directly to a score by one of his teammates. He's also shown himself to be a provocateur par excellence. If he doesn't watch his mouth, someone will hit him with a stool one of these days…
Dan Gadzuric (9.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 55.4% FGs, 49% FTs) has averaged 20.3 ppg and 9.0 rpg in 3 of the Bruins' last 4 games, including a strong 18 point, 7 rebound performance against Georgetown, a team noted for its powerful inside game. Despite some protestations to the contrary from the message board faithful, Dan has been scoring off some nice turnaround Js and short jump hooks as well as dunks. His form at the FT line has totally changed from his first 3 years, but it still hasn't paid off yet (well, he is approaching his career high for FT%, but we'd rather see him at 60% than 50%). He's got the shooting motion down; he needs to bend his knees a little bit more. There are few Cs in the Pac-10 than can match up with Dan's combination of size and mobility. If he can dominate David Dixon and J Locklier and stand up to Michael Sweetney/Wesley Wilson, he can do a lot of damage in the Pac-10. We still don't know if Dan will show up for any given game, however, and his defense needs a lot of work.
Rico Hines (0.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.8 apg) has the best A/TO ratio on the team, makes the offense work better with his movement, spacing and ballhandling, hustles and plays good defense, but at some point a 12.5% shooting percentage isn't going to cut it. Some teams have just stopped guarding Rico entirely; for some reason, that doesn't seem to help, as the Bruins rank near the top of the Pac-10 in almost every offensive statistical category. One reason is, Rico just doesn't turn the ball over. Another reason, as I said, is that Rico will actually cut through the lane at the right moment to create enough congestion for someone else to pop open for a quick 3. Rico also appears to feed the post better than any player on the team, and would likely be leading UCLA in assists if Dan hadn't missed so many dunks this year. But, 12.5% is 12.5% is 12.5%. At some point, someone needs to take over for Rico if UCLA is going to reach its full potential this year.
Will it be Dijon Thompson? Dijon (5.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.2 spg, 39.6% FGs, 83.3% FTs, 35% 3s) has seemingly hit a wall. His productivity has dropped considerably in the last 2 weeks. Nonetheless, as his FT% and 3FG% illustrate, he has a good shooting touch. His problems are shot selection and confidence. He's a very good playmaker and ballhandler who seems to be thinking a little too much on the floor instead of just playing instinctively, and he's been coughing up the ball and forcing plays, especially against extended defenses. Hopefully, Dijon will settle down and pick his game back up, as the Bruins need one more shooter as well as a creative scorer and playmaker, and Dijon fits the bill. However, at 6-7, maybe 6-8, he probably isn't the candidate to replace Rico long-term in the backcourt.
Andre Patterson? Andre (3.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 0.9 bpg, 54.8% FGs) continues to make the most of his limited minutes. He's leading the team in blocks already, and he'd obviously lead the team in rebounds if he was given a solid 20 minutes every night (he's playing just under 12 mpg right now). Andre's long arms, quick reactions, hops and good footwork around the basket make him UCLA's most effective low post presence at both ends of the floor, but at 18 years of age and 195 pounds, Andre is still turnover prone and he has gotten banged around a little. Andre will likely be a 3-year starter for the Bruins starting commencing next season, but it's unlikely that Lavin will insert him into the lineup this year.
Ryan Walcott? Ryan has gotten only 6.5 mpg this season and has 3 DNPs. He's averaging 1.0 ppg and 0.8 apg. While he gives the Bruins a jolt of quickness whenever he enters the game, sometimes he seems to be moving too fast for the rest of the team and turnovers have ensued as a result. He is definitely a point guard, but if he was ready to take Rico' place in the starting lineup, or even to play 12 mpg, we assume he would've gotten there by now.
