It was a down year, in Southern California, the west and the nation, for talent. On top of that, it was a class of need for UCLA. There were six scholarships open. It was Howland's second recruiting class and important that he follow up the first one successfully.
Howland, needing a player at every position, went out and got a point guard in Darren Collison, 5-11, Etiwanda (Calif.) High; a shooting guard, 6-4 Mike Roll, Aliso Viejo (Calif.) Aliso Niguel; a small forward, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, 6-6, Montverde (Fla.) Montverde Academy; and two post players, 6-7 Alfred Aboya, Tilton (NH) Tilton School, and Ryan Wright, 6-8, Mississauga (Ontario, Can), Loyola Catholic.
We said back in fall that this class could be highly under-rated and our point has already partially been proven. While you never know the value of a class until a couple of years of college, so far in the senior season of these recruits they're proving to be possibly a bit better than they were hailed nationally. Collison has won three tourney MVPs and is rising in reputation nationally. Roll, after seeing him a couple of times this winter, is a far better basketball player than we believed last summer. Mbah A Moute has been heaped with praise early in his season, as has Aboya, and Wright won a big tourney MVP in Canada, with observers saying he's improving every week and physically maturing.
Needing so many bodies, and an upgrade of talent, it can't be emphasized enough what this recruiting class means to UCLA and Howland's program. It provides an immediate injection of much-needed athleticism, with Collison providing backcourt quickness and Mbah A Moute, Wright and Aboya strength, quickness and hops.
For more analysis about the 2005 class and a long-term personnel analysis, refer to the Nov. 9th Basketball Recruiting Analysis
The 2005 class puts UCLA in a far more secure position when recruiting the class of 2006. The staff has three scholarships to give, with two of those ear-marked for frontcourt players.
And not only did the 2005 class go a long way in making the UCLA staff feel far more secure, the staff got quite a bit more security when it received a commitment from an elite frontcourt player in the 2006 class in James Keefe, the 6-8 forward from Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Santa Margarita. Keefe is considered a top 25 national player. He has a very good body, at least 6-8, with a good frame, that could probably hold up to 230 pounds. While not overly springy, he moves laterally really well, has a great feel for the game, and plays hard. His skills are developing enough where you could see him providing minutes at either the three or four spot.
So, as of now, this is how the projected roster for the 2006/2007 season looks:
PG SG SF PF C
Roll Mbah A Moute
FR: <____________> <Keefe> <_____>Keefe, as you may notice, is listed between the small forward and power forward positions.
This leaves the primary need for UCLA in the 2006 class a true center. With a good amount of forward types on this roster, a 6-10+, true low-post presence is what UCLA needs on its projected roster.
The third ride available is somewhat up in the air. It had been believed that UCLA would want to take a wing with that third scholarship, but after how well Mbah A Moute and Roll are faring in their senior seasons, UCLA very well could re-assess their situation. Rather than be quick to take a commitment from a wing, the staff could hold that third scholarship for what it believes is truly an elite, difference-making recruit, regardless of position. If a truly elite wing emerges in the 2006 class and wants to come to UCLA then, of course, UCLA would take him. But with the 2007 class pretty loaded with talent on the west coast, and in Southern California in particular, it could very well behoove UCLA to save that last scholarship for the 2007 class, unless a truly elite 2006 prospect wants to come. UCLA would only have one scholarship available for the 2007 class, and that is already earmarked for Taylor King, the 6-6 sophomore forward from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. So, with the 2007 class having a great deal of talent, it could serve UCLA well to have another scholarship available for it.
Much has been speculated that UCLA, by that time, could very well have more scholarships open up as a result of a current freshman leaving early for the NBA. The two candidates would be Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo, but while they've proven themselves to be talents, there is now a good possibility that both Farmar and Affalo could be four-year players at UCLA.
So, given that all of this, UCLA's list of potential prospects for 2006, as of right now, isn't a long one. With UCLA possibly just giving out one more scholarship to the 2006 class, to a true center type, there aren't many candidates. Of course, things will certainly change – more center prospects will emerge, and elite prospects at other positions could step forward with an interest in UCLA.
It does put UCLA in a recruiting position it hasn't been in for some time, one in which it can actually be very selective. It, of course, needs a true five, but if an elite five doesn't emerge that wants to come to UCLA it very well could take a player that is an elite level four, and just play two fours on the court in the future. If an elite level player at another position doesn't emerge that wants to come to UCLA, the Bruins, again, could just hold off on giving out that third scholarship until the 2007 class.
