Burlison: Bruins Survive NBA Draft

While other teams were taking major early-entry hits, UCLA lost just one player (All-American guard Arron Afflalo) who seemed destined to leave after testing the NBA waters a year ago. All things considered, with all of his other underclassmen back, and Kevin Love on the way, Bruins' Coach Ben Howland has to be breathing a sigh of relief.

  The UCLA Bruins moved a couple of solid steps toward being a probable consensus preseason No. 1 with the as-expected confirmation Wednesday that sophomores Darren Collison and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will indeed play as juniors for Coach Ben Howland instead of taking pops at being NBA rookies next season.


With the April 29 (Sunday, midnight) deadline for early-entry candidates for the NBA Draft to send their paperwork into the league office in New York rapidly approaching, the "short list" of the teams with the best opportunities is just as rapidly taking shape.


And, unless Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert – near-locks to be lottery (top 14) selections – yank their names off the draft-eligible list before the June 18 deadline and return to Georgetown, the Bruins should head an upper tier of national championship contenders that will also include North Carolina, Memphis, Tennessee, Louisville and, possibly (but only if 6-5 ½ Brandon Rush returns for his junior season), Kansas.


Assuming Josh Shipp, who underwent surgery on his left hip recently, is healthy and pain free next season, the Bruins – with the addition of freshmen-to-be Kevin Love (easily the best all-around post player in the class of 2007) and 6-7 forward Chace Stanback – will be in much better position to win a national title than they were the past two years while losing in the 2006 final and the Final Four semifinals on March 31.


Of course, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey made up a pretty formidable starting lineup for Ben Howland's team to overcome in both instances.


Love will be one off the top half-dozen leading candidates (along with guards O.J. Mayo at USC, Derrick Rose at Memphis and Eric Gordon at Indiana, and forwards Michael Beasley at Kansas State and Kyle Singler at Duke, to be the national freshman of the year in 2008.


And, unless those doing the selecting take more of a shine to the likes of Tywon Lawson (North Carolina), D.J. Augustin (Texas) or Sean Singletary (Virginia; although he, too, has entered the draft pool), Collison could be the consensus preseason first-team All-American point guard selection.


The rest of a very tentative preseason first-team All-American squad would include Chris Lofton (Tennessee), Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina) and . . . who knows?


Most of the most viable of underclassmen candidates for 2008 All-American honors are headed for the NBA --- even those who probably are going to be selected outside of the first round, if at all.


And some of those underclassmen, and those who helped coax them into submitting their names, are in store for a rude awakening come June 28.


Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame in April, 2005, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.frankhoops.com

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