There is one day left of the July evaluation period, and there aren't many men left standing.
The July period is increasingly becoming far too tiresome, for both recruit and college coach. Right now, at the Adidas Best of Summer at Loyola Marymount, many of the AAU teams are just shells of the teams they were earlier in the period, missing many players due to injury, fatigue or just burn-out. The gyms at LMU aren't near as populated with college coaches as they were in Vegas.
UCLA used the period to get a far better grasp of what they're doing in recruiting the 2008, 2009 and 2010 classes.
Heading into July, there was every indication that UCLA would be looking to give out a fifth scholarship to the 2008 class. The UCLA coaches were out scouting big men during the April evaluation period and then spent the early part July doing it again. But their interest seem to trail off as July wore on.
It could be that UCLA, without many clear-cut elite bigs left in the 2008 class, have decided to hold pat with the four commitments they have for the class.
Remember, there's a new element to UCLA recruiting that now has to be considered. With UCLA's recent success on the court, and with Ben Howland as its coach, it's elevated itself into the rarified realm of programs that have to deal perpetually with the issue of players going pro early. That, easily, is the most challenging aspect of UCLA's recruiting now -- trying to work out how many scholarships available in any given year depending on who might go pro early and when.
As of right now, UCLA is one over for the 2008-2009 season, if everyone in the program stayed through their senior years. We've heard that Darren Collison will almost certainly go pro after next year. But you never know what could happen. Also, it's very difficult to predict if anyone else in the program – Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Josh Shipp, Kevin Love, most obviously – could also go pro after next season. If UCLA took another commitment for 2008 -- a fifth -- it would be put them two over the 13-scholarship limit, which could be pushing your luck. Again, without many clear-cut elite bigs available, it might not be a gamble UCLA wants to take.
J'mison Morgan, the 6-10 center from Dallas (Tex.) South Oak Cliff, would definitely be the clear one UCLA would take as its fifth commitment for 2008, and be worth the risk of going two over the scholarship limit. But we're hearing other schools on his list – namely Kansas and Baylor – are probably the definite leaders for him. He has indicated he'll take an official visit to UCLA.
If UCLA doesn't get Morgan, there aren't too many more possibilities still out there that would be worthy of that fifth scholarship for 2008.
Colton Iverson, the 6-9 center from Yankton (South Dakota) High, could be the next best possibility. After watching Iverson in July it's clear he's a high-major player, with a good body, decent athleticism, a good feel, and a developing offensive game. In the gym watching during July were the likes of Florida's Billy Donovan and his two assistants, Washington State's Tony Bennett, Nebraska, Cincinnati, Marquette, and UCLA's Ben Howland. Iverson would be a four-year guy, and most likely a project who could probably make some real contributions by his sophomore or junior seasons in a league like the Pac-10. That might not be enough to get UCLA after him seriously. But it's a good bet that Iverson is good enough to warrant UCLA staying involved with him for a while.
If something does change, and UCLA does decide to go after a fifth guy for 2008, a big, besides Iverson, the next best candidates are probably Ralph Sampson, 6-10, Huntsville (Ala.) Butler; and John Brandenburg, 6-10 C, St. Louis (Missouri) De Smet Jesuit. But we're betting UCLA, given its situation, doesn't get to them.
UCLA's Committed Players for 2008
There wasn't much left for UCLA's committed guys to prove in July. Most importantly, they're committed to their school of choice, and after that anything else really pales in comparison. However, most of the post-high school awards, like being a McDonald's All-American, are based on their performances in the July evaluation period before their senior year, so you could say they were playing for that.
Jerime Anderson, 6-1 PG, Anaheim (Calif.) Canyon. The #29-ranked player in the nation had a tremendous performance in July, being the unofficial MVP of championship Pump team in the Adidas It Takes 5ive tournament in Cincinnati, as well as playing exceptionally well in Las Vegas. For many coaches and scouts who got to see him extensively for the first time, it left little doubt about Anderson being one of the best point guards in the country. Anderson has continued to fill out physically and his athleticism continues to improve, and you combine that with one of the best court senses in the country, and you have yourself a great prospect. You'd have to think that the July period not only cemented him as a top 30 player but erhaps moved him up some, into the potential McDonald's All-American range.
