Analysis of UCLA Hoops Recruiting Needs

While we're all so wrapped up in where recruits are going to play their college basketball, here's a three-year analysis, taking us through the 2009 high school class, of UCLA's basketball recruiting needs. While there could be a scholarship crunch for 2008, 2009 is looking ideal, especially for the Wear Twins...

Of course, any analysis of UCLA recruiting begins with Kevin Love, the 6-9 senior center from Lake Oswego (Ore.) High, and Kyle Singler, the 6-8 forward from Medford (Ore.) South Medford.

We're not going to get into the state of their actual recruitments, since there is an endless amount of things being written and speculated about in terms of where Love and Singler are going to play their college ball. Suffice it to say, like we've maintained for a while, UCLA is doing very well with Love and our sources indicate still lead North Carolina. UCLA still has a shot at Singler, and possibly a better shot than many are giving UCLA credit for.

So, with that over, let's get into the long-term analysis of UCLA recruiting needs.

As of right now, to the best of our knowledge, Love and Singler are the two prospects in the 2007 class that UCLA is actively pursuing.

That's significant, in many ways. You could glean from it that UCLA recruiting is getting to the point that, with the talent it now has on the roster, it doesn't necessarily feel it has to just bring in bodies, but can be far more selective than it was when Head Coach Ben Howland first took over the program. Needing to fill a roster was one of the motivations to his first two classes having 4 and then 5 players, respectively. Retrospectively, UCLA might not take Lorenzo Mata now. UCLA took two players from Cameroon who weren't considered particularly elite prospects out of high school. They took a point guard, Darren Collison, and many college coaches were questioning initially whether he could play at UCLA (It's probably one of Howland's best accomplishments, actually, that he so out-evaluated the rest of the country on guys like Collison and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. They took a commitment from Collison early, a commitment many thought was premature. And taking Mbah a Moute, who some national analysts had ranked in the 250 range in the country, has also proven Howland's ability to evaluate).

But with the talent UCLA has on its roster, it won't necessarily have to out-evaluate other programs that often in the future. With the program on extremely firm footing coming off a run to the 2006 national championship game, we'll probably only see UCLA pursuing players that are generally agreed upon as elite national prospects.

That approach is definitely being reflected in UCLA's recruiting of the class of 2007, in recruiting seriously just Love and Singler. With already a commitment from top-50 national wing, Chace Stanback from Los Angeles Fairfax, it seems UCLA's attitude is Stanback, Love, Singler, and more than likely no one else.

In the case of Singler, it's purely a matter that he's such an elite talent that UCLA has to pursue him, regardless of whether they need someone at his position. With Singler, he's so talented that you "need" him, even if you happened to have three players at his position already on your roster. With Love – yes, UCLA could use a post player in the class of 2007. But Love doesn't really fill the actual need, again, from a position standpoint. UCLA does need a post in 2007 if, say, that post were to stay all four years. If you look at UCLA's roster a few years from now, a 2007 post could be the only true center on the roster in the 2009-2010 season. But Love probably doesn't fill that need since he'd be a junior at UCLA that year, something that is very unlikely to happen. Love, as we all know, is a prime candidate to leave college early, probably even after just one year. In fact, many NBA scouts who saw him at the ABCD Camp the first week in July projected Love as a lottery-pick-level player if his name were in next year's NBA Draft. So, really, Love is to UCLA essentially as Singler is to UCLA – someone who, from a position standpoint, looking at UCLA's long-term roster issues, doesn't really satisfy a need. But they are both such elite talents that the impact they'd make on a program, on and off the court, would be huge. UCLA would immediately be a contender for the 2007-2008 national championship with either Love or Singler on its roster, and it's scary to think about it if they got both of them.

So, really, you have to look at Love and Singler almost as mercenaries – they'd be able to come in and help you possibly win a national championship, but they're not going to fulfill any long-term roster needs.

So, then, the question bears asking: Why isn't UCLA recruiting anyone else? What if they don't get Love or Singler?

With Singler, as we stated above, UCLA will have enough players on its roster that are similar from a position standpoint, especially if they do in fact get Nikola Dragovic, the 6-8 forward from Serbia (who is currently trying to get through UCLA admissions and would be eligible this fall).

