In the first two years of the UCLA Advanced Skills Camp, there were some campers who shall remain nameless that seemed a bit put-off by Head Coach Ben Howland and the UCLA staff's no-nonsense, no-coddling approach to the camp.
Now in its third year, the camp this time around had less whiners and more hustlers.
It seems that the more Howland is in the college basketball consciousness, the more his style and approach is getting appreciated.
Howland was just as demanding in the second and third day of the camp as he was the first, and the campers were particularly responsive.
The big news of the camp was Kevin Love, the 6-9 senior center from Lake Oswego (Ore.) High or, err, his ten-minute appearance at the camp. It was uncertain going into this week if Love would play at the camp, since he was in the Los Angeles area to visit relatives on a vacation. He did stop by Thursday with his far, former NBAer Stan Love, but for just ten minutes. He was also on campus Tuesday. All reports about his visits were very positive, and many close to the situation still feel that UCLA is still firmly in the driver's seat for Love.
More noteworthy were the prospects that did show up Thursday and play -- UCLA-committed Chace Stanback, the 6-6 forward from Los Angeles (Calif.) Fairfax, and 6-3 rising junior Jrue Holiday from North Hollywood Campbell Hall. It was quite significant that Holiday attended UCLA's camp, since he was getting pressure to attend the Arizona camp, which was being conducted simultaneously.
Again, current UCLA players helped in demonstrating drills. Darren Collison contributed to the demonstration, and the new starting point guard looked bigger – thicker in his chest and shoulders – and actually even a little taller. High school sophomore point guard Larry Drew was measured at 5-11 ¼, and standing next to him, Collison looked at least an inch taller. It could also be that he's abandoned the bald look and now has some hair. Collison, though, looked exceptional. When he made a cut, there was no one who could stay with him. His outside shooting stroke is still long, but it has shortened up some, as it will as he gets stronger.
Lorenzo Mata watched, but didn't participate, still recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his knee a few weeks ago. He insisted that he felt great.
Arron Afflalo also watched and shot around a bit (and looked deadly casually shooting threes).
All in all, after watching him for two days, it wouldn't be surprising if the best player on next year's team will be Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. He's bigger, stronger, more skilled and just looks like an old veteran now.
Also, some kid who was having a pretty significant day came over and sat down next to me to talk: Jordan Farmar.
We didn't talk much about him (except for me to tell him that he'd better be nice to Kobe).
But Jordan was very interested in the prospects on the court, asking whom everyone was. When I pointed out Anaheim (Calif.) Canyon point guard Jerime Anderson, and told him that comparisons have been made between Anderson and himself, Jordan said, "So, he's really athletic?"
We did talk a bit about his friend, Josh Shipp. I told him that I thought Shipp didn't move well the day before and he told me to not put much stock in that. Jordan said that Shipp is coming along fine and that he was probably just playing at half-speed for the demonstration Wednesday. He said Shipp is not back to the shape he was in last summer yet, but that he expects him to be in great shape by the time the season starts, and that his skills have continued to improve.
Farmar also thought that Shipp would be a candidate to get the back-up point guard minutes.
He then also told me that he came to campus just to see his teammates, how much he'd miss playing with them and that he thought UCLA would be very good this year. "They'll move on just fine without me. Darren's going to be good."
He then sent a text message on his flashy new Blackberry, shook my hand, hugged all of his teammates and left Pauley Pavilion.
|The Holidays and Anderson watch Roll.|
At times it seemed like Howland didn't want to then break off to the actual drill, that he was relishing watching the demonstrations so much.
Probably the two best performances of the day came from Westbrook, the 6-3 incoming freshman guard and the 6-3 rising high school junior, Holiday.
Westbrook had an exceptional day, displaying his considerable athleticism in being able to create for himself and playing man defense, but also having a deadly day shooting from the outside. Howland had Westbrook demonstrating a drill at one point, where the the coach passes the ball to the guard on the perimeter and a defender closes out on him from under the basket, and the offensive player can either shoot or take the defender off the dribble. Westbrook used his quick release to get off his shot before the defender could close on him, burying his jumper four times in a row. Then Westbrook did a hesitation move for a lay-up, and then hit another three. Howland then smiled wryly and said, "Russell, I'm getting very excited."
Jrue Holiday, as we stated, joined the camp Thursday, but that was enough to clearly demonstrate that he was the top prospect in the camp. We haven't seen the entire country, but we'll be shocked if he's not among the top five players in the country for his class. He's by far the best prospect in the west for 2008. He's got two more years of high school to go, but he could play in the Pac-10 right now. Holiday is a special athlete, with eye-popping explosiveness, quickness and, most notably, body control. He's got some elements of Dwyane Wade in his game. He loves to attack the basket and draw contact. He is outstanding at finishing with his left hand. His outside shot is very good to 20-21 feet, and he's equally good off the bounce or the catch. But what makes Holiday special is that he has the whole package. It's not just that he's extremely skilled and an amazing athlete and a great passer. It's those things combined with his approach. He plays with outstanding energy, at both ends, and he's extremely competitive. Holiday held his own – and then some – with current and future Bruins Mbah a Moute, Mike Roll, Keefe and Westbrook. Barring injury, Holiday will be a pro.
Here are the other clear standouts:
Travis Wear and David Wear, 6-8 SO PFs Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. David is slightly taller than Travis, but their games are very similar and comparable. Both are highly skilled, on the perimeter and inside. Both have excellent fundamentals, with very high bball IQs. It's amazing when you watch them to realize they have three more years of high school left. They both have a great approach, with no nonsense or sense of entitlement on the court. They're willing to be physical, despite being somewhat slender. They play unselfishly and consistently make good passes. They're still growing into their bodies, so their athleticism may improve considerably in the future. But they're remarkably coordinated for young, big kids. They went up against kids who were significantly older in this camp and they were still among the best players in the camp. With their approach, work ethic, size and talent level, it would be a huge upset if they don't end up in the top 25 of their class nationally. Two elite, big-time talents.