Malcolm Lee, 6-4 CG, Riverside (Calif.) North. Lee doesn't get quite as noticed because he plays on an AAU team, Inland, that doesn't find itself in as many high-profile summer games as other top AAU teams. Lee was thought to be one of the best guards at the Reebok U camp in early July. In Vegas, his team played in two different events and Lee, who experiences severe dehydration and cramps(you might remember in April he was taken to a Vegas hospital for saline IV) was a bit inconsistent due to fatigue. He had enough very good games here and there for most scouts to feel good about ranking him highly. Currently ranked #17 in the nation, his play hasn't hurt his chances at the McDonald's game. In terms of his worth to UCLA, it's phenomenal. His versatility on the court, being able to play the 1, 2 or 3, is a major factor in what makes UCLA's 2008 backcourt recruits as a group so overwhelmingly good.
Jrue Holiday, 6-3 SG, North Hollywood (Calif.) Campbell Hall. Currently ranked the #5 player in the nation and the best two-guard, Holiday has the McDonald's game sewn up. The top ten nationally are always constantly shifting around, but Holiday's July was good enough to keep him very high in the rankings. He had what many are calling the performance of the summer in Las Vegas against the Atlanta Celtics, when he scored 30 points and played a flawless game. It was a very good sign also that Holiday emerged from his shooting slump in Vegas.
Drew Gordon, 6-9 PF/C, San Jose (Calif.) Archbishop Mitty. Gordon suffered a broken bone in his hand in late June and sat out the first half of the July evaluation period. He returned to play in Las Vegas for the second half of the period, and looked about how we last saw him -- athletic, plays hard, with developing offensive skills, but lacking a great natural feel. He's a very good prospect, especially knowing he's going to get coached by Howland. Currently ranked #30 in the country, he's probably more on the unlikely list to be chosen as a McDonald's All-American.
UCLA will for certain have four scholarships to give for 2009, and could have more. They will have loaded up on perimeter players with the 2008 class, so they're primarily looking at 4s and 5s for 2009.
But since you are the new UCLA that has to deal with players leaving early to the pros, you have to also consider an early defection from the 2008 class. If you're an NBA GM, and you're looking for a point guard with the spring 2009 NBA draft, you might think that Jrue Holiday has a long ways to go to be an NBA point guard, but you wouldn't be able to deny his potential and ability. And would you take someone who is currently more polished but less talented? It's something to ponder, especially for UCLA. Because, in this what-if scenario, if Holiday went pro after his freshman year, you'd only have three guards on your roster for the 2009-2010 class (Russell Westbrook, assuming he doesn't go pro early, Lee and Anderson), if you didn't, in fact, take a guard with the 2009 class.
Also, even If Holiday stays at UCLA for his sophomore season, UCLA could still, in fact, have five or more scholarships to give for 2009: If Kevin Love goes pro, and/or Westbrook, or someone leaves the program. So, it's a pretty good bet UCLA will be taking perimeter players in the 2009 class as well.
Travis Wear, David Wear, 6-9 PFs, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. The twins are very talented, and really showed improved skills this July. Their outside shooting, particularly David's, is getting to the point where you can consider them very reliable three-point shooters. They continue to get bigger physically and, with two years left of high school, could very well end up 6-10 and 240 by the time they are freshmen in college. Which leads you to the next point on the Wears -- about whether they're posts or not. In our mind, there's no question they'll be post players in college, even if they don't get to 6-10. They won't be quick enough to guard threes regularly, which would limit the time on the court for just one of them, much less two of them. So, their college future is in the post, and they show signs of being very good college post players. They have a nice, natural back-to-the-basket game, with fluid jump hooks with either hand. But it's not really a question of whether they can play in the post offensively, but defensively and in terms of rebounding. We brought up the issue of their rebounding from their play in April, where they commonly would get maybe 2 or 3 rebounds a game between the two of them. They picked it up a bit in July, but it still wasn't the kind of rebounding potential you'd like to see in two 6-9 guys who are going to be post players in college. It's something they'll definitely have to improve upon. They don't have great hands, sometimes being in position for a rebound but fumbling it or having it knocked away. If they adopted more of the tough, physical mentality of a post player that would probably help immensely. Right now, they play like threes, floating on the perimeter and coming into the paint occasionally. These are all probably concerns that will work themselves out, though, with the twins probably playing more and more in the post in the next two years of high school and AAU ball. They'll have to play the post for Mater Dei this year, in fact. The word in regards to recruiting is that they're leaning heavily toward UCLA. They more than likely won't want to go far for college, being close to their family. Arizona looks to be the biggest competition, probably. They're rated #35 and #36 in the national class of 2009. Both have been offered scholarships by UCLA.