It truly is a different situation than UCLA was in a year ago in recruiting. A year ago, UCLA had six scholarships available for the 2005 class and, with the talent down in the west, not many candidates for those scholarships. This year, UCLA has, really, just two scholarships that remain available and many candidates from a more talented 2006 class.
So, as of right now, here is the list of the prospects UCLA is recruiting in the 2006 class, besides Keefe. Again, keep in mind it's still very early for the 2006 class; more UCLA prospects will emerge by this spring and summer, especially if UCLA has a successful season.
It's very well-known that UCLA has one of the scholarships open for 2006 earmarked for a true center.
It's still pretty early, and we've reported on those players that UCLA has made clear it's pursuing.
But since a true center is such a clear priority for 2006, we thought we'd cover it a little more thoroughly, provide the latest on the known names and give you some new ones.
So, here's a list of center prospects UCLA has shown interest in this spring. As we've said, this list will grow come April when UCLA coaches are out at various events during the spring evaluation period.
Ray Hall, 6-10, 270, Denver (Col.) Mullen. Hall is a huge kid, who combines that size with exceptional skills in the post. He's good with the turnaround banker and the jump hook with either hand, which is unusually advanced for a junior center these days. He also has probably one of the best pair of hands in the country for a big man. His drawbacks are that he's not explosive off the floor, but in fact his hops and quickness have definitely improved. He also could lose 20 pounds, but it appears that he has slimmed down since last summer. He has said that UCLA, Kansas, North Carolina and Texas are his favorites. UCLA's Ben Howland is the only head coach who went to see him this season, and UCLA is the only school among his favorites to offer so far. There are some rumors flying around, too, that are interesting. One has him transferring to Lakewood Artesia for his senior season. Such a transfer would probably benefit UCLA. If Hall were still undecided by next September, being close to UCLA where he could visit unofficially would help vastly. There is also talk that Hall could possibly want to decide soon. UCLA might not trip in many prospects this spring like they did last spring, since they have the luxury of being more selective with the 2006 class. But Hall might be one that does take an early, spring official visit to Westwood. He's ranked as the 4th best center prospect in the country and the #40 prospect overall.
Spencer Hawes, 6-10, 225, Seattle (Wash.) Prep. He's probably the best center prospect in the west, combining very good skills with good athleticism and a body that you could hang some good weight on in the future. Hawes is getting hit hard by many elite programs nationally, including North Carolina, Duke, and Arizona. Washington will be a be factor in his recruitment since it's his father's alma mater and Jon Brockman, the 2005 power forward who committed to the Huskies, is a close friend. There has been some talk of Hawes potentially going to the League, but it's pretty premature. UCLA is trying hard with him and they could ultimately be among his finalists, but it's going to be a tough recruiting battle. Scout.com has him as the #2 center in the country and the #10 prospect overall.
Alex Stepheson, 6-8, 220, North Hollywood (Calif.) Harvard-Westlake. Stepheson is the #41 prospect in the national class of 2006 going into spring. He has a good body, with a wide upper torso, while he still could add some bulk and muscle to his lower body. He's a very good rebounder, using his quickness and hops off the floor, and is a good shot blocker. His back-to-the-basket game is still developing, with Stepheson having a habit of bringing the ball too low, and without a real go-to move. He also doesn't tend to be aggressive posting up in the block. He does have some very elite programs nationally that are scouting him, including North Carolina, Duke, Arizona and Wake Forest. UNC's Roy Williams came out to a Harvard-Westlake game to watch him. Stepheson attended Arizona's midnight madness. UCLA has offered him, but it's uncertain how many other of the elite programs have. Lately we've been hearing he's been feeling warmer about UCLA and staying close to home. UCLA would probably ideally like a 6-10-type of center. But if they got one of those they certainly would like to fill up its last two remaining rides with Stepheson. It's just a question of whether Stepheson might be thinking that it could be getting crowded in the frontcourt at UCLA if you're not a 6-10+ type of guy, with the commitment of James Keefe and potentially another center in 2006, following two 6-8ish posts in the 2005 class.
Brian Zoubek, 7-1, 255, Haddonfield (NJ) Haddonfield Memorial. Zoubek is a huge kid, with good coordination and feel for the game. Scout has him as the #3 center in the country and the #34 overall prospect. He's had Duke on him for a while, and they've offered. Stanford is hard on him but it could be difficult for the Cardinal after the commitment of the 6-11 Lopez twins. Notre Dame is thought to be on his short list, too. UCLA is trying, but didn't get to see him this year, as many college coaches didn't, since he missed some games towards the end of the season due to injury. He's a 4.0 student so academics are important to him. UCLA will continue to show interest through the spring and see if it's reciprocated.
