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.