Howland on Spring Workouts

The UCLA players have been going through the spring workouts since late April, and Head Coach Ben Howland provides us a rundown on how each individual player did and how they're developing, as well as some hints as to how the lineup might look next season...

When did you start the spring workouts and when did they conclude?

"We had a longer season than usual, as you know, so we took about two and a half weeks off after the season before starting back up. We started in the last week of April and went all the way through to the week before finals."

The rules have changed so often about the workouts, so what are the restrictions now?

"They can only work out for two hours a week on the floor. You're allowed to work out as many as you want at one time, but we did it mostly in groups of four, so we can get more done with less guys. The workouts are intended to be for skill development, not for putting in offense and team-related things like that. And since UCLA is one of the few schools that gets out so late, it gave us a lot of time to work on skill development. With the post guys, we worked on post moves and scoring in the post. And for the perimeter guys, things like how to read screens.  So, then after we were done with them, they'd go five-on-five on their own three days a week, and then they were lifting, too."

Did you do some scrimmaging, or just all individual work?

"We did some three-on-three situations for sure."

Let's go through the roster. First, with the loss of Jordan Farmar, the big question is: How did Darren Collison do in the workouts?

"He had a very good spring, especially in the weight room. He really committed to getting bigger. He's hovering at about 160 pounds, which is considerably bigger, since he was about 148. That wasn't what he was necessarily last fall, but last spring. He played last season bigger than he was when he came in. He's going to get stronger, it's just a natural thing. My goal for him is to get up to 170 pounds. With his quickness and speed, that'd be fine. One thing he's improved is his shot, as he's gotten stronger. It's much easier to shoot as you get stronger, and he has less motion with more range on his shot now. And he can catch and shoot it better.  But you know, I thought he improved a lot throughout last season. He played his best basketball of the year in March. Think about some of those games, the Arizona game in the Pac-10 tournament. He was the best player in that game. He had some early outstanding performances, but he had truly improved by the end of the season, like against Cal defensively, and he was outstanding against Memphis. He really defended and did a great job at stopping the ball. With Darren playing his best basketball at the end of the year, it was a big reason why we finished so strong, among many reasons. And now, he's the one true point guard on scholarship in the program, and he's slated to be the starting point guard this year." 

Where is Josh Shipp in his recovery from the hip surgery that kept him out last season? He was cleared to play fully, correct?

"Yes. I thought Josh had a pretty solid spring. He still has some residual hangover from his hip not being 100% just yet, especially when he really pushes it. Josh worked out on his own in the morning, and then worked out with us in the afternoon. In the last couple of weeks, he really focused on the re-hab, and improving the strength of his hip and balance."

How far away is he from being 100%?

"I don't think he's far away. Remember, he was practicing with us during the Final Four, and he was fine then. I'm confident that when September rolls around, if he continues to follow the path of his routine and rehab, he'll be 100% ready to go. If he's healthy, he's going to have a good year. But the big thing for him will be if he's healthy, and able to go through the grind of the season."

How has his game improved?

"Josh knows how to play. He's improved his shot. He'll have a terrific year. Again, the focus will be on his health. If he's healthy, he'll be able to practice every day, and that's critical for him to continue to get better."

I had heard that Alfred Aboya had a good spring...

"He did. I thought he continued to improve from last season. The best news is that he was healthy the entire spring. The thing about Alfred is, he's our best post defender, because he's so active and plays so hard. He'll be one our better rebounders, day in and day out. His biggest area of improvement will continue to be be his post skills, getting him able to score inside for us."

Probably the next biggest question after Collison is probably: How has the shot of Luc Richard Mbaha Moute improved?

"He definitely worked on his jump shot. He knows that's his biggest area that he needs to improve, and he has improved his range and consistency, and he'll continue to work hard on it throughout the summer. But Luc is also working on everything, and there's so much I want him to improve on. Like becoming a better post-up scorer. He had a terrific freshman year and we want him to build on that. We need him to build on that. With the loss of Jordan, I could see him maybe sliding in and playing some small forward for us. He definitely has the skill level to do that."

How did Ryan Wright improve?

"He had a good spring and definitely improved. I would say right now that Ryan is one of the best two low-post scorers, with someone defending behind him, along with Lorenzo Mata. Ryan works out and wants to improve and has so much potential. He's gone home now and will try out for the Canadian National Team here at the end of the month."

We've heard that Mike Roll improved physically and in broadening his ability to score...

"Mike got stronger physically. He really shot the ball well this spring, and we really wanted him to work with him to increase his range, so he has the confidence to shoot more, which was already good. He had a great shooting percentage in the conference last season. We're trying to get him better defensively and have him get better at putting the ball on the floor."

How is Lorenzo Mata physically?

"According to our team doctor, Gerald Finernamen, it was just a small piece of cartilage that had to be removed. Finerman said it was smooth and looked good in there, so the health of the knee is good. It was the same leg that Mata broke.  We don't consider it a major problem at all, probably out three to four weeks. We'll give it a month just so there is no pressure for him to rush back, just to make sure he has a nice, good rehab."

Are you expecting Russell Westbrook to come in and help with minutes at point guard?

"First, I think Russell will be an oustanding player for us. I'm not anticipating him playing the point, as much as him coming in and competing at the two. At the end of the day, Arron Afflalo has had so much more college-level experience, and I would expect him to get more back-up point guard minutes.

"When it comes to Russell and James Keefe, I think they're both outstanding players. I think James will be able to come in and immediately compete. We have eight players returning as our nucleus right now, and we hope that Russell and James will be able to come in and contribute to that. And hopefully, we'll have one more, as you know."

You had 11 scholarship players last year. After all of the injuries, does that worry you?

"Yeah, after last season, it does. But we've done what we could.  And that's why we're hoping we'll have one more."

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