Hoops Recruiting Update for 2007

With the commitments of Russell Westbrook and Chace Stanback recently, some analysis is needed to sort through what UCLA is doing with the recruitment of the class of 2007. One thing remains the same: Kevin Love and Kyle Singler are UCLA's top targets...

You know times have changed.

In a recent report regarding Kyle Singler, the elite 6-9 junior forward from Medford (Ore.) South Medford, it stated that Singler would have the potential for more immediate playing time at Duke than at UCLA.

Could any UCLA fan have envisioned just a few years ago that statement being made?

Also another sign that the UCLA program is where we anticipated it could be: UCLA has so many elite prospects interested in its program that it very well might have to commit to more scholarships than the allowed 13 for the 2007-2008 season.

And it wouldn't be doing it for just standard high-major prospects, but to afford room for potential McDonald All-American types.

UCLA intends to give out three scholarships to the 2007 class, trying to take full advantage of the good publicity and surge in attention it received as a result of its run to the 2006 Championship Game. The program is hot right now and UCLA realizes it needs to strike. Ben Howland is getting stopped in airports and restaurants so much now by admiring fans that he can barely make his plane or eat his meal.

As Bruin Report Online reported first, UCLA received a commitment from 6-7 wing Chace Stanback of Los Angeles Fairfax on Saturday, the first commitment for the 2007 recruiting class.

Stanback is currently ranked in the national 50-75 range, but after watching him play in the Las Vegas Easter Classic April 15th and 16th, UCLA obviously recognized that Stanback was too good to hold off or pass up. An offer to Stanback was re-iterated a few days later when he and his father visited campus and the Stanbacks then called Coach Howland while he was in Houston for the Kingwood Classic tourney on Saturday to commit. Stanback, in our opinion, is a McDonald's All-American caliber player – a better prospect than fellow Fairfax Lion Josh Shipp or Arron Afflalo at the same stage.

So, UCLA took the Stanback commitment – and now how does the recruiting landscape look?

Well, a bit tight, in terms of scholarships.

If everyone that is committed to a UCLA basketball scholarship actually showed up for the 2007-2008 season, UCLA would be already full.

But UCLA still intends to give out two more scholarships for the 2007 class. How is this going to work?

Obviously, there is the issue of possibly some Bruins going to the NBA early. Both Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo have submitted their name for this spring's NBA draft, with the option of taking it out so they could return to UCLA. But the fact that both of them have put their name in is a pretty strong indication that there is a good chance both won't be around for their senior years, that 2007-2008 season.

Farmar is the better bet to leave UCLA early. The fact that Farmar is a potential first-round pick in this year's NBA draft makes it pretty certain he would be a solid first-rounder and potential lottery pick after his junior season. So, all in all, it's likely that Farmar leaves at least after his junior year and, from what we're hearing, we'd put it at about 50-50 that he has played his last game as a Bruin and jumps this spring.

Afflalo, on the other hand, is a bit of a different story. Lacking NBA-level athleticism and a knock-down outside jumper, Afflalo's prospects are a bit murkier. Right now he's not even projected as a second-round pick. Of course, once the individual workouts with NBA teams begin things could change, for both Afflalo and Farmar (they will easily be the biggest determining factor in whether Farmar and Afflalo do leave for the NBA). But unless Afflalo has a freakish tryout with an NBA team, it's expected that he'll return for his junior year next season.

Afflalo, though, could also return for his senior season. Afflalo has used his one-time option to put his name in the draft as an underclassmen this spring. If he does return and then is on the bubble of the first-round after next season, he wouldn't be able to "test the waters" and put his name into the NBA draft again. By not being able, then, to participate in tryouts for NBA teams, it could potentially limit Afflalo's chances of playing his way into the first round next spring. Also, NBA GMs and scouts tend to get an idea of a prospect in their mind that is then hard to shake. If Afflalo doesn't necessarily look like an NBA player in his individual tryouts this spring that impression could linger with NBA GMs next spring. Bottom line, Afflalo's decision to put his name in the draft this spring could very well keep him at UCLA for all four years.

There is also the very real possibility that freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute could be a first-round level pick by next spring. Mbah a Moute, in fact, is considered by many the better long-term NBA prospect than either Farmar or Afflalo. He's only played organized ball five years, has NBA-level size and athleticism and that natural feel for the game, and is considered really only a reliable jump shot away from a potential first-round selection.

So, between those three, it's not really as big of a stretch as it might appear for UCLA to want to take three recruits in the class of 2007.

There is also the possibility that a scholarship could open up. The most likely source at this point could be the one earmarked for Marko Spica, the 6-9 center from Serbia Montenegro. Spica has yet to achieve an SAT score that can qualify him by UCLA admissions. He will take the test in early May, and have another opportunity to take it again in June. Some sources close to the situation think he's close enough that he will achieve a good enough score to get into UCLA. But it's also very realistic to expect that he doesn't.