Reeves Nelson, 6-7 PF, Modesto (Calif.) Modesto Christian. Nelson sat out most of the July period with bone spurs in his ankle, and he could be out for a couple of months. Nelson is the perfect Ben Howland player -- a tough warrior who loves to be physical and rebound. And he's very good at it. He's one of UCLA's top priorities in 2009. Being a power forward right now, there is a chance Nelson could develop into a small forward, but we think more than likely he's a four on the college level -- and a very effective one. The word on Nelson is that he also is leaning toward UCLA. It would be interesting to see how it would work out if UCLA got three commitments -- from the Wears and Nelson -- from guys who are all essentially four men. As we said, it could all work out, with at least one of the Wears being able to play some five in college, and Nelson possibly being able to guard a three. Nelson is currently ranked #23 in the nation for 2009, and is being pursued by Duke, North Carolina and Texas. UCLA has offered Nelson.
Hollis Thompson, 6-6 SF/SG, Los Angeles Loyola. Thompson showed this July that he is worthy of some lofty national ratings in the 2009 class, specifically that #17 ranking by Scout.com nationally. He's one of the best shooters in the west for 2009, and has very good quickness and agility for his size. His feel for the game is, also, exceptional, moving so well without the ball and being a great passer. UCLA watched just about every one of his games this July. We've heard that Duke could be making Thompson a top priority. It will be interesting to see if Thompson gets a UCLA offer soon.
Daniel Orton, 6-9 C, Oklahoma City (Okla.) Bishop McGuinness. Orton was one of the best junior posts at the LeBron James Skills Academy in early July, and it's easy to see why he's ranked #15 in the national class of 2009. He has a big body, weighing at least 250 pounds, likes to bang, is a good rebounder, while also having some developing skills. UCLA coaches have watched him quite a bit since they were introduced to him by a L.A. AAU team that Orton plays for occasionally. We just did a recruiting update with him.
Renardo Sidney, 6-9 C, Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia. The consensus #1 player in the class of 2009 nationally. UCLA has yet to offer him, however, and it's unsure if they will. He didn't generally look good in Las Vegas, playing soft and selfishly. It's really one of the most interesting situations in UCLA recruiting in recent years -- a very talented player with clear NBA potential, ranked the #1 player in the country, in UCLA's backyard, at a position of great need, and it's unclear if UCLA is serious about him. As the saying goes, there are "fit" issues. We think at least some of those would have to be resolved for UCLA to take Sidney and that's not saying it couldn't happen. UCLA coaches watched Sidney in Vegas.
Elijah Johnson, 6-1 CG, Las Vegas (Nev.) Cheyenne. Probably the best guard in the 2009 class in the west and among the handful of best in the country (ranked #12 overall for 2009), Johnson can play either the one or the two, which could make him a very good fit at UCLA for the 2009 class. He sat out some of the July evaluation period with an injured ankle. UCLA coaches showed at his game, to only find him not playing.
Michael Snaer, 6-4 SG, Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde. Snaer obviously impressed the UCLA coaches at the UCLA Camp at the beginning of July. He then went out and had a very strong evaluation period, getting more confident and aggressive. He's a good athlete, with a very good body, and he uses it to play good defense. Where he's becoming very effective is using a strong first step to go around defenders and get to the rim. He plays on the same AAU team as Malcolm Lee (Inland Reebok) so UCLA coaches got many opportunities to watch him in July. The rumor is that Snaer would commit to UCLA if they offered him.