With Love, while center is a position of need for 2007, UCLA looks like it is now of the mindset that it just won't take a body to take a body. There aren't any other truly elite post players in the west for 2007 and, if you look nationally, there aren't too many available that UCLA would have a good shot with that fit UCLA's criteria, primarily being an elite talent while having good academics (Clint Chapman, the 6-10 center from Canby, Oregon, probably comes the closest to satisfying the criteria. He's come a long way in the last year, having grown at least an inch and developing his game considerably. But he still would be a project at the high major level).

For those who like to read the UCLA recruiting tea leaves, you could also conclude that UCLA isn't recruiting seriously any other 2007 post players, a position it does have a relative need for, because it feels pretty confident it is getting Love.

2008 Class Analysis

So, let's speculate that UCLA does happen to get one of the Serbs for this fall's incoming class, and gets Love. We're not saying we know this to happen, or that Love is a lock, but just for speculation purposes.

In recruiting the 2008 class, officially that would leave UCLA with just two scholarships to give to that class. And given UCLA's recruiting needs, that won't be enough.

So, where does UCLA get more scholarships?

The potential of Arron Afflalo going early to the NBA is irrelevant in regard to the 2008 class. Afflalo's scholarship is one of those that will already become available for 2008. The extra scholarships would have to come from the current sophomore-to-be class, or Kevin Love leaving UCLA after just one year. So, it would have to be a matter that someone goes pro early among the likely candidates of Josh Shipp, Darren Collison, Luc Mbah a Moute or Love. Now, if you're UCLA, do you gamble and recruit the 2008 class next spring and summer like you're going to give out 3 or maybe even 4 scholarships to the 2008 class, rolling the dice that any of these guys go pro after the 2007-2008 season? It's not just a question solely pertinent to UCLA, but to many college basketball programs dealing with the early-jump-to-the-pros issue, and we'll undoubtedly hear more and more about it.

If you're UCLA, it seems that you have to recruit the 2008 class next spring and summer like you're going to give out more than the available two scholarships. Your projected roster demands it.

In the 2008 class, UCLA definitely needs a point guard. That's a given. It also will be in need of a shooting guard, with Michael Roll a senior and Russell Westbrook a junior. UCLA will look fairly good at the 3, with Shipp, possibly Dragovic and Stanback.

In terms of the bigs situation, looking at the 2009-2010 season, James Keefe will be a junior and the only post on the roster (and he's really a four), except for whomever you bring in as freshmen in 2009 (that's also asserting that UCLA gets Love and he goes pro early or they don't take another post in 2007). So, bringing in a post with the 2008 class is a need.

But with only two scholarships projected for the 2008 class, you're in a crunch.

Especially given that one the emerging elite prospects in the class of 2008 that UCLA is doing very well with is 6-8 Luke Babbitt from Reno (Nev.) Galena,who is a 4/3 and not a center.

You know you have to take a point guard among Jerime Anderson, the 6-1 prospect from Anaheim (Calif.) Canyon; Larry Drew, the 5-11 point from Woodland Hills Taft, or 6-3 Malcolm Lee from Riverside North.

An almost complete must-get is shooting guard Jrue Holiday, the 6-2 prospect from North Hollywood Campbell Hall who is a top five national prospect in his class and another of those difference-makers.

So, let's say UCLA gets a point guard and a shooting guard, and right now the only other player worthy of pursuit in the west is Babbitt. Babbitt is one of those that is talented enough that you have to recruit him regardless of positional need. And if he wants to come, you have to take him.

But we recognized that UCLA will need a center.

See the crunch?

As we said, UCLA very well could recruit next spring and summer like it will take 3 or 4 guys in the class of 2008, with only the availability of two scholarships. It's probably a decent bet that Mbah a Moute will be ready to go to the NBA early after his junior year, which would give him two years from now to further develop his game, particularly a jump shot. Darren Collison is actually getting some NBA buzz (His early departure is actually something that would truly set back UCLA; it would hand over the starting point guard duties to a freshman in the 2008-2009 season). You might speculate that Josh Shipp, who would be a redshirt junior, might feel the need to go pro. It's very difficult to say, given Shipp's recovery from hip surgery, how he'll be in two years, but it's pretty well known that Shipp's intentions are to follow in his the footsteps of his friend, Jordan Farmar, and go pro early. It might even be a case where Shipp makes a relatively poor decision.

