First Day of UCLA's Elite Camp

Once again, as in the past two years of this camp, the first impression is how much Head Coach Ben Howland doesn't coddle the campers but puts them through rigorous workouts. Besides the older players, like incoming freshmen James Keefe and Russell Westbrook, some younger players stood out...

The UCLA's Advanced Skills Camp kicked off Wednesday, with plenty of advanced skills to see.

Both from the players and from the UCLA coaches.

About 80 campers participated Wednesday, with more to come today.

Headliner Kevin Love, the 6-9 rising-senior post player from Lake Oswego (Calif.) High, and UCLA-committed Chace Stanback, the 6-6 forward from Los Angeles (Calif.) Fairfax, both didn't participate Wednesday but are expected to Thursday.

The other most notable no-show was rising junior Malcolm Lee, the 6-3 guard from Riverside (Calif.) North. He reportedly has a sprained ankle and won't attend the camp.

Other no-shows: Roberto Nelson, the soph guard from Santa Barbara, and Dwayne Polee, the 6-6 high school freshman-to-be. Polee is expected to come in today.

As with the UCLA camp the last two seasons, the most profound impression of the first day of this year's camp is the teaching and coaching environment that Head Coach Ben Howland establishes from the first minute. This camp in no way coddles these kids, but gives them a glimpse as to what it would be like to be on the UCLA roster, putting them through rigorous sessions of skill development and offensive and defensive technique and principles. This is no place for kids just looking to shoot threes, dunk and play pick-up style games with no fundamentals. The amount of fundamental basketball being taught – in just the first day – is staggering.

In fact, the campers looked exhausted after their full day had ended at about 9:30 Wednesday evening.

Howland talked to the players about UCLA's run to the championship game and how he thinks his strict emphasis on fundamentals and details helped to get the Bruins there, his now well-known emphasis on defense, how UCLA benefits from having so many smart players, and how he wants to push the ball at every opportunity with Darren Collison at point guard next season.

On hand to help out with demonstrations for the entire day was sophomore guard Mike Roll. He was joined later in the evening by Josh Shipp, Alfred Aboya and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Arron Afflalo was there but didn't play.

Since most readers are curious about the current players, let's get some quick evaluations of them out of the way:

Mike Roll looked bigger physically, a step quicker and even more polished skills-wise. Alfred Aboya look a bit bigger physically, through his shoulders and chest, and about the same in terms of development. Mbah a Moute physically looked bigger, with his arms being bigger. In one shooting drill, it appeared his stroke had improved, but it was still flat and has a long way to go. A bit worrisome was Josh Shipp. He looked like he's not in the shape he was last summer just yet, and whether it was because of the recovery from his hip injury or not, he moved fairly gingerly in some of the demonstrations.

Among the campers Wednesday, the best overall prospects are David Wear and Travis Wear, the 6-8 rising sophomore twins from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. This is not to say they're the best players in camp, but the best prospects. They're still thin, and have a long ways to go in developing physically, but their skills, fundamentals and inherent feel for the game are shockingly advanced. They both took to the tough, no-coddling teaching environment quickly, and it was very evident that they're two prospects that could play for Howland.

Incoming freshman Russell Westbrook.
For the first hour of camp, probably the best player was Russell Westbrook, the 6-3 guard from Lawndale Leuzinger who will be a freshman at UCLA this fall. This is our first look at Westbrook since the high school season, and his body has continued to fill out. His athleticism is exceptional, and Howland even noted to the other campers how, when Westbrook learns how to play, how his athleticism gives him a chance to be an excellent defender. Westbrook also used that athleticism to get around defenders quite easily. In the drills, where Howland is teaching how to sweep the ball, take a big first step, then square up and shoot, it was then apparent that Westbrook still has some development ahead of him, looking a bit raw in many fundamentals. As the day wore on, and Westbrook tired, he got a bit sloppier, but it was clear that Howland was impressed with Westbrook, who was also still nursing a sprained wrist. Westbrook played mostly off the ball, but did play point a bit in the evening scrimmages, and looked raw in his decision-making, thinking more like a shooting guard than a point.

James Keefe had a solid showing. He was commonly called out by Howland to demonstrate a drill, and his shot continues to get more reliable. When he has the opportunity to square up his shot is getting very consistent.

The UCLA coaches measured Westbrook at 6-3 and Keefe at 6-8. Walk-on guard Mustafa Abdul-Hamid has developed physically, looking strong and built-out. He's not overly quick, but has a decent feel for the game, with just okay skills. After just watching him for a day, we think it would be too much to expect him to contribute, at least in his first season.

The two rising junior point guards of particular note, Larry Drew of Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft and Jerime Anderson of Anaheim Canyon, both had their moments. Drew probably had the better day overall, looking a bit more relaxed and comfortable, and having a bit more quickness on the dribble than Anderson. Anderson had a solid day, too, passing the ball particularly well, not forcing the action, and making some key three-pointers. Drew measured at 5-11 ¼, and Anderson at 6-0 ¾. Howland was talking to both of them throughout the day, and both were very responsive to the coach. Anderson, many times, could be seen looking to see if Howland was watching him. It was very encouraging that Drew returned to camp after leaving to play in a game for Taft.

It's obvious that the UCLA coaches like rising senior center Clint Chapman from Canby (Ore.) High. Chapman has really developed physically, going from about 6-8 last spring to about 6-10 (he measured 6-9 ¾ at the camp), and 233 pounds. His skill set has vastly improved, as well as his athleticism. Chapman responded well to the rigors of the camp, continually emphasizing the coaches' fundamentals, picking up on things quickly and hustling. We've learned that Chapman's mom went to UCLA, and that the family would love to see him in Westwood. With the limited scholarships for the 2007 class, it would be interesting to see how the Bruins could manage to get him to UCLA.

Two of the most impressive prospects Wednesday were two rising sophomores from Northern California, 6-6 wing Reeves Nelson from Modesto (Calif.) Christian, and 6-1 guard Jared Cunningham from San Leandro. Nelson is very intriguing, with a body that's already filled out and muscular. He looks to be about 6-4, but measured at 6-6, his height deceiving because of how proportionate he is at such a young age. And he is very young, still just 14, not turning 15 until August. Nelson is very springy, able to get up very quickly, and has very advanced skills, while playing hard, with a nose for the ball. Cunningham is a long, skinny, smooth athlete with a great feel and a very accurate outside set shot. Howland quickly recognized how good Nelson and Cunningham were and involved them in many of the drill demonstrations.

The rising junior centers, Jeff Withey from San Diego Horizon, and Corbin Moore from Los Alamitos, looked okay in the first day. Most of the first couple hours were fast-break drills, which aren't exactly the best showcase for big men. The bigs then broke off with assistant Donnie Daniels for much of the rest of the day. While Chapman was the best among the group. Both Withey and Moore showed ability, and remember, they're a class behind Chapman. Withey measured at 6-9 ½ and Moore at 6-9.

Afternoon Update: elite rising junior, 6-3 Jrue Holiday from North Hollywood (Calif.) Campbell hall, and his older brother, 6-6 rising senior Justin Holiday, have come to camp.


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