UCLA Basketball Camp, Report #1

The UCLA Elite Basketball Camp had some young talent on display Wednesday, like juniors-to-be Anthony Randolph and Darnell Gant, and a sophomore from Reno, Nevada, as well as the incoming freshmen..

The UCLA Elite Camp started Wednesday, and it was a gold mine for any UCLA basketball recruitnik.

You were able to get a first glance at the incoming freshmen playing for the first time in Pauley Pavilion, and were able to see some of the top potential targets on UCLA's recruiting list for the next couple of years.

Overall there are about 70 campers. The talent is young, with less talent in the 2006 class than in 2007 and 2008 classes, but there was still plenty to watch.

What was also very striking, again, is how much coaching comes out of Ben Howland. This camp is for some very serious learning, and if you're a camper that doesn't want to be treated with harsh reality about basketball, it's not for you. Participants in this camp are getting taught more basketball than they easily have ever been taught at any camp in their lives, and not pampered. It's a good way for Howland and his staff to see who are the tough kids, both physically and mentally, and who have the right attitude to learn.

It was also great to see the returning players helping with the camp, mostly providing Howland a visual demonstration of what he wants. All were present, and it was very good to see Cedric Bozeman going through drills. A quick rundown: Bozeman's shot has improved: Lorenzo Mata looked very comfortable hitting a face-up 15 footer; and Arron Afflalo's shot has drastically improved, putting on a shooting exhibition when he was used to demonstrate shooting technique at the evening session.

At times, it was exciting to see all of the returning players playing with the incoming freshmen, along with James Keefe, UCLA's committed high school senior.

First, a look at the incoming freshmen (sans Ryan Wright, who flies into Los Angeles tomorrow and will not participate in the camp):

Mike Roll, 6-4 SG, Aliso Viejo (Calif.) Aliso Niguel. We'll say it straight out: It's amazingly ironic that the recruit that was thrown in basically as the after-thought to this class could very well end up its best player. If you didn't know it, and just walked into the camp without any prior knowledge, you would think that Mike Roll had been playing college basketball for a couple of years. His skills are so far advanced compared to the high school players. His shot is beautiful, and his passing, knowledge and feel for the game are truly exceptional. At one point, when Howland was conducting a shooting technique session, he not only used Arron Afflalo to demonstrate, but Mike Roll.

Darren Collison, 6-0 PG, Etiwanda (Calif.) High. He looked pretty raw at times in the drills, not able to do precisely what the coaches wanted sometimes. But when they got to playing, Collison shined. He's just so quick with the ball, and his handle has continued to improve, that he brings something different to the table than any other player currently on the roster – the ability to breakdown any defender and create. He also is great at passing off his dribble, and he creates a lot of opportunities for his teammates. His shot is long and slung high, but heck, it goes in. It will be interesting to see if the coaching staff is goiing to try to fix it, which you would suspect they would just because it takes so long for him to get it off. The coaches had to continue to remind Collison to get up into his opponent on defense, to use his quickness to be an aggressive defender, and when he does, he's very effective.

Alfred Aboya, 6-7 PF, Tilton (NH) Tilton School. Aboya is everything we've previewed him to be on this site – 6-7ish, about 235-240 pounds, and a tough, physical athlete. And as we've said, he is raw in his skills offensively. He didn't consistently stand out, but we have to give him a little bit of leeway here since he's just getting acclimated. He did have a few moments, though – one time when Lorenzo Mata had an open lane from the free throw line and went up for a dunk, Aboya met him and blocked it. Another time, Aboya caught the ball at the top of the key and juked his man for a nice drive. He actually has a funky shooting stroke, that was going in pretty consistently in the drills. He's a good passer, and has good vision in the half court offense. Right now, his issue will be scoring moves, and you'd like to see him get more aggressive rebounding.

, 6-6 SF, Montverde (Fla.) Montverde Academy. If you walked into the camp and watched Mbah a Moute, particularly a sequence where he shot the ball, you wouldn't be very impressed. But after watching him a while you can see what an exceptional athlete he is. He probably weighs 215, and is a pretty big kid, but he has very swift feet and moves laterally very well. He showed the potential to be a great defender because of this. On offense, he truly looks the part from most aspects except his shooting – he's a very good ball handler for his size and a good passer. It's just hard to get past that shot, which is jerky and very long, and doesn't go in much.