Josh Lomers, 7-0, 250, Boerne (Tex.) High. Another huge kid, Lomers is a big old body. He's closest to probably Ray Hall in his size and level of athleticism. He's good with his back to the basket, knowing how to get position well, with his offensive game still coming along. He's having elite national programs take looks, including North Carolina, Arizona and Kansas. Stanford is involved, with Lomers also being a 4.0 student. UCLA has been to see him this year and will continue to scout him this spring while gauging interest.
Tom Herzog, 7-0, 210, Flint (Mich.) Powers Catholic. Another very tall one, but Herzog doesn't have the bulk of the others, being very thin at about 210 pounds. He does have skills, though, with a good touch around the basket and the ability to hit a face-up jumper consistently. Also has a good shot-blocking feel. Herzog has the tools just needs to add bulk and strength. Scout has him as the #6-ranked center in the 2006 class nationally going into the spring. Locals Michigan and Michigan State have offered, with others like Notre Dame and Illinois interested.
Bryce Webster, 6-10, 250, Mendota Heights (Minn.) St. Thomas Academy. Another big load, Webster most closely resembles North Carolina's Sean May physically, but probably has at least an inch on May. He's considered one of the best inside scorers in teh 2006 class nationally and has been expanding his scoring range out to about 10 feet in his junior year. He did really well last summer at the Nike Camp and has had a big list of elite schools offering him, including Michigan State, Kansas and Arizona. Hometown Minnesota will be a player for him, too. Another very good student, UCLA has seen Webster play this year and is trying to get involved with him.
Taylor Harrison, 6-8, 225, San Clemente (Calif.) High. Harrison is big, squared-shouldered tough kid whose skills are developing well. Harrison has earned a rep among scouts as a real banger, loving contact inside, sometimes looking like a pinball the way he bounces back and forth among opponents. He is so physical at times he has pissed off opponents to the point they won't shake his hand after games, but the even-keeled Harrison, after pinballing off them all game, doesn't get the grudge. He's an average athlete, and is probably 6-8+, which has limited his looks nationally. UCLA has been on him for a while, with Harrison coming to UCLA's elite camp last June where he played impressively. Recently, though, without UCLA having offered, he's been close to committing to Cal, which has. His three top schools were Stanford, UCLA and Cal, and the Bruins haven't offered, Stanford has commitments from the twins and Cal is recruiting him very aggressively, so it's understandable. UCLA will go out this spring and watch other centers, and Harrison, and it will be interesting to see if Harrison will then commit to Cal and not hold off and wait for UCLA.
Daniel Deane, 6-7, Park City (Utah) Judge Memorial. Deane is a big, tough kid with big squared shoulders. He loves to mix it up inside, and has a pretty good face-up jumper. He is limited athletically and tends to play low in the block, the combination of which limits him. Howland has been out to Utah to see him play in the last couple of weeks. He's getting looks from Utah and Stanford, and others. He came to UCLA's camp last June. Offered.
Andreas Schreiber, 6-8, Los Angeles (Calif.) Brentwood School. Schreiber is originally from Sweden, who came to the U.S. as a result of a connection between his high school coach in Sweden and Ben Howland. Schreiber is still learning how to play the more physical style of American basketball, but he could have the most potential of any big man in the west, with good athleticism, very long arms and advanced skills. Right now he's probably at the lower end of the high majors, but if it clicks on, he could easily become a top 100 national player. He's a very good student and, despite his connection to Howland, has said he really likes Stanford, too. With limited scholarships for UCLA, Schreiber would have to step up and be very dominating this spring and summer, but it's a possibility. There has been talk about him possibly walking on to UCLA, but many close to the situation consider it unlikely since he'll probably be able to go to a high major elsewhere.
Kenny Lawson, 6-8, Vista (Calif.) High. This is a guy who truly is a sleeper, being completely unknown until recently. He reportedly grew three inches in the last year and spent his sophomore year sitting out due to a broken arm. After seeing him just once it's clear that he's one of the best big men in the west for the class of 2006. He has a good body, a bit narrow in the shoulders, but long arms, and good athleticism, to go along with pretty decent developing skills. Probably best about him is his naturally good instincts to keep the ball high and not put it on the floor in the post. He isn't a UCLA-level recruit at this point, especially with the limited number of scholarships. And with the way recruiting is so sped up, UCLA might give out it's last big man ride before Lawson even gets to the summer. But he's someone to watch, just to monitor whether he might continue to grow, since he looks young and has really grown in the last year. We've heard, though, he also is questionable academically.