Let's see… is there anybody else? Do the Bruins have somebody we've forgotten? Somebody who might be a real guard, even a point guard, who can slide into Rico's spot and become an even better compliment to the 5 big guns on the UCLA team? Hmmm…
Cedric Bozeman (5.2 ppg, 3.2 apg, 47.4% FGs, 66.7% FTs, 33.3% from 3) returns to action this Friday night against Washington. Lavin has indicated that he doesn't expect to play Ced for more than 5 minutes per half in his first game. After that, Ced's minutes will depend on his health and his performance. All of the high preseason expectations for the Bruins were predicated on Ced being a good FR PG. By good, we might look at what Baron Davis or Mike Bibby or Brett Nelson did as FR: About 10 ppg and 5 apg. We know now that Ced played his 4 first games with a torn cartilage in his knee. Obviously, it might've affected his play. Just as obviously, no one can rationally expect Ced Bozeman to show up Friday night and start averaging 10 ppg and 5 apg. The big question for UCLA is whether Ced can start producing at that level by February 1, as the team enters the second half of conference play. It's impossible to predict what players are going to do coming off surgery, especially a college FR. But Ced now becomes the real wild card, not only for UCLA, but possibly for the entire Pac-10.
The votes are in: Most readers apparently hate the Bruins' 1-4 offense. Now, not being coaches ourselves, we're not wedded to any particular offensive system. We'd just like to see some exciting basketball. But before we junk the 1-4, let's take a look at the numbers (no, stats don't tell the whole story, but they tell a story, and if you want to tell your own story, you better be prepared to explain the stats or your story won't wash). Based on the rankings and records of their opponents, UCLA has played the second toughest schedule to date amongst all Pac-10 schools, behind only Arizona. The Bruins are 2nd in the Pac-10 in FG% (48.7%). They're 3rd in 3-point FG% (42.9%).
Now, we all know that Jason and Billy are terrific 3-point shooters (so is Matt, apparently). We also know that neither one is a great one-on-one artist who can bust a move on people like Jason Williams or Jason Gardner and create their own shots. We also know that everyone on the message boards complains that the Bruins either don't set enough screens for Jason or that they don't set any screens at all for Jason. We also know that everyone complains about how limited Dan is on offense. So, why is UCLA shooting so well from 3, as well as overall? There must be some rational explanation besides dumb luck.
Obviously, the 1-4 offense is working for this team. The idea is, you use passing and movement to create open shots, rather than passing and screens (a motion). Theoretically, everyone is constantly cutting, moving, either faking a backdoor move and then popping out for the 3, or moving through the lane and out the other side while the ball is swung around the other side. It's human nature for players, as well as fans, to become fixated on the ball. At some point, if you pass the ball well enough and move well enough, the defenders are supposed to lose track of their men.
So, the Bruin offense can be pretty boring at times. Pass, pass, pass. Cut, cut, cut. Reset. Yawn. But it works. Here's an obvious example: Deep into the shot clock, after about 4 resets, Matt gets the ball at the elbow, spins and drives to the basket. The defense freezes or collapses. Billy keeps moving. Matt hits him in the corner. Billy shoots. Boom. Boring but effective. Another obvious example: Deep into the shot clock, after about 4 resets, Billy gets the ball in the corner. He gets it from Rico, who's only 10 feet away from him. The entire defense has instinctively shifted to that side of the floor. Billy throws a skip pass to Jason, who's in the other corner. When the defense shifts back, Jason drives around his man and, as the defense continues to overreact, he either hits Dan for the dunk or Matt or Billy for a wide-open 3. It's all misdirection away from the ball. That's why a lot of fans miss what's going on out there.
