UCLA Look at Cactus Classic

UCLA's reputation in recruiting circles is changing, and it was evident in the talented players interested in UCLA that played in this weekend's Cactus Classic in Tucson. Here's a look at the prospects in the tournament that UCLA is recruiting, and more bits of UCLA-related recruiting info...

From a UCLA perspective, the second annual Cactus Classic held a great deal of interest.

Generally, probably the best take-away from the tournament – and from the spring AAU events overall – is how UCLA's reputation has changed in recruiting circles.

After two Final Fours, and with a coach that garners lofty respect, the Bruins are now mentioned in hallowed breaths, along with the likes of North Carolina and Duke. UCLA still isn't recruiting nationally just yet like those two programs, but the west coast prospects and many national recruits now talk about UCLA in elite terms, as a program it wishes would recruit them.

As we maintained during the Dark Years, it wouldn't take long. Install a good coach into the tradition-rich program of UCLA, have some success, get a few elite recruits, and it would quickly rise into the college basketball elite.

The impact is considerable in recruiting. With the type of players now showing interest in UCLA, you can see how UCLA's recruiting approach will change over the next couple of years. It will, quite often, have its pick of elite, top-40 national prospects.

At the Cactus Classic, there were probably five truly elite prospects, the kind that are potential first-round picks, and UCLA's name is involved with each.

The Cactus Classic Elite Five:

Jrue Holiday, the 6-3 junior guard from North Hollywood Campbell Hall, the #3-ranked player nationally, if he commits to UCLA, will be a huge step in UCLA's turnaround. It will cement UCLA's recruiting class as one of the best in the country, if not the best in the country, for 2008. Recruiting experts, while watching the Cactus Classic, were talking about how the backcourt of UCLA's 2008 class would be one of the best in recent recruiting memory, adding Holiday to #13-ranked Malcolm Lee and #26-ranked Jerime Anderson. One national recruiting anlayst described it as "sick."

We have an interview with Holiday coming up.

DeMar Derozan, the 6-6 wing from Compton (Calif.) High is emerging as one of the best at his position in the country. He's always been a great athlete, but as Greg Hicks reported during his high school junior season (far ahead of the national hype), his skills have really improved. Derozan now has become a very good outside shooter, the kind that is able to knock down 5 or 6 threes in a game (without attempting 25). His ball-handling still needs work, but it has improved, and it enables him, because of his strength and quickness, to now also drive by defenders, especially smaller ones, with ease. And he's one of the best finishers around, with those eye-popping hops. Making good decisions, taking open mid-range jumpers, etc., Derozan has gone from great-athlete status to a true basketball player. In regard to his recruitment, he said he is verbally committed to USC "at the moment," which means he's waiting to see who else will offer him a scholarship. Expect the elite programs to do so by summer. North Carolina has started to get involved, and they could offer. UCLA has been showing Derozan interest for a long time, with assistant coach Donnie Daniels attending quite a few Compton games last season. It's believed that UCLA, if it offered, could change Derozan's recruiting dramatically, and possibly be his leader.

The next question is: Where does UCLA get the scholarship? We know it wants Holiday and another big. But if UCLA doesn't get another elite big to go along with Drew Gordon, it very well could use the scholarship on Derozan. UCLA needs a true small forward on its roster; if it didn't get one in 2008, it would certainly be a high priority for the 2009 class, and you'd probably not find one at the level of Derozan.

When we asked that same national recruiting guru what he would think of UCLA's 2008 guard and wing class if it added Derozan to the mix, he said, "one of the sickest ever."

Jeremy Tyler, the 6-9 freshman center from San Diego (Calif.) High, will almost certainly be the Next Big Thing. If you read Greg Hick's evaluation of him from Sunday morning, you'll get a good idea of what type of prospect this kid is. Put it this way – if he were in the 2008 class, he'd be a top 25 national prospect and the best post prospect left on the board that UCLA would be pursuing. He's easily the best low-post prospect in the west since Kevin Love. In fact, he and Love are probably the two best in the last five to six years. We didn't think we'd see a kid in the west who we'd be able to mention in the same breath with Love for a long time, so we're as surprised as anyone. He'll be a top five prospect in the 2010 class nationally.

We have an interview with his coach coming up, and it's very positive about UCLA.