UCLA has officially offered just one wing, Budinger. At this point, with how good Roll and Mbah A Moute are appearing to be, someone from this list (including Budinger) would probably have to really step up and prove they're a top 25 national player and someone you need to take regardless of position for UCLA to use that third scholarship.
Chase Budinger, 6-6 SF, Encinitas (Calif.) La Costa Canyon. Currently a top 50 national recruit in the class of 2006, Budinger is a springy athlete with some good solid skills that continue to improve. He's getting looks from some big names besides UCLA, such as Arizona, which it has been said in the past was his favorite. Budinger is a big-time volleyball player, perhaps the best prospect in the country, which is why some believe UCLA could be very attractive to him. UCLA offered in fall, but it could be a case where they aren't necessarily pushing for a commitment, wanting to see if some others could emerge that are better than Budinger.
Alex Tyus, 6-6 SF, St. Louis (Missouri) Hazelwood Central. Tyus is a very good athlete, with some great hops and good quickness to go along with some good length. His skills are still coming along, but regardless, he's a top 40 national level recruit. Kansas, Arizona, North Carolina and others will be involved. He came to UCLA's camp last June and through fall was saying UCLA was his favorite. He's questionable academically, which could keep UCLA from recruiting him seriously.
Derrick Jasper, 6-4 SG, Paso Robles (Calif.) High. A pretty versatile guard that can give you some time at the point, Jasper has a very good feel for the game and good skills. He's considered a top 50 national prospect, and is getting interest from some big-named high majors, including Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, etc. Cal has been on him early and hard. He's reportedly a good student. Again, with limited scholarships, for UCLA to go after him hard, Jasper would have to step up this spring and show he's a top 25-type national player.
There are a few national, elite wings that would fall into that category of being good enough for UCLA to take with that third scholarship in the class of 2006. It's a matter of UCLA trying to get involved with them and seeing if they're seriously interested. With how the roster projects, this is exactly what UCLA should be doing with that third scholarship, trolling the waters to see if any elite big fish will bite.
At this point, these include:
Wayne Ellington, 6-4 SG, Merion Station (Penn.) Episcopal Academy. Ellington is among a small handfull of the best shooting guards in the country for 2006. All the biggest college basketball programs are involved. UCLA is outside and trying to get in.
John Scheyer, 6-5 SG, Northbrook (Ill.) Glenbrook North. Also among the best shooting guards in the country, the likes of Duke and Kansas have offered. He mentioned UCLA at one point, but it's a long shot.
Dwight Lewis, 6-5, Metarie (LA) Archbishop Rummel. A long athlete with good skills and a top 50-type of national player, Lewis has had a UCLA coach at one of his games this winter. He's a good student, so UCLA is showing interest.
Other Wing Possibilities (Guys Who'd Really Have to Step Up):
Phil Nelson, 6-6 SF, Keizer (Ore.) McNary
Blake Wallace, 6-6 SF, Anaheim (Calif.) Servite
Tre'Von Willis, 6-3 SG, Fresno (Calif.) Washington Union
Patrick Christopher, 6-4, Lakewood (Calif.) Mayfair
Christian Polk, 6-3, Glendale (Ariz.) Deer Valley
P'Allen Stinnett, 6-3, Las Vegas (Nev.) Palo Verde
Marques Johnson, 6-4, SG, Fort Wayne (Ind.) Snider
POINT GUARDS/COMBO GUARDS
UCLA isn't specifically looking for point guards in the 2006 class but, again, if one stepped up that was truly an elite player UCLA could consider taking him regardless.
There are some elite national point guards that UCLA has shown interest in, such as the #1 point guard in the 2006 class nationally, D.J. Augustin, 5-11, New Orleans (LA) Brother Martin, but probably have little chance of getting.
Other possibilities would be:
Curtis Eatmon, 6-2 PG, Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Los Osos. A great body, and good athlete, if Eatmon's skills continue to develop he has the potential to blow up into a top 40-type of national player, which would make UCLA seriously consider him.
Marcus Lawrence, 5-11 PG, Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman. Probably the all-around best point guard in the west right now, he's having a very good junior season. Again, if he shows he's so good UCLA can't pass him up, they won't.
Jeremiah Rivers, 6-3 CG, Winter Park (Fla.) Winter Park. The son of Doc Rivers, Jeremiah has listed UCLA consistently. He's a combo guard, and very skilled.
Luis Guzman, 6-1 PG, Paramus (NJ) Paramus Catholic.