A less obvious example: I was watching tapes of the WSU and Georgetown games the other day and I noticed something funny: A lot of Dan's offensive rebound dunks follow a play where he was at the top of the key making a handoff just moments before. We've all seen that play; most readers really hate it. But if you tape a game one day, watch for this (it's impossible to watch for this while the game is in progress, as you will miss a lot of the action): Dan makes that handoff. Usually, his man plays him very loosely, just making sure that the guy who gets the handoff doesn't try driving into the lane. As the Bruins swing the ball around, Dan turns back towards the basket, but he often stays up near the FT line. From that spot, he has the best seat in the house to see exactly what's going on, especially who's taking the shot and where they're taking it from. Dan's man, usually the opposing C, will drift back towards the basket. When a shot goes up, the C instinctively does what? He turns to the basket and squares up for the rebound. Unfortunately, he's just lost track of Dan. You can't see someone if you're facing in the opposite direction. And you can't box out a moving target. So Dan rushes in and gets an unobstructed dunk when the ball comes off the rim. 4 of his dunks against WSU came shortly after the handoff. 2 of his dunks against G-Town came shortly off the handoff. The same play was the game winning basket against Irvine. I also suspect that Dan is committing less offensive fouls because of this as well, since he's not going over anyone's back as he hits the seam and finds his way clear to the basket.
So, the 1-4 offense is generating a lot of high percentage shots and eating up a lot of shot clock, reducing the amount of time the opponent gets the ball and UCLA has to play defense. UCLA's zone offense appears to be working equally well. The Bruins still have a negative turnover margin, just barely, after the G-Town game, but then Arizona has a worse negative turnover margin. We can't think of a better halfcourt offense for this team. However, this team doesn't score very much off of turnovers or breaks, and that could be a fatal flaw for this team down the road. But that discussion really belongs to the next chapter.
Although UCLA hasn't had anyone just run through them for 30 minutes like Ball State and Pepperdine did, UCLA is still struggling at the defensive end of the floor. They are only 8th in the Pac-10 in FG% defense, and if stats tell a story, well, that's a "Moby Dick" of stats. Although Paul Westhead and Steve McClain might disagree with us, we don't think you can just count on outscoring your opponent. If you get into a shootout every time out, you're going to go cold eventually and you could get bitten. A lot of teams have been biting the Bruins even while they've been losing to them. The Alabama game was really the only game all season where the Bruins put together two strong halves on defense.
The Bruins seem to lack two elements essential to good defense. One is great quickness, especially on the perimeter. Now, there have been other teams which lacked this element and they made it to the Final 4 (e.g., Wisconsin 2 years ago, Michigan State last year), but they had the other element the Bruins seem to lack: Great defensive rotation, especially on the weakside of the ball, which can make up for a lack of great quickness to a large extent.
It's not clear to us how the Bruins can improve their quickness on the perimeter. Presumably, a healthy Ced Bozeman is a lot quicker than Rico Hines or Billy Knight, but the addition of one quick player isn't going to change all that much. Well, maybe it will, but until we see Ced play, we're not ready to pronounce him the savior of the team's defense. Basically, this is a recruiting issue: Lavin recruited a relatively slow team. If he wants to fix that, he has to recruit quicker players.
Improved defensive rotation is something that the current coaches and players can arguably fix. It's a question of fundamentals and effort. It's a question of whether or not the staff and the team are up to the challenge. Matt Barnes, for instance, has really given UCLA's defense a jolt since his ankle got better. But one player can't play defense all by himself, it has to be a team effort. Specifically, it has to be Dan, TJ and, if he gets a chance to play, Andre, who have to dramatically improve their defensive rotation if UCLA is going to achieve any of the lofty goals we all had at the beginning of the season. Billy and Rico do a solid job up top, considering their limitations. Billy is a demon in the passing lanes, and Rico is terrific double-teaming the ball in the paint. Dijon has also shown the ability to haunt the passing lanes. Jason does a good job double-teaming down low, but he's foul averse and should be; he's too valuable to sit.
The Bruins showed their best defensive rotation of the season against G-Town in the first half. Whether that signals something or was just a display for the national TV audience, we have no idea. One assumes that as the Bruins continue to focus on the matchup zone as their primary defense with each passing week of practice (they've only been doing this for 4 weeks) that their defensive rotation will improve, slowly but surely. The problem is, after this week, the Bruins will have run out of time. They get USC at the Forum, Kansas at Pauley, the Arizona schools on the road and Cal and Stanford at home. In other words, they better improve real fast, or they could be in trouble real fast.