Jordan Hamilton, 6-6 SF, Compton (Calif.) Dominguez. The #18-ranked player in the nation, Hamilton got a lot of early hype nationally, but is now starting to show a more complete game that could be worthy of it. He can really shoot from the outside, but when he passes the ball, sets up teammates, rebounds and defends, he potentially is that elite prospect. He recently said UCLA was on his short list of favorites.
Greg Smith, 6-8 C, Fresno (Calif.) Edison. Another player not hard to follow (for us or for the UCLA coaches) since he plays on Pump N Run Elite, Smith is a kid to definitely watch. He could have the most potential of any post player in the west for 2009, with a great, wide body, probably weighing 235 already with room to put on more muscle, plus huge feet and a youngish face, which are signs he could continue to grow. He's just beginning to learn how to play but shows flashes. This July was a major step forward for him, showing more aggressiveness around the basket as he got more familari playing against such high-level competition. If he gets just another inch, to 6-9, he's a beast. He might very well get beast status without that extra inch, if he continues to improve. He was on UCLA's campus for an unofficial visit July 4th. While UCLA might look around nationally for a true five, Smith might be the guy.
Brendan Lane, 6-8 PF, Rocklin (Calif.) High. Lane has emerged as a potentially elite high major, and is getting scouted by all the major programs in the country. His size and athleticism are very intriguing. UCLA coaches watched him in July.
Victor Rudd, 6-8 SF/PF, Sylmar (Calif.) High. A very talented kid who will be as good as he wants. He came to UCLA's camp and looked impressive, even if at times his effort waned. His led his team to the championship of the Adidas Three Stripes tourney in L.A.
Jared Cunningham, 6-2 PG/SG San Jose (Calif.) San Leandro. Cunningham, like Jerime Anderson, is a player you need to see a few times to appreciate. He's still very young and doens't overwhelm a game, but his development in the last year, both athletically and skills-wise, has been dramatic, and he still looks like a baby, which means there could be plenty left to develop. Other high majors, particularly Pac-10 schools, are starting to show interest.
Stephan Van Treese, 6-9 C, Indianapolis (Ind.) Lawrence North. An athletic post player that is currently the #39 player in the nation for 2009, Van Treese has all of the physical and athletic tools to be a very successful high major college post. His skills are still coming along, but he plays with toughness and physicality in the post, and has good quickness and hops. Reportedly, he will take an unofficial visit to UCLA after the July evaluation period, while in L.A. for the Best of Summer tourney. He's someone UCLA would be very interested in, and will recruit, but he has Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio State and more having already offered him, which would be a very tough battle.
Tyler Griffey, 6-8 PF, Ballwin (Missouri) Lafayette. Griffey's a skilled four man with a good body and athleticism, and probably a top 50 national caliber player. He's shown some interest in UCLA.
Kenney Hall, 6-9 C, Stone Mountain (Georgia) Redan. Hall is a long-armed post with some potential. He came to UCLA's camp, having been from the San Fernando Valley originally. UCLA coaches watched him in July.
Jamil Wilson, 6-7 PF, Racine (Wisc.) Horlick. The #7-ranked player in the country, and deservedly so, since he's very talented. He's a Marvin Williams type -- able to handle the ball and play like a small forward in a power forward's body. He has shown interest in UCLA, but it's a longshot.
With the 2008 and 2009 classes more of a priority, most college coaches won't spend a great deal of time watching 2010 prospects. But these are the two guys we know UCLA made an effort to go out and watch in July.
Jeremy Tyler, 6-9 C, San Diego (Calif.) High. He stepped onto the national stage for the first time really in early July and proved he's an elite prospect for the 2010 class. He's already a high priority for UCLA.
Kendall Williams, 6-2 PG, Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Los Osos. Williams came to
UCLA's camp and was one of the most impressive prospects there, with great
athleticism, skills and savvy for his age. He played for the same under-16
team as Hollis Thompson. We recently did a recruiting update on