With the early signing period beginning tomorrow (Wednesday), and with UCLA looking like it's completed its recruiting for the class of 2005, it's time to do our thing and over-analyze.
Just a little over a month ago, UCLA fans were gripping over the fact that it looked pretty bleak for the 2005 class. Jon Brockman had dropped UCLA, and Brandon Costner had gone to North Carolina State.
But, if you remember, we said very early on that if UCLA, which needed frontcourt players, got one among Brockman, Costner and Ryan Wright - given the lack of talent in the class of 2005 - that alone would deem this recruiting class a success.
And not only did Ben Howland get Ryan Wright, the 6-8 post from Mississauga (Ontario, Canada) Loyola Catholic, he just secured the verbal commitment of Alfred Aboya, the 6-7 post from Cameroon by way of Tilton (NH) Tilton School.
He also got commitments from Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, the 6-7 wing also from Cameroon who plays at Montverde (Flor.) Montverde Academy, and Mike Roll, the 6-4 shooting guard from Aliso Niguel (Calif.) Aliso Viejo. This is in addition to the early commitment of Darren Collison, the 5-11 point guard from Etiwanda (Calif.) High.
This was a class that was extremely lacking in talent and academics in the west, and particularly Southern California. It was, actually, a down class nationally.
It was a recruiting year when it was pretty apparent that Howland would have to go out of the west to try to fill out his roster. It was a tough proposition, trying to convince national recruits of committing to UCLA after two losing seasons in a row.
So, all the way around it was bad timing for UCLA basketball recruiting. Bad year in the west. Bad year nationally. The program in desperate need of frontcourt players.
But Howland pulled it off.
The class now could very well end up on some top ten national lists. It's not necessarily an elite class but, given the talent available, it's a great achievement. And it silences many of Howland's critics who claimed he couldn't keep the recruiting momentum going from the 2004 class, given the down year a season ago, and that he couldn't recruit nationally.
I think you could probably say he quelled those critics - at least for a while.
And regardless of the critics, it truly was a big step in the resurrection of the program. Howland needed some bodies in the frontcourt from the 2005 class, and he got the kind of bodies he wanted.
Ryan Wright is an explosive athlete, who is 6-8 and right now 230 pounds. Alfred Aboya is also an explosive athlete, who weighed 240 pounds at the Nike Camp in July. Both still look like they could put on some more bulk.
When they visited UCLA officially along with Mbah A Moute in October, they played in a pick-up game with the current players. With the physical specimens of Wright and Aboya, Mbah A Moute is a well-put-together 6-7 and 210. Greg Hicks' first impression was that, if UCLA did get all three of these guys, on a very basic level it would mark a return to the type of athleticism that UCLA was known for and sorely lacked for the last several years. The three of them would immediately provide a great boost in overall athleticism to the team, and physical strength and toughness.
Besides toughness, the class is pretty overall talented. Wright and Aboya last summer were still raw in the post, but are probably as good as anyone on the current roster. In fact, either could very well be starting this season at the four spot. While their offensive skills are still developing, they both are quick and quick footed. Mbah A Moute's skills have improved considerably, and he's very quick for a 6-7 small forward. He also handles the ball particularly well. Roll is an excellent shooter and passer. How many times have UCLA fans ever said about a recruit: "He's the type of kid that UCLA didn't recruit, that goes to another Pac-10 school, and then kicks the crap out of UCLA every time they play against him." That's Mike Roll.
Darren Collison, also, is probably one of the most under-rated point guards in the country. He's very, very quick, has a great court sense and is a very good passer. It's a huge coup that UCLA would be able to bring in Collison a year after they got Jordan Farmar. But Collison, being the smart young man that he is, realizes that Farmar could go pro early, while it's also very conceivable he'll get quite a bit of playing time right alongside Farmar, and the exposure he'd get at UCLA is superior to other schools.
The five kids that make up this recruiting class have exceptional character also. Each of them are good to very good students. There isn't a slacker academically in the bunch. Their high school and AAU coaches rave about their character. Aboya, who is older, at 20 years old, is mature and particularly personable, who charmed the coaching staff and the current players on his official visit. He has a magnetic personality that could contribute to great team chemistry. Wright is one of the nicest kids UCLA has recruited in years. Mike Roll is the type of kid that, in an AAU summer tournament, he would be playing in a remote gym in an obscure game in a lower bracket, and he'd still be playing his ass off.
Each of these recruits is probably under-rated, for various reasons. Wright is under-rated because he came onto the scene late, from Canada. Mbah A Moute and Aboya came from Cameroon and weren't well known. Mbah A Moute had a bit of hitch in his shot during the summer evaluation period, which might have scared away some programs after a cursory evaluation. Collison committed early to UCLA and didn't play on a high-profile AAU team. Roll is the type with the basketball skills that, if he works hard, typically would end up a better college player than many of the athletes that were rated ahead of him out of high school.
It's a class that, in a couple of years, could lead observers to believe Howland did an incredible job in recruiting for 2005 - recognizing five players who were vastly under-rated, who were very good academically, and were tough physically and mentally.
Counting Cedric Bozeman as a redshirt senior, the commitments of the five players bring UCLA's total to 13 for the 2005/2006 season, which is the limit.
