By NCAA rules, the coaches are allowed to work out a player for two hours a week, but are allowed to do so as a group. So, UCLA has split it up – working out the team for one hour a week and then each player individually for an hour.
The Bruins, so far, have had two of their group workouts and some reports have trickled out.
Arron Afflalo, the junior guard, was cleared to play this week after recovering for the last two months from a stress fracture in his foot. Reports are that he looked very good in the workouts this week, while probably not being at his optimum from a conditioning standpoint, but still very good.
The word is that Afflalo is certain he will put his name into the NBA draft after this season.
The best news out of the workouts has been how impressive Josh Shipp has looked. Shipp, if you recall, sat out the majority of last season while recovering from off-season hip surgery. In the summer of 2005, Shipp had taken his game, both skills-wise and athletically, to a new level, before he had injured his hip. Since then he has looked out of shape and a step slow at various times. Reports are now, though, that he's slimmed down and re-gaining his quickness. While he's not at the same level he was in the summer of 2005, observers feel he's getting close, and his skills have improved considerably, with a better, shorter outside shot and more aggressiveness taking it to the basket. Shipp will be a redshirt-sophomore.
Also getting very high marks has been Darren Collison, the sophomore point guard. Collison, as we've reported, is bigger, particularly in his chest and shoulders, and his shot has improved, particularly his mid-range game. But with the added strength, and some better awareness, he's been almost unstoppable in the workouts. Ben Howland, in an article on Fox Sports, said that Collison could be the best on-ball defender he's ever coached in 25 years.
Luc Mbah a Moute didn't participate in the workouts last week, but returned to campus this week, and the reviews were very good. He's bigger, stronger, and more skilled. His shot has improved and while it's still not lights-out, it's far more consistent.
The word is that the three veteran bigs look very good. Lorenzo Mata has expanded his post-scoring skills, according to reports. Alfred Aboya also has done work in the post, and has improved his face-up jumper considerably. Ryan Wright returned after being gone the week before and observers were impressed. He's dedicated in the weight room and looks considerably bigger, weighing 247 pounds now. He's getting more patient in the post when he catches the ball.
Mike Roll, as we've reported, has improved his body, looking leaner and more muscular, and his overall game has gotten better, with an improved ability to score off the dribble, being able to shake his man to get space for a mid-range jumper.
The freshmen have gotten some mixed – but promising – reviews. The biggest curiosity is 6-8 Serbian Nikola Dragovic. We saw him a few times in the Men's Gym pick-up games and what we've heard about him at the workouts has been consistent. He has a great outside touch, and will be among the best shooters on the team, easily. But the reports are that he's very raw and hasn't seemingly received much coaching. He plays very erect, both on offense and defense, and doesn't know much of the technical aspects of the game. There was a report from an observer that Josh Shipp has schooled Dragovic, on both ends of the court in the workouts. The word, though, is that Dragovic has some raw quickness that could enable him to guard small forwards, which would greatly enhance his chances of getting on the court.
The 6-3 guard Russell Westbrook has shown his great athleticism, his quickness and springs, but has shown he's still a raw talent and needs to learn the game. At first, reports are that the coaching staff was skeptical that Westbrook would be able to provide time as the back-up point guard, but after the second week of workouts there is more optimism, especially projecting down the line.
James Keefe, the 6-8 forward, has looked the best among the freshmen, perhaps benefitting from getting the most coaching so far in his career, and probably also from attending Howland's camp the last two summers. Keefe has looked good rebounding, defending and shooting from 12 feet to the three-point line. The word is that the staff has been impressed with how Keefe has shot the ball.
Some observers after watching the workouts have remarked about the difference in the program in just a few short years. The veterans now, coming into the season, are so well coached and technically savvy, having been in the program under Howland.