First Day of UCLA Hoops Camp

A few big prospects won't show until today, and there were some late scratches, but there was still plenty of talent at UCLA's Camp Sunday. UCLA-committed Malcolm Lee shows again why he's one of the top 20 players in the nation, and a rising junior from L.A. might be earning himself a scholarship offer...

Even though it's been four years since Ben Howland took over the UCLA basketball program, and we should be used to the level that the program has achieved, there are still moments that allow you to appreciate how far the program has come under Howland.

With about 60 athletes attending the first day of UCLA's Camp on Sunday, there was all-business Howland, lecturing the 16-year-olds on jump stops, shot selection and fill cuts. He also told them (paraphrased), "It's all about setting your goals very high. Do you see all those banners up there? We've gone to two Final Fours in the last two years, but here at UCLA they don't hang Final Four banners, just national championship banners."

Four years later, there's Arron Afflalo, being introduced to the campers by Howland "as his first recruit, and someone who will always be special" to the coach. And Afflalo, with a nervous smile, telling the campers how you come to UCLA for excellence, that your experience at UCLA is about hard work, and how he benefitted from a good coach and good teammates, but how the first thing you need is "heart."

Again, we've said it repeatedly, but it truly is a different world.

The difference in the atmosphere at the camp, too, has changed, and is reflective of the program's advancement. The first year of the camp, there were campers who were openly acting rebellious and callous over Howland's emphasis on fundamentals. Not on Sunday. The campers were working hard and very attentive, as if there were some magic secrets Howland was giving out and they didn't want to miss it.

Among the campers, there were some no-shows on the first day. The biggest perhaps, as we reported yesterday, was J'mison Morgan, the 6-10 center from Dallas (Tex.) South Oak Cliff, that UCLA is recruiting, who scratched at the last minute. Also not being able to make it was Ralph Sampson, the 6-10 center from Huntsville (Ala.) High.

Tyreese Breshers, the 6-6 forward from Los Angeles Price, is not expected to make an appearance, and that's probably a good indication that UCLA and Breshers aren't going to happen. The UCLA coaches wanted to see Breshers in person to determine whether to offer him or not, and we've heard he will more than likely be deciding soon (probably between Washington and Boston College) among the schools that have offered him.

Jrue Holiday, the 6-3 guard from North Hollywood (Calif.) Campbell Hall, isn't expected to make an appearance either. From what we've heard, you shouldn't read anything into the fact that he didn't come to the camp as an indication about his attitude toward UCLA.

UCLA-committed guard Jerime Anderson, from Anaheim (Calif.) Canyon, is expected today, along with two of UCLA's big targets in the 2009 class, the 6-9 forwards Travis Wear and David Wear from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. Tyler Haws, the 6-4 junior guard from Highland (Utah) Lone Peak, is also expected today.

We won't go over a big list of the players who did participate Sunday, but give you a quick look at the clear standouts from the first day (we'll do a more comprehensive report later).

Howland, in demonstrating various drills and fundamentals, used various campers, and the ones listed here were the ones he commonly used Sunday.

Malcolm Lee, the 6-4 senior guard from Riverside (Calif.) North who is verbally committed to UCLA, was outstanding. He is uncommonly quick for his size, and showed off his great skill set. Most promising was how it appeared Lee had added some muscle, especially to his arms and shoulders.

Hollis Thompson, the 6-6 junior small forward Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola, was maybe 1-A in terms of the best prospect in the camp behind Lee. It's miraculous how good Thompson has become in such a short time. He's now a very good shooter, with a quick release and a nice touch, and has great agility in a very long body. We'd be surprised if Thompson didn't earn a scholarship offer from UCLA as a result of his work in this camp. The UCLA coaches were repeatedly praising Thompson.

Michael Snaer, the 6-4 junior shooting guard from Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde, showed how well-rounded of a player he is. He has a great body – in fact, Howland pointed him out to the campers as someone who is a very good, physical defender – but is agile, and he showed athleticism and skills Sunday.

Victor Rudd, the 6-7 junior forward from Van Nuys (Calif.) High, showed his high-major talent. Rudd is getting so big he can post up against big bodies, but also take you outside. It was clear that Howland was intrigued with Rudd's ability.

Kendall Williams, the 6-2 sophomore guard from Los Osos (Calif.) High, showed he has a chance to be an elite player. He's very athletic, with great hops and lateral quickness, but showed some fairly refined skills. He was buddying around with Thompson for most of the day.

Jared Cunningham, the 6-3 junior guard from San Leandro (Calif.) High, was consistently doing the right things in the drills, and Howland singled him out among the campers he used to demonstrate.

UCLA-committed Drew Gordon, the 6-8 post from San Jose (Calif.) Archbishop Mitty, was there. He had his broken hand wrapped in a splint, and he said he'd be ready to play again by mid-July.

Gordon, by the way, is close to Jared Cunningham, both coming from Northern California.

The UCLA players who worked out and assisted in the camp were Mike Roll, James Keefe, Russell Westbrook and Lorenzo Mata. It's really shocking just how big these guys look next to the high school players. Keefe really has gotten much bigger since last season, adding bulk in his shoulders and chest. Josh Shipp was there for the night session to watch, and he said he was doing well recovering from hip surgery.

The camp was run efficiently by assistant coach Scott Garson. New assistant Scott Duncan looks quite a bit better in UCLA blue, rather than Oregon green.

It should get quite a bit more interesting with Anderson and the Wears expected today.


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