There is also plenty of talk on the BRO message boards about potential transfers. There truly is no legitimacy to any discussion about current players considering transferring.

But with the possibility of early defections to the NBA and scholarships potentially opening up, it just isn't that big of a concern for UCLA to give out three scholarships to the class of 2007, which would theoretically give them 15 scholarship players for the 2007-20008 season, two over the limit. It's nearly a year and a half away from when that fall semester would begin, which is plenty of time for it all to sort out on its own.

So, with that worry allayed, it's far more fun to look at the potential 2007 class.

There is Stanback, the very talented, disciplined and skilled wing. At about 190 pounds right now, Stanback projects to be versatile enough to guard a 2, 3 or even potentially a 4 in college, while also being used as a 2 or 3 on the offensive side. With such versatility, it enables UCLA a great deal of flexibility when trying to fill out the remainder of the 2007 class.

Now, we all know that the primary targets for 2007 are Singler and 6-9 center Kevin Love from Lake Oswego (Ore.) High.

Each week – heck, each day – UCLA fans on the BRO message board are expecting updates on the recruitments of Singler and Love.

But regardless of what has been reported in interview after interview with Love and Singler recently, there are some basics to their recruitments.

Love, first, is the major piece to the puzzle for the UCLA program. UCLA, while it has stockpiled some talent, still lacks the interior scorer that Love represents. He is, too, such an elite talent that he would so greatly impact the UCLA program by his presence. For one, Love's passing ability, particularly his outlet passes, is something that could drastically alter the complexion of any program, particularly UCLA's, which needs to enhance its transition game.

But while it's easy to see that Love is really the missing piece for UCLA, and Singler might not seem to be as imperative, Singler's talent could prove to be even a bigger difference-maker at the program of his choice. While Scout.com's Jeff Goodman recently wrote that a case could be made that Kevin Love is the #1 prospect in the country (over long- and much-hyped O.J. Mayo), you could also easily make a case that Singler is the #1 prospect in the nation. From a pure scouting perspective, Singler is a better long-term prospect than Love, actually. He's 6-9, and looking like he could actually continue to grow (as he has for the last couple of years), and he has the offensive skills of a wing. While Love very well could have a bigger impact, say, in his college freshman year, Singler's upside is so unlimited that he could be an even more dominant college player. The only thing that could possibly hold back Singler's impact on college basketball is if he left early for the NBA before he even approached reaching that potential.

Since we're from the west coast we haven't seen all of the potential top ten-level prospects in the nation yet this spring. We have, though, seen many of them previously, and we think it's very reasonable that Love and Singler are among the top two to five prospects in the nation.

The dream class, then, is Love, Singler and Stanback, which very well could end up being three top 40 national prospects and possibly three McDonald's All-Americans.

But what are the contingency plans? What if UCLA doesn't get Love or Singler?

UCLA right now is looking very good for Kevin Love. In fact, according to sources, it would take a major change in his recruitment for him not to come to UCLA. Yes, he's narrowed his choices down to UCLA and North Carolina, and Roy Williams, a famously good recruiter, is turning up the heat. Love will visit North Carolina unofficially when he's in North Carolina over Memorial Day for the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions tournament. After that, he could take the rest of the summer to decide or, as many believe, he could make a decision soon after that. You can't ever count out North Carolina and Roy Williams, but UCLA, as of now, is still clearly the leader, according to many close to the situation.

If UCLA doesn't get Love, there are some other frontcourt players UCLA has been recruiting. Darnell Gant, the 6-9 forward from Los Angeles Crenshaw, could very well end up a priority. He'll have to improve his academics a bit, though. UCLA is also showing interest in Josh Southern, the 6-9 center from Saginaw (Mich.) High, who Scout.com has ranked the #12 center prospect in the nation for the class of 2007.

If Spica, though, does qualify and UCLA misses on Love, they could very well hold off on taking a low-post player.

It's been interesting to watch and listen to Singler's recent interviews on recruiting. He'll mention one school in one interview, and then omit then the next. But the two constants in every interview have been UCLA and Duke. Singler, a few months ago, said he could commit by the end of his junior season, then his junior school year, but recently (at least for a couple of months) has said he wants to wait until fall. On one hand he says he could take official visits, but in the next breath says he wants to commit by the end of the summer (which would be impossible, since you can only take official visits when you're in school for your senior year). Most close to the situation think he could take more unofficial visits to schools like Arizona or Kansas, but it will come down to UCLA or Duke. And many think, right now, its split 50-50 that he could go to either.