Here's a look at the roster for next season, with the committed players plugged in:
PG SG SF PF C
SOs: Farmar Afflalo Mata
Roll Mbah A
With Wright and Aboya now able to play the four, Hollins more than likely returns to play the five. Shipp could very well play alongside Afflalo, with either playing the three.
With four perimeter players returning in Bozeman, Farmar, Afflalo, and Shipp, and with three more added, it's possible that someone could redshirt, possibly Roll, or even Collison, given that they could now get the back-up point guard minutes from Bozeman for the season.
Filling the 13-scholarship limit is an interesting concept, one with some risk taken by Howland.
First, it will be something UCLA hasn't experienced in a while - a full roster of scholarship players (not supplemented by walk-ons given scholarships for the season). It gives Howland the depth he needs to overcome injury, which is key in college basketball. It's certain that this is the primary intention of Howland trying to stock up on the class of 2005 - so he has enough real players in the program for next season.
But it does present some issues. The most immediate drawback is not keeping a scholarship open for spring, which generally you'd always want UCLA to have. If a high school prospect really emerged by spring, or if a desireable college player wanted to transfer, they wouldn't have a scholarship to give either.
It could also be viewed that UCLA took a fifth player in the 2005 class over a fourth player in the 2006 class. It could mean that you chose Roll, say, over promising prospects in the 2006 class like 6-6 wing Blake Wallace from Anaheim (Calif.) Servite or 6-4 Derrick Jasper from Paso Robles (Calif.) High. It's arguable what would be the better move, but there's a good bird-in-the-hand argument to be made, while also arguing that taking Roll now, instead of someone possibly better in the 2006 class, again insures against injury in the 2005-2006 season.
Also, giving five in 2005 also limits the amount immediately available to 3 for the more loaded 2006 class. Again, as we stated repeatedly, it's a questionable proposition to try to foretell how many scholarships will be available in any future year. Players leave programs for various reasons. But, as of right now, UCLA has just three to give to 2006.
Getting Wright and Aboya in 2005, also, gives you good depth at the four position, even though the two could easily play next to each other, which Howland wouldn't hesitate to do. For 2006, though, it gives you two recruiting priorities in your front court: 1) James Keefe, the 6-8 forward from Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Santa Margarita, because regardless of what position you want to label him as, he's going to be on the court, whether it's as a four or a three, and 2) a true center type.
UCLA, to date, has scholarship offers out to Keefe, Spencer Hawes, the 6-10 center from Seattle (Wash.) Prep; 6-10 center Ray Hall from Denver (Col.) Mullen; Alex Stepheson, the 6-8 post from Studio City (Calif.) Harvard-Westlake; Daniel Deane, the 6-7 post from Salt Lake City (Utah) Judge; and 6-6 wing Chase Budinger from Encinitas (Calif.) La Costa Canyon.
Even with the commitments of Wright and Aboya, UCLA still projects thinly in the frontcourt for 2006. After Hollins and Fey leave after next year, they would have only four frontcourt players. Ideally, you'd like to have five or six. So, following the logic, UCLA would use two of those available rides for 2006 on frontcourt players.
One is earmarked for Keefe. It's believed that Keefe, a top 25 national prospect in the class of 2006, has UCLA as his clear leader at this point. In fact, he could be an early commitment.
Among those UCLA has offered, through process of elimination, Ray Hall and Alex Stepheson could be the best candidates to fullfill that second priority, of finding that center type. Deane is a pure power forward. It isn't very likely Hawes will commit soon and will have the entire country pursuing him. Hall is a real true center, with a big body, currently at about 270. He's not greatly athletic, but more than he might appear, and is very skilled for a big man, with a great offensive repertoire. Stepheson looks more like a four, but currently plays more like a five. He's probably 220 pounds, not as skilled as Hall but more athletic, and a very good shotblocker.
Projecting the roster for 2006-2007:
PG SG SF PF C
Roll Mbah A Moute
FR: <____________> <Keefe> <_____>
After getting two frontcourt players, hopefully Keefe and a center type, UCLA would have one more ride to give. Budinger is such a good player he's top on the priority list for that third available scholarship. It would also then give you another shot at filling that small forward spot ably.
UCLA, though, will probably recruit combo guards as well as wings. If UCLA doesn't get Budinger, it could behoove itself to bring in a player who can play the point, giving yourself some insurance if Farmar goes pro early. An interesting potential prospect to watch would be Curtis Eatmon, the 6-2 guard from Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Los Osos, who, if he continues to develop, could be the type.
If UCLA did, in fact, fill all of its rides in 2006, it would leave just one for the class of 2007, and that ride is already spoken for, with Taylor King, the 6-6 forward from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei verbally committed. However, as we've stated repeatedly, it's far too early to predict how many rides will be available.
Recruiting for the class of 2006, though, will be quite a bit of an easier proposition than it was for 2005. UCLA desperately needed some talent, and needed it in a class (2005) that wasn't deep. Now, with the commitments from 2005, UCLA is in a far more stable personnel position, while the 2006 class is deep in the west coast. It could very well drive some 2006 recruits to want to commit early to UCLA, believing they'd want to snatch up that scholarship while it's available. It very well could mean UCLA could have its recruiting for 2006 done quite a bit earlier than 2005, and possibly by this spring.
Coming Up: A look at all the prospect possibilities for 2006 and