UCLA commit Malcolm Lee.
Malcolm Lee, the 6-4 guard from Riverside (Calif.) North who is committed to UCLA, didn't have a spectacular tournament, but our expectations our high. It was certainly good enough to get Lee considered as one of the top five prospects in the tournament, however. He didn't shoot the ball as well as he usually does, but his ability to get into the paint and score or dish is becoming dominating. He had some of the best passes of the weekend, using that great vision in transition. His upside is staggering, given how he keeps growing and how his body has begun to fill out. While we're way ahead of ourselves, we have to say that, when it's all said and done, Lee could get the distinction as the UCLA guard during the first 10 years of the Howland era at UCLA who goes the highest in the NBA draft – and early.

Jamil Wilson, the 6-7 sophomore small forward from Racine (Wisc.) Horlick, is a Marvin Williams type of talent, with a big, baseline type of body but with the quickness and skills to be a small forward. He'll be a top 10 national prospect in the class of 2009, and we've heard that UCLA is trying to get involved.

Other Elite Prospects:

Reeves Nelson, the 6-6 sophomore forward from Modesto (Calif.) Christian, played okay in Tucson. Nelson blew up during the April evaluation period, and rightfully so. He's a stud inside, with an uncanny ability to rebound and pass in the paint, and finish on the break. It will be interesting to see, however, in what direction Nelson develops. He's already pretty buffed out, and if his body continues to go that way, he's a college four man. If he remains fairly lean, and able to guard high-major threes, and his perimeter skills improve, particularly his outside shot, he could become a three.

David Wear and Travis Wear, the 6-9 sophomore twins from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, are clearly elite talents, but how they develop will also be interesting to watch over the next couple of years. They have certainly gotten stronger, and more physical and aggressive, which they needed to do, and need to continue to. They are tending, though, to float outside. We're hoping they're not just envisioning themselves as small forwards, but understand that they're post players in college. The best big man prospects in recent years are those that have understood that they need to develop inside-out. That is, develop an inside game first and then their outside game. The Wears certainly are capable of taking their game inside, having shown great touch around the basket, with pretty jump hooks and footwork. David starts now for the Pump N Run team, playing better overall during the spring, but it's almost alternated from tournament to tournament which Wear will fare better.

With Nelson and the Wears all very prominent UCLA prospects for the class of 2009, their development also will be interesting to watch in terms of how they fit together if, perhaps, they all commit to UCLA. All three have been offered scholarships by UCLA and UCLA would accept commitments from any of the three in a flash. As of right now, though, all three of them, in our opinion, are power forwards.

Larry Drew, the 5-11 junior point guard from Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft, played a bit better this weekend than he did in April, but he still hasn't played near as well as he did last summer, and thus the reason for his fall in various rankings. He's still listing UCLA among his three favorites, along with North Carolina and Arizona, and UCLA is still in contact, but as we've monitored for you for the last several months, it looks fairly unlikely UCLA will have a spot for him. At this point, we're skeptical that North Carolina would accept a commitment from him, and we think he's likely destined for Arizona. Arizona's other big point guard target, Brandon Jennings, probably has Connecticut at the top of his list we've heard, and has dropped USC, the school he had verbally committed to earlier.

Next Most Likely UCLA Prospects:

Elijah Johnson, the 6-2 sophomore guard from Las Vegas Chaparral, still isn't getting the touches he should playing for Houston Hoops, playing mostly off the ball, but his talent is evident. He's one of the elite guard prospects in the nation for 2009, and UCLA will be involved.

Michael Snaer, the 6-4 shooting guard from Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde, showed this spring that his game has many facets. He's a good shooter, but is best right now at taking defenders off the dribble with a quick first step, both to his right and left. UCLA has already started the recruiting process.

Jared Cunningham, the 6-2 sophomore guard from San Leandro (Calif.) High, is one of our favorites in the 2009 class in the west. Picture a young Gabe Pruitt. In fact, he looks so young that it's exciting to think about where his game will go when he matures more physically. What's promising is just how far he's come physically in the last year, but how much more he can go, given that he looks like a baby. And his athleticism has taken a major leap forward, showing good quickness and jumping ability. His pure speed coming up the court is surprising. His skills have gotten a great deal better in the last year, with a far better, quicker release on his outside shot, and some very good ball-handling skills. How Cunningham has come along, and the way he appears to be going, he could be one of the best in 2009, and not just in the west. We have a story coming on in soon.

Soph wing Hollis Thompson.
Hollis Thompson, the 6-6 sophomore small forward from Los Angeles Loyola, as Greg Hicks described in this Cactus rundown, really has a chance to be a UCLA level prospect. The 4.2 GPA doesn't hurt either. We have a story on him coming.