The defensive news isn't all gloom and doom. When we did our last "State of the Program" report, UCLA was making 18.5 turnovers per game and causing 10.3. Now, they're making 15.7 turnovers per game and causing 15.0. That's a net change of almost +8, which is a big difference. Part of that has to do with the offense running more efficiently (the team averaged only 13 turnovers per game in 6 games prior to the G-Town game). Part of that obviously has to do with the defense improving. The schedule included two ranked teams. Apart from Columbia and Washington, none of UCLA's opponents were particularly turnover prone, so some credit has to go to the defense. Matt Barnes, Rico Hines and Billy Knight are probably the individuals who have contributed most to that improved defense. Again, UCLA needs Dan and TJ and Ced and Dijon to now step up and take the team to a new level. The Bruins might never be quick enough to get out on J shooters, but if they rotate well on defense they will cut down on the number of high percentage shots those J shooters get (by cutting down the good passing angles), and the teams that live by the outside shot will sometimes die by it as well (ask Arizona).
It's may be presumptuous for us to review the coaches, since we're not coaches ourselves, but we are two guys with a keyboard, and that makes us dangerous. For now, we'll crouch our comments in the form of questions:
Why are we so slow?
Why didn't we have another PG on the team ready to start when Ced Bozeman went down?
If Lavin didn't know until October 2000 that he was going to use a 1-4 offense, when Jim Saia (quite reasonably, as far as we can tell) persuaded him that the 1-4 was better suited for his personnel than a motion, what was he thinking about when he recruited all of his current players? Obviously, Coach Wooden abandoned his high post offense when Lew Alcindor showed up, but Lavin doesn't have a Lew Alcindor.
We think that these are fair questions to ask, even if we are amateurs. These questions basically go to recruiting, not specific choices (we'll leave that to all of you readers out there), but overall philosophy. No doubt, back in ‘96, Lavin, a very young coach, with a very young staff, got thrown into the fire. There was a lot of talk (with Jim Harrick and others being frequently quoted in the newspapers) that Lavin wouldn't be able to recruit any good players to UCLA. Since that talk, Lavin has had 3 top 5-rated recruiting classes, and has signed 6 Mickey D's. Now, Lavin has not kept pace with Coach K or Tubby Smith or Roy Williams or Tom Izzo in signing Mickey D's, but he's done the best job of recruiting top players to UCLA since Wooden. Lavin has had a lot of good players here. Perhaps no one should be surprised that he's made all those Sweet 16s.
On the other hand, we've always gotten the impression that Lavin has maybe put too much emphasis on signing top-rated players without putting enough emphasis on which players best fit the style of basketball that he feels is the optimum style that he'd like to use at UCLA. Does Lavin want to use a motion or a 1-4? These are very different offensive systems. Lavin has used both. You can't perfect both. Roy Williams is still working out the kinks in his motion and he's been doing this for 25 years. If you don't perfect a system and focus on it, but instead you make major changes in your system every other year or so, your players are going to look confused and fundamentally unsound. Which has been the case at UCLA…
We're also worried that Lavin still doesn't focus enough on filling specific team needs with so-called "second tier" prospects when his top recruiting targets sign elsewhere. While no coach can succeed on a high level unless they consistently do sign their first choices (which is a whole other topic), most of the top coaches also seem to do a pretty good job of signing the best available players when they can't get the best players. Billy Knight would be an example of the good "second tier" prospect who worked out great for the Bruins. He wasn't rated in the top 100 by recruiting services, but here he is now scoring 14.4 ppg for the 14th ranked team in the country. Matt McKinney is another good example. He's the #3 ranked PF in the west on Prep West Hoops, but isn't well-known nationally. While we don't know if he will focus on bb in college, he clearly has the potential to be a starter or at least a major contributor down the road if he does so. So, Lavin has gotten some players in this category and has seen the payoff. But, and still without getting into specific cases, it's unclear why we don't have such players at key positions where the team seems to lack depth. Now, having said that, it's fair to note that some of the country's top programs (Kentucky and North Carolina, to name two) don't have a single PG on their entire roster, so Lavin isn't alone here. But a problem is a problem, even if other people have the same problem.
