Hoops Pickup Games and More

Even though the basketball team is hard to find on campus these days, we saw them in a pick-up game this week. Also, a few bits of recruiting news...

It's been difficult to see the UCLA pick-up games this fall since the usual location of the games, the Men's Gym, is under renovation and closed. The pros who usually play in the games moved off-campus, to somewhere in Santa Monica, leaving UCLA's players on their own to play on campus. Most of the time they've played in the Wooden Center, and I had a chance to catch an informal pick-up game Monday.

Sophomores Cedric Bozeman and Dijon Thompson didn't play in the game. Both are working out in Orange County. Bozeman is attending summer school at an Orange County J.C. instead of the summer sessions at UCLA. It's uncertain whether Thompson is also.

But every player besides Bozeman and Thompson played Monday. And it's not exactly accurate to say there wasn't a pro playing: Earl Watson played, along with JaRon Rush and Rico Hines.

Take into consideration this was a very loose pick-up game and it doesn't give you a really good basis for evaluation and projection, but heck, let's take a shot.

Obviously, Jason Kapono is Jason Kapono, except for another, different looking hairdo (dark brown, straight, parted down the middle. He has to have set a record for having his hair different more than any other player during his four years at the school).

Ray Young looks like Ray Young, also, but possibly improved. He's still immensely athletic, while his jumpshot looks to be more reliable. He definitely has more confidence in it, not only in frequency of shots but the demeanor in which he takes it. He generally looks more confident and sure of himself, and appears to have stepped up as a leader on the team.

Ryan Walcott, the redshirt sophomore point guard, looks slightly bigger, more filled out. His jump shot also looks improved, and he appears to have more confidence in taking it. On Monday, when Walcott played under control, he was solid, giving up the ball well and hitting open jumpers. When he forced things, he committed some turnovers. But again, this is a pick-up game when everyone forces things. He generally looks like he'll be a more confident backup point guard this season.

T.J. Cummings continues the main theme here, an outside shooter who is even more confident in his shot. Cummings, in the pick-up game, took a shot about 99% of the time he touched the ball, but he probably made 85% of his shots. His baseline, turnaround 15-footer looks to be automatic. He's shooting out beyond the three-point line. He still likes to float outside, at least in this pick-up game, and didn't do much banging underneath. From the perimeter, he is still best as a spot-up shooter, not trying to put the ball on the floor. He looks to be just about the same size, as well put-together as he was last year.

Another shooter to add to the list is Jon Crispin. Crispin is a long-range threat, knocking down shots out to 25 feet. He's about 6-1 and stocky. Physically he looks like a point guard, but plays like a shooting guard. He has some pretty decent hops but is pretty stiff in his body, which limits his ability to take anyone off the dribble. But he is a very good outside shooter. He looks to be able to shoulder some of the outside shooting burden this season, probably most effective as a third or fourth option or so when he's in the game, waiting for a kick-out to spot up outside.

It must feel good for center Mike Fey, who will be a true freshman, to finally get to campus and be eligible after a long road. He is about 6-11, and physically bigger than he used to be in high school, but still doesn't have great muscle tone. A lefty, he has some good skills shooting when he faces the basket. He also has a decent little jump hook out to about 10 feet that he needs room to get off. He is very long and has fairly good timing on blocking shots. He doesn't seem to get off the floor very well for rebounds and is still learning how to play in the post, both offensively and defensively. Physically, being a little bigger than he was in high school, he can put some weight on you defensively, but offensively, while his body is bigger, his footwork is still very raw and it limits his effectiveness. His hands are just okay, still trying to get the feel on how to catch the ball in the post and hang on to it.

Ryan Hollins is probably the most intriguing player on the team right now. The freshman frontcourt player is about 6-11 himself, but probably looks talller because of how thin he is. His legs are extremely thin and look like they could break like twigs. His upper body has gotten bigger since high school, but is still thin. His shoulders are wide, though, and you can see he has the frame to put on a great deal of weight. He must weigh in the 200 pound range right now. Hollins, though, has some vast potential. He is enormously athletic. Fooling around, he was doing windwill dunks like you and I would do with a Pop-a-Shot and a volleyball. He is also extremely quick off the floor and moving laterally. He moves like a small forward in a 6-11 body. He blocked a couple of shots without very good technique but just on his pure athletic ability. He also can really shoot the ball. He has a very nice jumper, out to beyond the three-point arc. Facing the basket, he'll knock down the shot, from the top of the key or from the baseline. Hollins, though, is still raw in and around the basket. He really doesn't know how to post up, doesn't know how to accept a pass in the post, and struggles to hang on to it, and lacks any post footwork or scoring moves. Defensively in the post, he'd have to rely on his quickness and athleticism for now, since he can't body up very well, being so skinny. With his athleticism, he is an okay rebounder, again relying on his athleticism, which is enough to be able to get him above the crowd to grab the ball. He is a kid who is vastly athletic who has really worked on his outside jumper, but needs to get bigger and work on his interior game. But he probably has the most potential of anyone currently on the team. You might project him down the line as one of the tall, thin power forward types that we're seeing more of lately.

Between Fey and Hollins it's probably reasonable to expect that you can get some decent backup minutes on the frontline this season from them. It will mostly be situational: Fey would be better at defending a post player, and Hollins would give you better rebounding and face-up scoring skills. It would be probably too much to expect that either would be able to give you starters minutes on the frontline. But between the two of them, probably thirty to thirty-five backup minutes is reasonable to expect. Even though Hollins would really benefit from a redshirt year, to get bigger, stronger and learn how to play in the post, he'll probably be too athletic to sit on the bench, given UCLA's lack of frontcourt players.

