Wright, having not played basketball for three weeks going through his high school graduation process, looked a little rusty, but was very impressive, and was the most effective post player in the camp.
He is somewhat raw, but very athletic and springy, and his offensive skills are coming along. Thursday he showed some good moves around the basket, a jump hook and a face-up jumper that were all effective. Probably the best aspect of Wright's game is his aggressiveness, in rebounding and scoring. Wright, whenever he catches the ball, is looking to go up and dunk it. When we asked an opposing player who is pretty respectable himself what he thought of Wright, he said, "He's athletic, and a lot stronger than you'd think."
With fans looking for the guy who will come in and have an immediately impact in the frontcourt, Wright is more than likely the man.
But on the other hand, Alfred Aboya, the 6-7 post, looked physical and aggressive rebounding on Thursday. He went up against Mike Fey in some demonstrations, and looked like he really enjoyed mixing it up with Fey. At one point, when Aboya went up and pulled down a rebound, he yelled "Gimme that," and had the campers chuckling. Aboya then sat out the evening session, saying he had been experiencing some pretty serious cramps for most of the day.
Also, Luc Richard Mbaha Moute showed off more of his athleticism Thursday. Mbaha Moute hasn't played for six weeks due to some weakness in his ankle, which would account for his rustiness. Mbaha Moute is already about 215 pounds and could project down the line as Ben Howland's type of four man.
Perhaps the second-biggest news of the day was the no-show of Ray Hall, the 6-9 center from Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia. Hall skipped out Wednesday night on the camp, and didn't show Thursday. It's not hard to guess that the UCLA coaches aren't pleased, and that Hall is making it very difficult for UCLA to like him. I would suspect that UCLA's recruitment of Hall could be nearing its end, unless Hall turns it around completely in July.
After a day's worth of drills, the evening session included a couple of hours of games with actual referees.
Darnell Gant, the 6-7 junior combo forward from Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw, put on a show during one evening game. He's really an interesting story – having played on his JV team last season, being only 6-5ish a year ago and only having played basketball for about a year, he has such a great natural instinct for the game. Without even realizing what he's doing, he does drop steps, step backs, and pump fakes naturally. He has a chance to really be something special, with the quickness and skill level where he could project as a small forward, but the post moves and ability to be effective inside of a power forward. If he continues to develop he could be a really tough matchup, with traditional, slower fours having to step out to guard him, or smaller threes not able to stay with him in the post. In other words, he could develop into the ideal Howland power forward.
Gant's issue will be academics. A nice, polite and attentive kid, he admits he didn't take care of business in the classroom in his first two years of high school, but he is taking four classes of summer school and he and his aunt, who is raising him, have now said they're dedicated to him improving academically.
A new NCAA rule, though, could make it tough on Gant, and others like him. The NCAA requires 14 core classes, and figures a GPA from those 14 classes. Previously, if you had an "F" in a core class, you could take it again, say in summer school, and replace it on your list of 14 core classes. If you then got an "A" in that replacement class, it counted as an "A." Now, however, the NCAA has changed the rule. If you re-take a core class, the NCAA takes an average of the two grades. If you received an "F" previously, and then got an "A" in a second attempt at the same class, the NCAA will consider it only a "C." It should make it quite a bit more difficult to "replace" their core classes as some have done in the past.
Other campers of note Thursday:
Andreas Schreiber, the 6-8 junior power forward from Sweden by way of Los Angeles (Calif.) Brentwoood, showed how much he has improved. He has always been skilled, but somewhat on the soft side. Now, with some newfound muscles (actually, through hitting the weights), he has the confidence to play physically and aggressively, and he's very effective. He can shoot from anywhere inside the arc, and is quick and skilled around the basket, and now pushes around opponents for rebounds.
We talked to Schreiber, and he essentially said that Stanford was his clear leader, and that he wanted to use the July evaluation period to generate an offer from Stanford. He has offers from Loyola Marymount and Wyoming. Remember, Howland essentially assisted in Schreiber coming to the United States, and is very good friends with Howland's son.
When asked about UCLA, since he was, after all, at the UCLA camp, Schreiber said, "I'm not really looking at UCLA. I checked their recruiting and I know that James Keefe made a verbal commitment. So that position is filled here."
A senior point guard from St. Louis (MO.) Country Day, 6-2 Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, looked good Thursday. He's fundamentally sound, and plays hard, and has good size and decent skills. Because of all that, he found himself in the demonstration portions of the camp, along with UCLA's players, incoming freshman and Keefe. He's not probably someone UCLA will seriously recruit, but you could see the UCLA coaches definitely noticed him in this camp.
Don't be surprised if UCLA makes two sophomores-to-be high recruiting priorities as a result of this camp. Andy Poling, the 6-10 center from Portland (Calif.) Westview, has shown some great potential here, being able to move well for a center his size and age, and having very advanced skills. Luke Babbitt, the 6-7 combo forward from Reno (Nev.) Galena, has proven he's easily among the best ten players in the west for the class of 2008, with a very advanced feel and ability around the basket. He was laying in left-handed jump hooks over players taller and older. In a demonstration, he scored over and around Fey. That's a 6-7 high school sophomore against a 6-11 college senior.
Anthony Randolph, the 6-10 junior center from North Little Rock (Ark.) High, continued to stand out as the most naturally gifted player, hitting threes, blocking shots, and handling the ball like a small forward. He's very young, actually still just 15 years old, and hopefully will mature and learn how to work hard, but the talent level is there. If he does, in fact, transfer back to California, he'll be the #2-ranked center in the west for the 2007 class behind Kevin Love.
We have an interview with Randolph on the way...