One factor that, inadvertently, could also contribute to UCLA players going pro early is the common academic track UCLA's basketball players are on in recent years. Since the UCLA program under Howland has stressed academics and it's gotten very good students, players are gaining so many extra credits during the summer academic session that they will be prepared to graduate by their junior year. We've heard Arron Afflalo, in fact, will have enough credits to graduate by the end of the upcoming academic year.

In the case of Mbah a Moute, good sources that know the family and the situation think it would very difficult for Mbah a Moute to go pro early without a degree. But what if that roadblock is removed and Mbah a Moute, who is a good student, gets his degree by his junior year?

All in all, between Mbah a Moute, Collison, Shipp or Love (or no post taken in 2007), it's very likely UCLA goes after 3 or 4 players next spring and summer in the class of 2008.

A class of a point guard among Anderson, Drew or Lee, then Holiday, Babbitt and a post player would be ideal. And it's very realistic. UCLA leads for Anderson, and probably for Lee, while it has a good shot at Drew. The Bruins are the probable leader for Holiday, with his desire to stay home and play close to his family being a factor and possibly giving UCLA an edge over Arizona. UCLA is doing well with Babbitt, a kid who comes from a high school coach that has the rep of being the Reno high school equivalent of Bobby Knight (in a good way) and is said to be very agreeable to Howland's tough, no-nonsense approach.

The great thing about the recruits in this class that UCLA is pursuing is their versatility. Holiday can play some point guard, and Lee is considered a combo and definitely someone who could play the two guard. It greatly benefits UCLA in many ways since, let's say UCLA does get Holiday, he would be able to provide at least back-up minutes at the point guard position. After Collison leaves and UCLA gets a point guard in the 2008 class it would be up against the same issue it will experience this coming year and possibly the next couple of seasons – not having anyone who can give you back-up point guard minutes (UCLA is hoping in the near future that will be Russell Westbrook). UCLA, taking a point guard in 2008, would then have to take another point in 2009 to get two on its roster, but getting Holiday would not necessitate that UCLA get a point guard in the 2009 class. It's just another element that makes Holiday such a valuable prospect. Lee gives you that kind of versatility also, if he combined with a Anderson or Drew to make up the UCLA future backcourt, or even with Holiday.

In terms of post players, there isn't a west coast center in the 2008 class that has emerged as clearly an elite high major. Drew Gordon from San Jose Archbishop Mitty is clearly an elite talent and a prime target for UCLA, but he has more of the size of a power forward. He's another, though, that you'd take if he wanted to come and then figure out his position later. 6-10 Jeff Withey from San Diego Horizon has good athleticism, but still in the development stages of a true post game. Andy Poling, the 6-11 center from Portland (Ore.) Westview, has a more developed post game, but currently lacks the explosiveness and strength. 6-9 Corbin Moore from Los Alamitos and 6-9 Edgar Garibay from Compton are two to watch, but will have to really develop in the next year to get high major looks. Looking for a 2008 big man might very well be the one instance in the next couple of years where UCLA really has to go aggressively outside of the west to find its man.

There is another potential scenario that could greatly help UCLA with its potential post player issues. And this is not based on anything we know that is brewing but purely our own speculation.

It could, though, really be a panacea for many of UCLA's potential roster issues with fives down the line.

And that would be to redshirt either Ryan Wright or Alfred Aboya for a year.

It would effectively move a post player into the current incoming freshmen class. So, in the 2009-2010 season, UCLA would have, say, Ryan Wright as a five, James Keefe, and any incoming freshman posts -- rather than just James Keefe. Let's say Wright plays this upcoming year, but then Kevin Love comes to UCLA for the 2007-2008 year and Wright then redshirts that season. Unless UCLA gets beset by a wave of injuries to its post players, it would still have plenty of depth, with Love, Mata and Aboya able to play the five, and Mbah a Moute, Aboya and Keefe able to man the four.

And if you think it out, it would see to be a great thing for both Wright and his basketball career. If he redshirts that year, Love's freshman year, let's then assume Love goes pro after a year. Wright comes back the 2008-2009 season as a redshirt junior, and there is only Aboya a year ahead of Wright to compete with at the five. Regardless, he woud probably get plenty of playing time, and possibly start over Aboya. Then, in the 2009-2010 season, when he's a redshirt senior, he's the most experienced five on the team and starts. So, he almost assuredly would get one year of starting and possibly two.

