-- Senior center Michael Fey, recovering from a groin injury, could also begin individual work as early as next week. The expectation for Fey is about the same as it was previously – that he could return to practice by the end of next week and also be possibly ready to play by that second exhibition game.
-- Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has been participating in practice the last few days and says the shoulder he strained a couple of weeks ago feels fine.
UCLA had what they billed as a "Tip-Off Party" Thursday, with scrimmages, a three-point contest and a dunking competition involving the men's and women's team. Only media and students could attend.
BRO also was given access to the earlier team practice, so these evaluations are based on both the scrimmage in the Tip-Off Party and the earlier practice. Jordan Farmar looked particularly good Wednesday, not making many mistakes while doing just about everything very well. While he still has a narrow waist, he is bigger and stronger, and you can see he relishes his ability to use his strength now. Against skinny freshman point guard Darren Collison, Farmar seemed to do the type of physical things that some point guards did against him last year. He's very good at getting his shoulder down now and being able to stay on his drive physically.
Farmar also shot the ball well, looking like his stroke has shortened up some from last season. On Thursday, though, his best asset was his passing, having 10 assists in the Party scrimmage, and many more in practice. If a man on his squad was left open for a second, Farmar was finding him.
You could see that Farmar was becoming very good at using on-ball screens last season, and Head Coach Ben Howland loved to provide him those. This season you can expect Farmar to be the master of creating off the on-ball screen.
It also looks like Farmar has gotten better about not blaming his teammates when something goes wrong – particularly when it could very well be his own fault. It appears he's becoming more of a leader.
In the Tip-Off scrimmage, Farmar was teamed with Mike Roll, Cedric Bozeman, Lorenzo Mata and Ryan Hollins initially. Farmar and Roll had looked like they had established a very good on-court rapport in practice, and it showed in the scrimmage, with Farmar finding Roll coming off screens for open shots. Roll looked very good, having such a quick, fluid release, with the ability to catch and shoot better than any player that's come into UCLA in some time. On one sequence, Roll popped out, going left, caught a pass from Farmar, set and squared and got his shot off all very quickly, but fluidly, and hit nothing but net, and it was a beautiful thing.
When the teams were changed, and Farmar and Roll teamed with Arron Afflalo, and it was more of the same, with Farmar finding both Roll and Afflalo on the perimeter coming off screens for open jump shots. Afflalo's shot, as we've reported, has improved, with more arc to it, and a softer touch.
In practice, Bozeman had a very good showing. On one three-on-three drill, he was beating just about everyone he was facing, and Howland had to switch up the teams to get Affallo to guard him. Bozeman still has a shaky shot that is inconsistent – instead of stroking sometimes it's a quick flick and a skip, or when he pops out and catches he'll fall away while shooting. It has improved, but you can probably expect it to be inconsistent this season still. But Bozeman is very effective with the ball on the wing. Being an ex-point guard he has good ball skills for a small forward, and is especially effective in the lane when he's able to use his quickness and athleticism to craftily get to the hoop. He also bring another passer to the wing; it's something to have the Pac-10 leader for assists two years ago playing for you at small forward.
Also showing some marked improvement was senior center Ryan Hollins. He still has a bit of a strange looking body, with a developed upper body perched on those still-skinny legs. Hollins has gotten better in his post offense, catching the ball better with his back to the basket and having a few good moves, mostly a jump hook, that he can go to. Without a great natural feel in the post, Hollins just need to remember to slow down when he catches the ball in the post and take his time either with a scoring move or passing it out. As Greg Hicks said to me during practice, with how many perimeter scorers UCLA has, Hollins just need to be able to convert anything within five feet from the basket and not take the risk of shooting anything further out – and rebound and block shots – for UCLA's post position to be effective.
Lorenzo Mata has been the best rebounder since practice started, and was Wednesday. His post moves have also improved, having an improved jump hook himself, but his offense still has a way to go before you would call it reliable.
Ryan Wright, the 6-8 freshman post, looks very athletic but very raw. He has a nice, floppy, flexible body, but has little feel for a post game right now. He had a couple of nice, athletic put-backs, and skyed a couple of times for nice rebounds. With Hollins, Fey and Mata ahead of him, it's probably unlikely he's going to crack into the rotation this season, unless Fey has problems returning from his injury. There has to be some culture shock and information overload going on for Wright, who only practiced three times a week with his high school team in Canada.
Mbah a Moute didn't necessarily show really well Wednesday, but we've heard from the coaches that he's been playing very well in practice since he returned a few days ago. Remember, this is a player who hasn't played basketball long, and Mbah a Moute is relying almost purely on his own very good natural instinct for the game at this point. He is physically very impressive, well-built and very agile at 6-7 and 225ish. While many who saw it Wednesday would think his outside shot wasn't pretty, it has actually improved. He's doing so many other things well, though, including defending and passing. At this point, he doesn't get much about the offense and is still learning, but when he does, and his shooting skills improve, UCLA is expecting him to be a significant contributor.
Freshman point Darren Collison didn't have a great day Wednesday, looking undisciplined and sloppy, especially next to Farmar. Collison jumped to pass a couple of times and got admonished by Howland. Defensively he was taking too many risks, and instead of relying on his quickness he was over-pressuring Farmar on the dribble, which allowed Farmar an angle to the basket a couple of times. It's a shame that Collison played off the ball for Etiwanda last year and wasted some valuable time when he could have gained experience with the ball in his hands. He does look a little bigger physically, but is still pretty slight. Reports from practice, though, are he's been shooting well and is the one guy who brings some ability to take his man off the dribble to the court.
While the practice was a bit sloppy, the scrimmage in front of the students was solid. It was particularly impressive when you consider that three players who could be three starters – Josh Shipp, Mike Fey and Alfred Aboya – were on the sidelines not participating.
It looks like the team this season just needs some solid play in the post – both defensively and offensively, and in rebounding – since the team has enough weapons on the perimeter between Farmar, Afflalo, Shipp and Roll. It doesn't need spectacular post play, just solid play.
A very good sign of support was the fact that about 800 students filled the entire student section, filling into the mid-level of Pauley Pavilion, for the Tip-Off Party.
When introduced, Shipp walked onto the court without crutches, the first day he's been able to do that since surgery on his hip.
And for those who care, Ryan Hollins won the dunk contest with a couple of athletic dunks. Farmar and women's team member Lisa Willis teamed up to win the three-point shooting contest.
The women's team, which is ranked in the top 25 in many pre-season polls, welcomed back its star wing, 6-0 junior Noelle Quinn. UCLA, if you remember, started out last season very promising, with some big upsets, until Quinn then went down with a knee injury.
Senior point guard Nikki Blue also is healthy after spending her junior year mostly nicked up.
Much-heralded 5-9 freshman guard Ashlee Trebilcock, from Newhall Hart, made her debut Wednesday.