Andre Patterson arrived late Monday, so we didn't get to see him as much. When he came into the gym and stood next to Fey, Hollins, or even Cummings, even though you know what Patterson is capable of, you still wonder how someone his size could play amongst those guys. He doesn't look any thicker than last year, and is truly about 6-6, on a long day. But as soon as he got in the game Monday, he made himself known. He is easily the best rebounder among the players who were on the floor. He is so explosive and has such long arms, he plays at least 6-9. He was grabbing rebounds right and left, dominating the glass, and throwing down huge put-back dunks. He also, offensively, has such a great natural feel and craftiness around the basket, and is such a dead-eye with his little hooks and finger rolls.

Patterson is currently attending Santa Monica City College and will for the fall quarter, obviously being ineligible to play for the fall quarter. He is hoping to return to UCLA for the winter quarter, and be eligible by the end of fall quarter, which ends in mid-December. After watching him Monday, Patterson would be a pretty big loss for this year's team. On a team that lacks inside play and rebounding, he would be very valuable.

Matt McKinney, the basketball/volleyball player, played in the pick-up game. He told me that he's concentrating completely on basketball at this time and won't really think about volleyball until after the basketball season. McKinney, as I've reported before, has some definite basketball talent. I had said before that, if he concentrated on basketball, he'd be a solid mid-major player and what I saw of him Monday supports that. The problem was always that, given his basketball potential, his volleyball potential is vastly superior, being one of the best prospects in the country and having a potential to make a living at it. McKinney, though, Monday, looked good in the pickup games. He's about 6-8, a little taller than Jason Kapono. He has a fairly good body, lean but muscular, that could put on more weight. He runs very well and can get off the floor very well. He also has a fairly nice jumper, hitting a couple of baseline shots in the pickup game. He plays more on the perimeter, like a small forward, than he does inside, and likes to get out on the break and finish, which he does well. He actually threw down a dunk that looked pretty much like a spike stroke (Great when you can conserve your motions and use one for two different sports, eh?) The bottomline news on McKinney is that by no means is he a stiff. If he had to be forced into service this season, it wouldn't be like he was a D-2 player trying to hold his own in the Pac-10. It would be more like a role-level player at UCLA having to play as a freshman.

A returning walk-on to watch is Janou Rubin. Rubin redshirted one year, so he's a sophomore. About 6-3ish, Rubin has always been one of the quickest guys on the team, and he still is. His jumpshot has come along, being able to be more of an outside threat now. While UCLA is pretty stocked at the wing positions for the year, he has some potential and is someone to keep in mind.

The transfer guard from North Carolina, Brian Morrison, played Monday. If you didn't know, he'll be ineligible this year, having to sit out a year after transferring. Morrison is about 6-2ish, and is a shooting guard who occasionally handles some ballhandling duties. He's got some great hops and has some decent quickness laterally. He's a very good outside shooter (Are you sensing a theme on this team?), while he's just okay at taking someone off the dribble. He isn't a point guard and doesn't have the point guard mentality of setting up his players or running an offense. He can handle the ball for you, bringing it up the court and getting the offense set. The best part of his game is probably his mid-range game – able to pull-up and hit the jump shot. Sitting out a year will only make him better and more mature, and give him a chance to hone his scoring skills even more.

Hopefully, once school starts later this month, I'll be able to see Bozeman and Thompson play with the team and be giving you another report at that time.

Overall, the team will be, if you haven't guessed, a good outside shooting team. With Kapono leading the way, the best skill of just about everyone else on the team is their outside shooting ability. But it will be a very perimeter-oriented team. The word is that the staff will scrap the 1-4 offense and move primarily to a motion offense. It should also be a fairly good zone-breaking team, but with how good the team shoots from the outside and a lack of inside scoring threats, you would doubt that may opponents will zone too much.

A Few Recruiting Tidbits

With the availability of another scholarship due to Evan Burns not enrolling at UCLA, the Bruins might now consider offering other players in the rising high school senior class. They have been recruiting – but not offering – some wings in the class, as a fallback scenario if a scholarship did open up. UCLA is recruiting Trevor Ariza, 6-7 SF, Los Angeles (Calif.) Westchester, and Ariza recently still had UCLA in his top six schools he's considering, which also includes UNLV, Florida, Oregon, Indiana and Georgia. He has said he wouldn't officially visit UCLA, but that could change. UCLA could start to recruit Ariza harder now with a scholarship available. Ariza is talented and has great potential, but good sources indicate that he might struggle to qualify academically.

The most recent rumor among recruiting circles is that UCLA chances with Sean Phaler, 6-9 SR PF, Villa Park (Calif.) High, have improved. Stanford, Oregon, and Indiana are the main competition right now. Phaler will visit Indiana on Sept. 14th, and he has tentative plans to visit Stanford and Oregon also. The word is that it's Stanford and UCLA leading for him. Stanford, though, has yet to offer Phaler. If UCLA, now with another open scholarship, offered Phaler and went hard after him, they could have a very good chance at getting him.

UCLA is still recruiting their main target, Aaron Brooks, 5-11 PG, Seattle (Wash.) Franklin very heavily. The word is that Oregon might have an edge. He visited Oregon unofficially at the beginning of the month and will visit officially September 21st. He has said he still plans to visit Washington officially. He visited UCLA officially last spring. Don't count out UCLA for this one since Brooks, at different times, has seemed to be leaning to UCLA also.

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