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. When Dave Telep of Scout.com released his final rankings of the class of 2005, Wright had moved up to #56, while Collison and Roll moved into the top 100 for the first time, at #67 and #72, respectively. In our opinion, Mbah A Moute and Aboya are also vastly under-rated.
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, while his rankings have gone down some during the spring because he hasn't fared well in AAU ball, is still an excellent prospect. 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 clearly being earmarked for Chase Budinger, the 6-7 small forward from Encinitas (Calif.) La Costa Canyon, which we'll get to below. If UCLA doesn't get Budinger, it very well could save that third scholarship for the 2007 class, which, as of now, only will have one scholarship available if no one leaves the program early.
So, given 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 scholarships to a center and Budinger, there aren't many candidates. Of course, things will certainly continue to change – more center prospects could possibly emerge in the July evaluation period 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 fairly 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 UCLA doesn't get Budinger, or an elite level player at another position besides center 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.
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; it's not unlikely that more UCLA prospects will emerge in July, 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.
We've now gone through the spring evaluation period, and not much changed on this list.
UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland did go to Australia in search of players, particularly bigs, and assistant Ernie Zeigler went to Eastern Europe. We don't know the specific players that they scouted, but do know that there were a couple of potential post players UCLA could get serious about for 2006.
Here's the list of center prospects UCLA has shown interest in this spring in our country. As we've said, this list could grow in July when UCLA coaches are out during the frenzied July evaluation period.
Ray Hall, 6-9, 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, doesn't always play hard and has a weight problem. If he lost just 20 pounds, he'd probably be among the top five or six centers in the country. Overall, he didn't play particularly well in April, which for UCLA, who offered before the spring, might be good since it keeps other big programs away from him. In a recent recruiting update, Hall said UCLA and USC top his list. UCLA was the first to offer and is thought to have the best shot at him at this point. Hall isn't necessarily a truly elite guy, but there is enough to work with there that leads you to believe he could be a very good Pac-10 center. The odds right now favor UCLA getting Hall. He'll take his official visit to UCLA after the summer, and the rumors that he could transfer to Lakewood Artesia could help UCLA (and USC for that matter).
Spencer Hawes, 6-10, 225, Seattle (Wash.) Prep. He's 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. Hawes had to cancel an official visit to UCLA in May because he hurt his ankle, and it's unsure when it will be re-scheduled. Scout.com has him as the #2 center in the country and the #7 prospect overall.
Alex Stepheson, 6-8, 220, North Hollywood (Calif.) Harvard-Westlake. Stepheson is a top 75 national player, with a good body, a wide upper torso, and looking like he 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, which is his dream school. UCLA has offered him. UCLA has been stepping up its recruitment of Stepheson this spring, probably recognizing that Stepheson has a lot to work with and there just aren't many good bigs out there. While UCLA would ideally like a 6-10-type of center, but they still would love to get Stepheson.
Jamie Vanderbeken, 6-10, 225, Belleville (Ont., Canad) Quinte. We always say before spring and summer that names will be added to this recruiting list, and this is the truly most conspicuous name that was added after the April evaluation period. Vanderbeken has some talent and athleticism, and UCLA has a connection to him through his AAU team, the same one that UCLA's committed player, Ryan Wright, played on. UCLA coaches will spend a good amount of time scouting Vanderbeken this July and could go hard on him quickly if they like what they see.
Taylor Harrison, 6-9, 225, San Clemente (Calif.) High. Harrison verbally committed to Cal, and it's generally believed that his recruitment is over, and it probably is. UCLA scouted him this spring, but didn't offer, so Harrison committed to Cal, which he might have done anyway since he has maintained he has an affection for Berkeley. The big, squared-shouldered tough kid whose skills are developing is included on this list because there is a very remote chance things could change, however unlikely.
Daniel Deane, 6-8, 225, Park City (Utah) Judge Memorial. Deane is a big, tough kid with big squared shoulders, who grew about an inch in the last year. Curiously, when many national programs saw him this last spring they offered him, like Kansas, while we thought he hadn't developed as much as he might have since last summer. He tends to float on the perimeter now and look to shoot three, which isn't what a big-bodied kid like Deane should be doing. He has officially visited Stanford, Kansas and Gonzaga this spring. UCLA offered him before spring and it will be interesting to see if they trip in Deane after July.
Deon Thompson, 6-8, 235, Torrance (Calif.) High. Thompson is less known than
Stepheson or Deane, say, but you could make a case that he's as good a prospect.
Between the three of them, he's a much better low-post scorer, which is what you
want in your big man. Thompson is just an average athlete, but continues
to improve his athleticism as he's been trimming down in the last year. He
visited UCLA's campus unofficially recently. The Bruins have him on their
to-watch list for July.
Chase Budinger, 6-6 SF, Encinitas (Calif.) La Costa Canyon. UCLA has officially offered just one non-big in the class of 2006, Budinger. The springy athlete really had a great spring, feeling very comfortable in AAU ball, hitting his threes and getting out to run and show off his ability to finish on the break. He recently won the MVP of the Memorial Day Tournament of Champions in North Carolina, leading his SoCal All-Stars team to the tournament's championship. His stock is rocketing, and will probably land somewhere in the top 20 in the nation. He said he's narrowed his choices down to UCLA, Arizona and USC. In early spring, we heard that Arizona was the leader, but UCLA has made up some considerable ground. Budinger will take his official visit to UCLA June 3rd, accompanied by his friend and AAU teammate, UCLA commit James Keefe. Budinger is also a very elite volleyball prospect, and that could be a big help for UCLA in recruiting him. In fact, he'll go to a shoe camp and then take the rest of the summer off from basketball to play volleyball. He's scheduled to visit Arizona the weekend after the UCLA visit, so it will be interesting to see if UCLA or Arizona, the co-leaders, will either get a a commitment out of him by the end of June. 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.
Other Remote Possibilities:
Blake Wallace, 6-6 SF, Anaheim (Calif.) Servite. You could argue that Wallace is just as good a prospect as Budinger, but less hyped. He might not have the springs of Budinger, but he's quicker laterally and handles the ball better. Right now, with UCLA going hard after Budinger, they've put Wallace on a back burner, which they could fire up if Budinger decides on Arizona. USC is currently going hard on Wallace. He has come to UCLA's campus unofficially, and the Bruins, if they offered, would be right back in the thick of it.
Quincy Pondexter, 6-7, Fresno (Calif.) San Joaquin Memorial. While UCLA has never
shown any aggressive interest in Pondexter, and he hasn't expressed interest in
UCLA, if Budinger did decide on Arizona, you'd have to think Pondexter would be
a prospect UCLA would scout. Pondexter is easily one of the best small forwards
in the west and a top 100 prospect nationally. He's been a longtime Arizona
lean, but if the Wildcats don't offer this summer, he could be up for grabs.