In the other scenario, one where, say, Wright doesn't redshirt, he'll be a junior when Love's a senior, and probably be behind Love, Mata and maybe Aboya at the five. Then the next year, his senior year, he'll compete with Aboya for the five spot.

Redshirt scenario: A year older and more experienced when he comes out of his redshirt year; probably the clear starter one year at UCLA as a senior at the five and possibly starting one other year as a junior.

Non redshirt scenario: Fighting among a deep roster for playing time as a junior, and behind Kevin Love, and possibly starting another year as a true senior.

Plus, if he does redshirt, it's the equivalent of transferring anywhere else. You have to sit out a year to transfer anyway, just like redshirting. Unless the place he's transferring to absolutely doesn't have a junior or senior post player in their program, you'd have to also think that not many elite high-major programs would have the opportunity for playing time that UCLA would present to Wright or Aboya after one of them redshirted. So, bottom line, it's a better situation for them than transferring.

Between Wright and Aboya, either of them doing this would be greatly beneficial, in my opinion, for UCLA and for them. Aboya, actually, from his personality, might be more agreeable to it. When approached to redshirt last year Wright was resistent. But it would probably benefit Wright the most, since he has the most potential for development between the two.

Redshirting Wright or Aboya would also help in balancing the classes, which is really the big wrench in UCLA's potential roster issues. While it was necessary to take so many in last year's freshman class, taking five in one year means you'll lose five in one year, which can decimate your numbers at a certain position. Then, because of Josh Shipp's injury, the class's number grew to six, compounding the issue considerably. Holding one back to the join the Keefe class would definitely help. In this era of elite players going pro early, it can be considerably devastating to have to deal with a player leaving early and a big class graduating, which UCLA could potentially have to deal with in the spring of 2009 when Collison, Roll, Shipp, Mbah a Moute, Wright and Aboya are slated to graduate, a year after potentially losing Love early, after his freshman year.

2009 Class Analysis

Yes, we're getting way ahead of ourselves, but that's what we're here for.

With the 2009 class, UCLA will potentially have up to six scholarships to give, but probably (if it gives out more to the 2008 class) five.

And it's very good timing because the 2008 class has a couple of guys who you want to have extra scholarships to accomodate: The Wear twins, 6-8 Travis Wear and David Wear from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei.

The Wear twins project as the type of prospects that are so good you have to take. They are very good athletes and their skills are incredibly advanced for their ages. And the still look like babies, like they have some considerable growing left to do. So what if UCLA only, say, had two or three scholarships to give for the 2009 class? Taking the Wears could leave you without the scholarships you need to fill all of your positional needs. But not for UCLA in 2009. Armed with many scholarships, UCLA will easily be able to take the Twins and fulfill its other positional needs.

While it's extremely early and we recognize that so much will change (and we're basing this on a guess at who UCLA will get in 2007 and 2008) it looks like UCLA will definitely need a three in the class of 2008, and then as many fours and fives as it can stockpile. Again, a perfect scenario for the Wears. It's especially perfect if Travis Wear grows into being a five; he's already 6-8 ¼, and physically looks like he has more growing to do. He also plays more like a low-post player than does his brother, David, who measured 6-7 ½ and looks like he'll develop into a four. If, in fact, Travis does become a five and David a four then the two can see the court more together also.

We hear that UCLA is doing very well with the Wears early and it could be another case where the family would prefer their sons stay close to home to play college basketball.

Other players to watch in the 2009 class as very likely potential UCLA prospects are Reeves Nelson, the 6-6 small forward from Modesto Christian, who we've written so much about already. There is Rome Draper, the 6-5 wing from Etiwanda High (Collison's alma mater), Jerry Brown, the 6-6 wing from San Francisco Sacred Heart, and Keegan Hornbuckle, the 6-5 wing from North Hollywood Campbell Hall. As guards, watch for Robert Smith, the 5-10 point guard from Perris, and Jared Cunningham, the 6-2 guard from San Leandro, and Andrew Bock, the 5-11 point from Rialto (Calif.) Carter. A good sign that UCLA is getting on these guys early: The Wears, Nelson, Hornbuckle, Smith, Cunningham and Bock all attended UCLA's Advanced Skills Camp.

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