2006 Prospects to Watch in Vegas

The second half of the July recruiting evaluation period begins Friday, with three big tournaments in Las Vegas. Here is the UCLA game plan for Vegas, including the four post players from the 2006 class that UCLA will be focusing on...

Going into the second half of the July evaluation period, which mostly consists of the three big, simultaneous tournaments in Las Vegas starting Friday, not much has changed for UCLA in terms of its 2006 prospects.

James Keefe, the 6-8 power forward who is verbally committed to UCLA, will play with his high school team, Santa Margarita, in Las Vegas, instead of the SoCal All-Stars.

The status of Chase Budinger, the 6-7 small forward from Encinitas (Calif.) La Costa Canyon, is still uncertain. Budinger broke his hand last month, and didn't play in the Reebok ABCD Camp in early July. He has worked out with his AAU team (SoCal All-Stars), and has played volleyball, and many expect him to play in the Reebok Big Time in Vegas. There is a great deal of Internet buzz about Budinger, with the most recent being that UCLA is out of it. The Bruins, to our knowledge, are not out of it, but they are definitely trailing Arizona at this point, with USC also involved.

UCLA's head coach, Ben Howland, will be following around Spencer Hawes, the elite 6-11 center from Seattle (Wash.) Seattle Prep. The recruiting word on Hawes is that Washington, North Carolina and Stanford are the three primary leaders. UCLA will almost certainly get an official visit, and be one of the five that Hawes has on his list when he narrows it down after the summer. Arizona will probably be the fifth on that list, with Duke, UConn, and Kansas trying to make the cut.

The four post players UCLA will focus on in Vegas are Hawes, 6-8 Alex Stepheson from Studio City (Calif.) Harvard-Westlake; Jamie Vanderbeken, the 6-10 post from Belleville (Ont., Can.) Quinte School; and Deon Thompson, the 6-8 post from Torrance (Calif.) High.

It will be interesting to see how Vanderbeken and Thompson fare in Vegas with the UCLA coaches watching. At the Nike Camp, Vanderbeken played at the same time almost every day as Hawes, which didn't seem to give Howland a really good chance to watch him. Plus, he tended to float outside at the camp and didn't show particularly well. It could be that Vanderbeken, offensively, is more of a four, which could fit well into UCLA's roster, since more than likely Lorenzo Mata, Ryan Wright and Alfred Aboya all project as fives.

With Thompson, he has proven that he's probably the best low-post scorer in the 2006 class in the west behind Hawes. He hasn't tended to play really well when Howland has been watching him, so Vegas will be the opportunity. Arizona State has been on Thompson pretty hard, as has San Diego State, and possibly Gonzaga. There is talk that Kentucky could get involved.

The situation with Stepheson will be interesting. UCLA likes him; they want, at the very minimum, a guy who can rebound, block shots and play defense in the post, and after Hawes, Stepheson might be the best guy for that duty on this list. Probably the kink in the plan here, though, is that, while you might think Stepheson would be a kid who would naturally like UCLA, he doesn't seem to that much. It will be interesting to see if he plays really well in Vegas, and UCLA gets very aggressive in their recruitment, if that will impact Stepheson's opinion. The word right now is that, despite opting for the Reebok ABCD Camp, he'll play with the Pump N Run team in Las Vegas, which is Adidas-affiliated.

UCLA's recruitment of Ray Hall, the 6-9 center from Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia, is probably done. He'd have to show a dramatic turnaround in play and attitude in the last half of the July period for UCLA to get excited about him.

UCLA is also on the downside with Daniel Deane, the 6-8 forward from Salt Lake City (Utah) Judge Memorial. Like Hall, Deane would really have to show something in Vegas, particularly that he wants to play down in the low block and not float outside.

There really haven't been any other post players jump onto UCLA's list as a result of the first half of the July evaluation period. UCLA has been trying to get involved with Jason Bennett, the 7-2 center from Jacksonville (Fla.) Arlington Country Day, but there are schools like Cincinnati, Florida and Florida State that have been recruiting him heavily for some time and it looks to be tough to crack that lineup.

Other than Budinger, and the four posts, UCLA won't be looking too much at other 2006 prospects. There is still a lingering possibility for Marcus Lawrence, the 5-11 point guard from Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman. Lawrence is the best point guard in the west, in a down year for point guards. He is a true point, with great instincts, vision and passing skills. His scoring ability is still developing, which probably is what has kept him from really being considered an elite point guard. Lawrence attended UCLA's camp in June, and was impressive, looking refined in the drills, showing a good work ethic and respect for the coaches. He played well at the Adidas Camp, which impressed many coaches. There is also the argument that if UCLA lost Jordan Farmar to the pros prematurely, they would have only one point guard on the team in Darren Collison, and that another point guard is a higher priority than another wing, or even another post. Lawrence likes UCLA quite a bit, too, and would come.

Another remote possibility is UCLA getting involved with Derrick Jasper, the 6-4 combo guard from Paso Robles (Calif.) High, who had a good first-half of July, looking especially good at the Adidas Camp, with Howland watching. A combo guard like Jasper definitely makes more sense than a wing, since it would provide insurance against a Famar-leaving-early scenario. Jasper is getting pretty strongly recruited by elite high majors, and if he hadn't flopped on his first attempt at the SAT UCLA more than likely would have jumped in fairly aggressively. As of now, it appears that UCLA is investigating whether there would be reciprocal interest, enough to balance the potential academic issue.

Coming Up: Some new prospects in the class of 2007 that UCLA will be watching in Las Vegas...

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