A Note: If you were expecting Aboya and Mbah a Moute to be program-changers immediately, then you're going to be disappointed. But on the other hand, they do bring athleticism to the team, the athleticism it's lacked for a couple of years. It will be interesting to see how far their skills can develop by next October. Right now (and this is a judgment after just one day of seeing them in this camp environment), it would appear that they would only be able to provide support minutes next season.

We're not going to give you a scouting report on each of the remaining prospects in the camp today (we need something to write about the rest of the week, right?). But here's a quick rundown on the standout players participating:

Kelvin Kim, 5-8 PG, El Toro (Calif.) High. Kim will walk on at UCLA this fall, and it's a great get for a walk on. He's very short, but thick, and he was easily one of the most advanced players at the camp. When he teamed with Roll in a game, they were picking apart the opposing team with great passing and fundamentals. Kim showed that he'll definitely be a considerable contributor in UCLA's practices.

Mican Robinson, 5-10 PG, Oakland (Calif.) Tech. Another potential walk on for the fall. We'll get a better look at him in the next two days.

James Keefe, 6-8 SR PF, Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Santa Margarita. Keefe's shot wasn't on Wednesday, but he looked very good in the drills, with good fundamentals. He's such a Howland player – good fundamentally and tough physically and mentally, and willing to work. And he's a face-up four, which Howland loves. He did so many things right Wednesday, just was missing his shot.

Marcus Lawrence, 5-11 SR PG, Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman. The question lingers: Does UCLA need a small forward in the 2006 class or a point guard? It all depends on whether you think Jordan Farmar will go pro early, and there is quite a bit of talk that he's gearing up to leave after next season. Even if it's not true, should UCLA get some insurance in the 2006 class at point guard, so they're not left with just one point guard in Darren Collison? Lawrence would be the guy, if UCLA were to decide to go that route. He looked very good in the drills, very precise and under control, and he's probably a better true point guard than Collison. Howland kept saying, "Good pass, Marcus," "good job, Marcus," during the night's games and drills. If Lawrence could shoot just a bit better he'd probably be a top 100 caliber national prospect and UCLA would be forced to look at him more seriously as an option.

Ray Hall, 6-9 SR C, Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia. Hall has noticeably lost some weight, which is a very good sign. He moved quite a bit better Wednesday than he did all spring, but still wasn't dominating. There were flashes – going up for a big rebound in traffic, and he's always good at passing out of the post. He had to miss the night session, which was the games, but we'll get more of an assessment on him over the next couple of days, and how UCLA sits with him.

Anthony Randolph, 6-10 JR C, North Little Rock (Ark.) High. Probably the most talented player in the camp, Randolph is bordering on freakish. He's 6-9 to 6-10 and looks like a baby, but he moves like a small forward. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the pretty intense Howland camp environment. The latest word is that he more than likely will transfer back to a high school in SoCal for his junior year.

Darnell Gant, 6-7 JR CF, Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw. Could be the second-most talented player at the camp. Gant is long, athletic and has such a great natural talent that his upside is scary. He has a nice stroke already, even though he has no idea what he's doing, and is instinctually good around the basket. He responded really well to the coaching staff's orders, and you could see from his body language he was very much into it all.

Andy Poling, 6-10 SO C, Portland (Ore.) West View. Very talented young big man, who looks even bigger physically than he did in spring. It's a coup that UCLA got him to their camp.

Luke Babbitt, 6-7 SO CF, Reno (Nev.) Galena. Very talented young player, who has a great natural feel for the game. The lefty is very effective around the basket, so much so that Randolph had to put a bear hug on him to stop him from scoring on him.

Alex Tyus, 6-7 SR or JR SF, Florissant (MO.) Hazelwood Central. Tyus showed up late, for the night session, but looked very good. He looks taller, even close to 6-8, and his skills have improved, while he still has some considerable room to develop. He's probably the best athlete, besides Randolph, in the camp.

Others in camp that we'll write about later in the week:

Quincy Owens, 6-7 JR SF, Milwaukee (Wisc.) Harmony Community

DeMar DeRozan, 6-5 SO SF, Compton (Calif.) High

Drew Viney, 6-5 JR SG/SF, Villa Park (Calif.) High

Kenton Walker, 6-7 JR PF, San Diego (Calif.) Scripps Ranch

Ryan Anderson, 6-8 SR PF, El Dorado Hills (Calif.) Oak Ridge

Nick Combs, 5-10 SO PG, Edmond (Okla.) Santa Fe


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