Maybe Lavin feels that he doesn't have a long enough leash to be more selective in his recruiting. If he can bring in a Baron Davis, Jason Kapono, Evan Burns every so often, he can win enough to keep his job and maybe he feels like he's on a treadmill, with a big target painted on his back. The truth is, Lavin's probably right about that to a certain extent. A lot of UCLA fans want a NC. Lavin's not going to win a NC without signing players like Jason Williams, Richard Jefferson, Jason Richardson, Richard Hamilton, etc. But Lavin's also not going to win a NC until he settles on a definite system, perfects it, and recruits players who fit that system well. When he does that, and only when he does that, will UCLA fans see the fundamentally-sound and consistent play that all of them demand. There are many disagreements between fans on the message boards about what are the appropriate standards and expectations for UCLA basketball. Without getting into Pac-10 championships or National Championships, I think everyone can agree that if you start out with good fundamentals and consistency, and then add talent, you are likely going to come up with a fun, exciting brand of basketball that will attract both fans and players alike.
Now, after criticizing Lavin's recruiting philosophy, let's find something positive to say as well (since everyone knows we never criticize the coaches because we love having all of our amazingly valuable "access" to "the program"):
If the last two games (and the Alabama game) are any indication, the coaches seem to be doing a better job of mapping out game strategy and motivating their players to execute it. The team started out very slowly in a number of games and the coaches made adjustments in the second half that worked (UC-R, UC-I, Washington, WSU). Against Alabama, Columbia, and Georgetown, Lavin and his staff seemed to have the game won from the opening tip, with a superior strategy laid out from the beginning. Lavin has added two new coaches, Gerald Madkins and Patrick Sandle, and they do a lot of the groundwork for game preparation. Game preparation and second half adjustments are obviously crucial elements to success, and the staff seems to be doing better and better at these aspects of coaching.
The Bruins have managed to go 7-0 in December, with victories over Alabama and Georgetown, without a PG. Obviously, the experience and leadership of Jason Kapono, Matt Barnes, Billy Knight and, yes, Rico Hines, played a big part in the team's performance. But Lavin has managed the situation about as well as one could ask for. Until the second half of the Georgetown game, the team has been able to minimize the ability of their opponents to convert off turnovers, as well as decrease their overall turnovers. Part of that is ballhandling, but part of that is the coaches getting the players to properly space themselves on the floor and pass the ball into the middle of the court instead of getting themselves trapped in the corners. The Bruins have shown excellent fundamentals in breaking pressure, and Lavin appears to recognize when he should be using Matt Barnes or Billy Knight or TJ Cummings to be his extra pressure release in the backcourt against an extended defense, depending on the matchups and the type of defense employed against the Bruins. Probably, the Bruins' own familiarity with the press has helped them in this regard.
Again, even though fans seem to hate it, Jim Saia's 1-4 system is working. Only Oregon has a more productive offense than UCLA, and their schedule hasn't been as difficult. Here, once more, the presence of the veterans has to be a big bonus, but you have to give the coaches credit if something is working, just as they must take the blame if something isn't working. Right now, the defense, though it is definitely working much better than it was at the start of December, is still not working well enough for UCLA to win the conference. A marked improvement in the defense will be a good measurement for the coaches and players alike.
NOW AND THE FUTURE:
UCLA will probably beat the Washington schools at Pauley this weekend. So, they'll be 11-2 overall, 4-0 in conference, and temporarily share first place with USC heading into their showdown with the Trojans at the Forum on Thursday, January 10. At that point, as we noted above, things get really hard. USC. Arizona at Arizona. Cal and Stanford at Pauley. The Oregon schools on the road. And so on and so on. Most readers seem to have consigned UCLA to 4th place already. Last year, most readers had UCLA pegged at 7th place around this same time. It's far too difficult to be able to predict exactly what will happen with this Bruin team when it gets into the teeth of its Pac-10 schedule. There are signs that UCLA is starting to play better basketball and could do well in the Pac-10. But there are other signs -- like USC stomping the Washington schools in Washington when UCLA struggled with both -- that you could interpret as a dark harbinger of things to come. It could be a triumphant march, or a death march.