Greg Smith, the 6-8 sophomore post from Fresno (Calif.) Edison, has some real promise, both physically and athletically. The kid, who probably already weights 240, has a great, wide frame and huge feet (size 19), and good athleticism for his size. He's just learning how to play, but already shows a good instinctive feel. That body, though, is the type you could see Howland salivating over.

Peyton Siva, the 5-11 point guard from Seattle (Wash.) Franklin, is very talented. He has to be one of the best outside shooters in the class in the west, and maybe among any class in the west. He has good handles, can get into the paint and is a good disher. He's a bit slight, and that could hold him back a bit. He has said he likes Washington, and it could be hard to get him away from the Huskies, as well as Arizona. And it's a question of whether UCLA will have room for a 5-11 point guard in the 2009 class, but the Bruins will have to try to be involved to some extent.

Jordan Hamilton, the 6-6 sophomore small forward from Los Angeles Dorsey, is a great scorer, combining a very good outside jumper and an ability to get to the basket. He's getting hyped as a top ten player nationally for 2009 and, while we think he's good, we think that might be a little excessive. If he does, though, improve his approach to the game and his defense he could live up to that hype. UCLA has already been in consistent contact.

Keith Gallon, 6-8 sophomore post from Humble (Tex.) High, is definitely someone to watch. He's nicknamed "Tiny," since he's one of the largest human beings at the age of 15 you'll ever see. He has to weigh at least 320, and could be a heckuva offensive tackle, with very nimble feet and long arms. He's becoming a good basketball player, using his size for position, and the ability to get that 320+ pounds off the ground for rebounds and dunks remarkably quickly. UCLA has shown some initial interest.

Others of Note:

Roberto Nelson, the 6-3 sophomore shooting guard from Santa Barbara (Calif.) High, has improved. His outside shot is now very good, and his body is a bit springier, and he plays hard. He, though, lacks quickness and struggles to take defenders off the dribble. There has been some talk about UCLA's interest in Nelson, and they have shown some initial interest, but we think ultimately Nelson isn't a UCLA level prospect.

There were some other junior prospects that UCLA fans should be aware of. UCLA has shown varying amounts of interest in some of these guys, but nothing serious. With the players UCLA already has committed for the 2008 class, it's highly unlikely they would seriously pursue them.

Mark McLaughlin, the 6-4 junior shooting guard from Kenmore (Wash.) Inglemoor, is emerging as a Pac-10 level player. Quintin Dailey, Jr., the 6-3 junior shooting guard from Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman, the son of the former NBA player with the same name, had a good tournament, showing improved skills and the penchant for playing hard. He's improved his stock to the point that high majors will be interested. D.J. Seeley, the 6-3 junior combo from Modesto (Calif.) Christian, is a scorer, with a great ability to get to the rim. He's already been offered by Cal. James Rahon, the 6-3 junior shooting guard from San Diego (Calif.) Torrey Pines, is probably the best pure outside shooter in the west. He can't put the ball on the floor, but the Pac-10 will have to look at him since he's such a good shooter.

Brendan Lavender, the 6-4 junior shooting guard from Mesa (Ariz.) Mountain View who is verbally committed to Arizona, didn't have a great tournament. It's interesting that Arizona offered him this early, a guy who you would presume they could have waited on and gotten later. Lavender did look good in the April evaluation period, which prompted Arizona to offer, not wanting to lose him if he blew up.

Terrence Jennings, the 6-10 post from Durham (North Carolina) Mt. Zion, is someone who is getting a great deal of national attention this spring and has listed UCLA. BRO message board posters keep asking about him, so let's get this straight. It's highly – highly – unlikely UCLA would pursue Jennings. He went to high school in Sacramento and was a senior in 2006, so he's now two years older than the 2008 senior class (which, by the way, should dictate that he doesn't get ranked in the 2008 class, and Scout.com's Dave Telep hasn't). The fact that, being probably 20 years old, he's dominating 15 and 16 year olds in AAU ball is understandable. He has academic issues and doesn't appear to be a UCLA type of prospect.

There was an intriguing prospect from China at the Cactus Classic, Zhaoux Zhang, a 7-2 center who actually had some agility. His handlers were telling people that UCLA had offered him a scholarship, which is untrue. He's listed as part of the 2007 class, but we've heard he could have NCAA Clearing House issues, and might go to prep school. He would be a project at a program like UCLA, and given the situation, it would be unlikely UCLA would get involved.


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