Singler recently has been downplaying the possibility of playing with Love, a good friend of his, in college. But it's interesting to note that, for two recruits who mentioned going to the same college frequently during each of their recruitments, it looks like UCLA is the only school they now could attend together. Now, is that an inducement for them, or a detriment? Sometimes elite players want to go where they can be "the man," and not be fighting for the spotlight with another elite recruit. At this point, it's not certain just how much playing together is a factor for either Singler or Love.

If UCLA doesn't get Singler, though, the primary targets could be Gant; James Harden, the 6-4 shooting guard from Lakewood Artesia; Alex Legion, the 6-4 shooting guard from Beverly Hills (Mich.) High; and Corperryale Harris, the 6-4 combo guard from Detroit (Mich.) Redford.

Legion is probably a McDonald's All-American, and currently ranked the #12 player in the nation. An exception athlete with good skills, he was verbally committed to Michigan before recently de-committing. He also has decided to go to Mouth of Wilson (Virg.) Oak Hill Academy for his senior season. The word is that the Legion is looking to find a bigger stage – both on the high school and college levels. There is also some talk that he's looking for the best situation for him to go pro after just one year of college, and that is entirely the intention behind the de-commitment and the high school transfer. Legion did previously like UCLA before he committed to Michigan, and many thought UCLA was his favorite and that he chose Michigan to stay close to family. All in all, the things the Legion situation is a bit of a murky one. While on the other hand, there are sources close to the situation that believe UCLA leads for Legion, while Connecticut runs a close second. Some even believe Legion could make a commitment in the next couple of months.

It's pretty certain that, after taking a commitment from Stanback, UCLA is waiting to see what happens with Love and Singler before taking any other commitments. So if indeed Legion wanted to commit, it would be interesting to see what UCLA would do. If Singler did, though, commit to Duke, UCLA very well could take Legion if he still wanted to come. A recruiting class of Stanback, Love and Legion is also potentially three McDonald's All-Americans.

Harden is another interesting situation. He emerged in his junior season as one of the best players in the west, with good athleticism, skills and a great feel for the game. He's also getting recruited by Connecticut, as well as Texas and other elite programs. It's thought, though, that if UCLA offered Harden they'd be hard to beat for him. Again, if UCLA misses on Singler, UCLA very well could take Harden. For many recruiting types, Harden is possibly even more desirable for UCLA than Legion; He's local, so you continue to establish the local ties, and he doesn't have near as many issues (going pro early, etc.) as Legion possibly does.

Harris perhaps fits UCLA's need the most – that of a backcourt ball-handler and passer. He's long and lanky, with good lateral quickness and a potentially great defender. He also has a pass-first mentality which is refreshing, especially in AAU ball. If UCLA does indeed lose Farmar early they could use more options in the backcourt handling the ball, and Harris fits the bill. Harris is thought to be one prospect that will blow up some this spring and summer, and if UCLA does offer and recruit him aggressively they could be fighting with other elite high majors for him.

Others to watch in the 2007 class:

Austin Daye, the 6-9 small forward from Irvine (Calif.) Woodbridge, is the son of former Bruin Darren Daye. We've been following Daye's development since he was a freshman, with Daye having grown probably four inches in the last year and a half. He's always had exceptional skills, but was so frail he severely lacked strength. He also played soft generally, and needed to toughen up. He's the guy on the west coast that will most likely blow up nationally this spring and summer, with the likes of Kansas and North Carolina already looking at him. He attended a UCLA game this year and UCLA is keeping in contact while not putting on the fullcourt press yet. It's questionable if UCLA could get involved with him seriously if they have to slow-play their recruitment of him until fall.

Zane Johnson, the 6-4 shooting guard from Phoenix (Ariz.) Thunderbird, is one of the best pure basketball players in the west, with great skills. UCLA has been recruiting him for sometime, but hasn't come close to offering yet. Gonzaga is recruiting him hard, and USC is also involved.

Derrick Rose, the 6-2 point guard from Chicago (Ill.) Simeon, is considered the best pure point guard in the national class of 2007, and ranked the #5 player overall by Scout.com. UCLA is trying, but is on the outside looking in at the likes of Illinois and North Carolina.

More prospects in the 2007 class could emerge this spring and summer, but UCLA isn't in the usual recruiting mode most schools are in this time of year – when you're looking for other prospects and trying to expand your recruiting board. With limited scholarships, one commitment and doing well with a tight group of elite prospects, there isn't necessarily much room for recruiting board expansion. If UCLA does get a commitment from Kevin Love anytime in the next couple of months, it generally will be in a very good position with commitments from him and Stanback and trying to get Singler, or possibly taking a third commitment if they don't get Singler.

All in all, UCLA basketball is in the best recruiting situation it's been in for nearly 8 years.

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