But we want to be optimistic, since this is a UCLA site. So, optimistically, we think it will come down to UCLA and Arizona for the Pac-10 Championship. We've seen Cedric Bozeman play enough times to know what he's capable of. Now that we've seen UCLA win 7 straight games and beat Alabama and Georgetown without Ced, we don't think Ced has to be a really good player, just a solid player, and the Bruins should improve, though it's hard to see how much better they can get on offense. The real key remains on defense, although Jim Harrick took one of the worst defensive teams in the Pac-10 to the Elite 8 one season, so you can apparently win at times just with a great offense. Lavin has always been a defensive-oriented coach; his decision to zone had already reaped enormous benefits for the Bruins with that great shift in turnover margin. Trying to be optimistic again, we suspect that, like always, he will once again exceed current expectations and the Bruins will be playing solid defense by February 1. If that happens, and if Ced Bozeman is producing 8 ppg and 5 apg and playing good defense up top in the zone, then the Bruins can win the conference and grab no worse than a 2nd seed in the West Regional. It's still a big "if" at this point, but UCLA could become the best team in the conference and one of the top teams in the country – like all the pre-season hype asserted -- if our "if" becomes an "is".
The recruiting outlook appears hazy. Many believe that there is a good possibility that Evan Burns will turn pro. Others close to the program are pretty confident he'll be a Bruin. It's uncertain whether Jason Kapono will return next year. If he did, it would go a very long way for next year's team, and take the sting out of Evan flying to the NBA. But logic dictates that Jason will turn pro, so we have to assume that's the most likely scenario. There's enough information for me to believe that Evan will come to UCLA. He's been talking to some other high school players about going to UCLA with him (which often doesn't mean that much, FWIW), but he's also done a turnaround in the classroom and continues to work hard, and has begun studying with a new tutor to pass the SAT (since we know his parents have hired a tutor, we naturally assume he didn't pass the SAT he took in December). Right now, Matt McKinney and Mike Fey would be the rest of UCLA's recruiting class for this season (not counting transfer guard Jon Crispin). Mike should be a future starter. Matt could potentially be a future starter if he focuses on basketball, but few 2-sport stars make much of an impact these days. It's still possible Mike will enroll this year, but increasingly likely that he will redshirt if he does so. Marcedes Lewis will probably play immediately as a true freshman in football. He'll probably help UCLA on the basketball court, lend them some of that football toughness that UCLA could really use, but because of football, his contributions in the future are hard to assess.
The Bruins, next year, will have a lot of young players in key roles, except at the "2" guard spot. Presumably, Ced Bozeman, Dijon Thompson, Andre Patterson and TJ Cummings can make up 4/5s of a starting lineup. Crispin and Ray Young probably will duke it out for the 5th starting job, so any recruits entering next year will be coming off the bench for at least 1 and possibly 2 years, except Burns, who could definitely compete for a starting position (to put it mildly). If Jason comes back and Evan comes in, UCLA would have a very good shot of being in the upper echelon of the Pac-10 next season and making the Sweet 16 (the Pac-10 usually gets 4 teams into the Sweet 16 these days). If Kapono doesn't return, UCLA suddenly becomes a very young team without a go-to shooter. If Jason doesn't come back and Evan doesn't come in, UCLA will still have its share of talent, but very young talent. Notching 20 wins and making the Tournament would be quite an accomplishment.
The JR class is full of talent. UCLA seems to be doing well with certain players of note, and not so well with other players of note. Most of the players UCLA is recruiting probably fit a motion offense better than a 1-4, which might be true of all of UCLA's returning players as well. Maybe this means Lavin has decided to go back to a motion and stick with it. Or maybe he's just recruiting as many highly-rated players as he can. We have no idea.
We'll do another report on or around February 1…