Reeves Nelson, 6-6 SO SF Modesto (Calif. Modesto Christian. Nelson is similar to the Wear twins in that he's a very young prospect with the talent and size to compete against much older players. Nelson's got an outstanding feel for the game and the poise of a much older player. He's a good shooter to 22-23 feet and he has a very well-rounded game. In particular, he did a great job of rebounding in traffic. He's got nice hops and, overall, he's a good athlete. He's a very good scorer but he doesn't feel the need to jack up shots at the first opening. Sometimes young kids with his kind of scoring ability will fall in love with shooting. But Nelson seems to enjoy passing just as much as scoring. He's got excellent vision and he's a good passer. We were also impressed with Nelson's ability to take in a lot of information from the coaches. This was a pretty intensive environment and the coaches were throwing a lot at the kids. Nelson seemed to grasp everything pretty quickly and put it into practice on the court. He's very young – still only 14 – but Nelson has a chance to be one of the elite players in the country for his class.
Chace Stanback, 6-7 SR SF Los Angeles (Calif.) Fairfax. Stanback only played on Thursday and he had a nice outing. Stanback has an understated game and that doesn't always translate to much attention from "analysts" who have no clue as to what makes a prospect. Stanback is very good at just about every aspect of the game. He shoots it to 22-23 feet, but he can also put it on the floor and make mid-range shots. He's an excellent ball-handler for his size – his cross-over is becoming deadly – and he's also a very good passer. We were particularly impressed at this camp with his play inside. Stanback is still very slender, but he rebounded well in traffic. He's a solid individual and team defender. Like most of the players Ben Howland is recruiting these days, Stanback has a terrific feel for the game. He's a deceptive athlete, with good lateral quickness and very good bounce off the floor. In our opinion, he's a top 40 in the country level talent.
Jerime Anderson, 6-1 JR PG Anaheim (Calif.) Canyon. Anderson is one of UCLA's top targets in the class of 2008 and it was obvious why that's the case at this camp. Anderson is an old-school point guard with a truly special feel for the position. He consistently makes great decisions and he has the ability to hurt you in many ways. He can get to the basket, knock down jumpers, find teammates for good looks, get deflections on defense or grab a rebound. He's a good, not exceptional, athlete. He can sometimes struggle with super quick guards getting into him defensively, but that will be less of a problem as he matures and learns how to deal with pressure. He's got a nice little tear-drop type shot when he penetrates and he has a great feel for when to use it. He's one of the elite point guards in the west for 2008.
Larry Drew, Jr., 6-0 JR PG Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft. Drew is another great young point guard prospect in the west for 2008. He had an excellent showing at this camp, as he was very effective off the bounce creating shots for himself or teammates. The son of a pro, it's no surprise that Drew also has an exceptional understanding for the position of point guard. Drew is getting better at applying pressure on the ball and he's a solid defender. His body still looks slightly disproportional and we keep expecting him to possibly grow a little more. With a little more size, he'd become even more dangerous as a threat to penetrate and finish inside. He shot the ball well this week, but that's still an area where he could be better. Overall, though, it was a very impressive performance for Drew and he remains one of the elite players in the West Coast class.
Justin Holiday, 6-5 SR SF North Hollywood (Calif.) Campbell Hall. Like his brother Jrue, Justin only participated in the camp on Thursday. But Holiday made the most of his opportunity – he was very good in the one day of work. Holiday's shot from the perimeter continues to improve and he knocked down jumper after jumper. What we were really impressed with, though, was how he attacked the basket. Holiday is still very slender and it takes some guts to go to the rim the way he did. He's an outstanding athlete, with great quickness and explosiveness. He works very hard at the defensive end and he typically gets at least a couple steals and blocks a game. Overall, his ball skills are good, but not great. If he can improve in that area, we believe he has a chance to be one of the big-time sleepers in the class of 2007. He's a top 100 level talent, in our opinion, and he'll play at the high major level without question.
Clint Chapman, 6-10 SR C Canby (Ore.) High. We've had our eye on Chapman for over a year now and we're extremely impressed with is progress. He's got a solid body, with long arms and some bounce to him. He's around 230 now and, with his frame, he should easily get to 250 by college. Chapman likes to face-up from the perimeter – out to about 17-18 feet – but he also has the beginnings of a low-post game. His jump hook has a chance to be a weapon the future and he gets good extension on his shot from the low-block. He's a good, not exceptional, rebounder and a pretty good defender. It's also nice to see soft hands and good feet with a young big man and Chapman possesses both those attributes. He's a high major prospect and he'll likely end up in the Pac-10.
Robert Smith, 5-10 SO PG Perris (Calif.) High. A strong and very quick young point, Smith was one of the surprises of the camp. He's got good shoulders and long arms. Smith is very good with the ball in his hands and he makes nice decisions for a young point. His shot looked pretty good to about 18-19 feet and he showed nice shot selection. He's still got some things to learn at the defensive end of the court, but he's got the physical tools to someday be very good in that area. Smith has a chance to be exceptional and he is definitely one to watch in 2009.
Jared Cunningham, 6-0 SO PG San Leandro (Calif.). Another young point with a bright future, Cunningham was burying jump shots all three days. He's got a baby face and good length – it wouldn't be surprising at all if he gets a little bigger. Cunningham has excellent poise for a young player and he was impressive going up against much older players most of the time. Cunningham has a chance to be one of the elite point guards in his class.
We'll have more evaluations in part two of our report from the camp, as well as video of Keefe, Anderson, Drew Nelson and others, and an extensive photo gallery.