Hoops Recruiting Analysis: Morgan

While it might not be a do-or-die situation for UCLA to get J'mison Morgan, the 6-10 center from Texas and the #29-ranked player in the nation, it would go a long way in greatly securing the five position and UCLA's projected roster for the next couple of years...

It's interesting – and peculiar – the way recruiting goes.

It's quite unpredictable, and programs can find themselves in situations that were near-impossible to anticipate, with recruiting needs as certain positions or perhaps too many players at another.

Even for teams that are recruiting among the best programs in the country, like UCLA, there can be some issues.

Not program-shaking issues. UCLA has recruited exceptionally well under Ben Howland, with the hits far out-weighing the few misses.

But so much of recruiting is based on, year to year, what's available out there. Some years, say, there aren't point guards. Another year, there aren't bigs (which seems to be every year, particularly in the west). Sometimes, for UCLA, there aren't any prospects at UCLA's level who have the academics for UCLA admission.

Sometimes players don't pan out, or they transfer.

So, you combine all that, with the very uneven science of evaluating and recruiting, and most programs end up with a roster that isn't perfect, or even close.

There is also the problem that UCLA is experiencing, now that it is once again an elite program in the country, of players going early to the NBA, and recruiting players that you know clearly have a chance to go to the NBA early.

Other schools, like Duke, who have had to deal with the issue of players leaving early for the NBA, have experienced some considerable hiccups on the court in recent years. North Carolina, after it won a national title in 2005, lost four underclassmen to the NBA, to go along with the three seniors to graduation, and it's been re-building (as much as North Carolina rebuilds) since.

Taking all this into consideration, UCLA has a pretty good, deep roster, and projects to have one over the next few years. Even if UCLA takes some anticipated hits in players going to the NBA early, it still has done well enough in recruiting to not see too much of a hiccup as a result.

But there are many nuances and situations – and potential situations – to consider when trying to work out UCLA's future rosters.

First, when analyzing the projected 2008-2009 roster, it's pretty well-accepted that junior point guard Darren Collison won't be apart of it, expected to go pro after this season. There's a very real possibility that freshman post Kevin Love will, too. Most of the people close to the situation expect it. There is also the possibility that Luc Richard Mbah a Moute could leave, and possibly even Josh Shipp.

It's very difficult to provide analysis when so much is uncertain, but this is what college coaches themselves have to do, if they're going to recruit the right guys at the right positions.

So, we'll assume that Collison and Love go pro, as the UCLA staff is almost certainly assuming. It's not a stretch to assert that UCLA believes this since they have commitments in the 2008 class from three guys who can play point guard and another from a five man, and the only other guy they're recruiting in the 2008 class is another five man.

For the 2008-2009 season, then, you have:

Seniors – Mike Roll, Josh Shipp, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alfred Aboya
Juniors – Russell Westbrook, Nikola Dragovic, James Keefe
Sophomores – Chace Stanback
Freshman -- Jerime Anderson, Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee, Drew Gordon

That's twelve scholarship players (which, by the way, would be the most scholarship players Ben Howland has ever had on a roster since he's been at UCLA; this season, he'll have just 11). With the potential loss of Love, and the graduation of Mata (and after last season the transfer of Ryan Wright), UCLA finds itself a bit thin with bigs. It has one truly experienced five man in Alfred Aboya, but Aboya is just 6-8, at the most. The other would be freshman Drew Gordon, who is about 6-8 ½, and would be far too green to be expected to come in and carry the major minutes at the five that season. Of course, Howland could use James Keefe at the five, which many close to the program believe could happen. Keefe, who is sitting out the beginning of this season recovering from shoulder surgery, is about 6-8 ½ and has bulked up to about 230, and probably is big enough to be able to guard opposing fives.

But the team still lacks a 6-10+ five man. Overall, it's pretty deep at just about every other position, but thin at the five.

If you project the 2009-2010 season, you pretty much come to the same conclusion. Going out on a limb, but let's say UCLA gets the guys it's already targeted and offered in the 2009 class – David Wear, Travis Wear, Reeves Nelson and Hollis Thompson – there is still a hole at the five spot. Of course, there is a real chance that the Wears will continue to grow and bulk up and be able to play the five. If both of them were going to play on the court at the same time, one would certainly be at the four and the other at the five. At 6-9 ½ and just entering their junior year, there is a very real chance that the Wears could end up 6-10+ and 225+ pounds by their freshman year in college. And after a couple of years in college, especially in Howland's program, you could easily project them physically big enough to play the five in college.

But still, as of right now, the Wears are fours, and not true fives. The UCLA roster would still be lacking a 6-10+ true five for the 2009-2010 season.

Even if Drew Gordon, as we said, at 6-8 ½, develops, even early by his sophomore season, into an all Pac-10 center, UCLA still doesn't have enough viable bodies at the five. You also never know how a prospect will develop and, even though Gordon is a promising prospect, he does have quite a bit to learn about playing the post in college. With UCLA thin at the position, it would definitely want to bring in another five to improve the odds that the position is secure over the next several years.

That's why J'mison Morgan, the 6-10 true center from Dallas (Tex.) South Oak Cliff, the #28-ranked player in the nation overall, is a far more significant recruit for UCLA than many have previously believed. Morgan is a true center; he doesn't believe he's a three, or even a four. He's one of the best low-post scorers in the 2008 class in the nation.

While it might be spoiled of UCLA watchers to assert, with all the recruiting riches of the last few years, that UCLA really needs Morgan, without him, actually, UCLA isn't bad off; but with him, UCLA is truly set.

With him, next season, UCLA would not only have Alfred Aboya and Drew Gordon, but Morgan, at the five.

Then, when losing Aboya in the 2009-2010 season, UCLA would have two guys, Gordon and Morgan, as experienced sophomores, rather than having to wait to find another true, 6-10+ center from the 2009 high school class who would be just a freshman at UCLA that season. Also, in the 2009 class, what if UCLA does, in fact, take the Wears, and neither really develops into a player that can do time at the five? And what if UCLA doesn't, in fact, get another five in the 2009 class? That would leave Gordon as the one, lone true post on the team for the 2009-2010 season as a sophomore.

Getting Morgan, also, allows the UCLA coaching staff to perhaps develop Gordon as a four. Without another true post, it doesn't, at least until UCLA might get one later.

We're hearing that the official visit Morgan took to UCLA this past weekend went well. He hung out quite a bit with Jrue Holiday and Malcolm Lee, the two guards who are ranked #3 and #19 respectively and verbally committed to UCLA. Apparently, Lee is pretty close with Morgan, having played with him on a Reebok-sponsored team that traveled to play in Italy in the spring. We also heard that Kevin Love, who spent time with Morgan, particularly at the UCLA/Washington game, was very effective in recruiting him.

Morgan's mom accompanied him on the visit and apparently she is a very level-headed parent that, in fact, emphasizes academics, and it's a factor in her son's decision, which is a plus for UCLA.

Morgan has also visited LSU and Kansas officially. He has a plan to visit Alabama, but we've heard that visit might not happen. It's uncertain if he'd take any other visits, even though he says he plays to. Other schools he's considering visiting are Kentucky, Cincinnati and hometown Baylor, but we've heard Baylor is more than likely a long shot. It could come down to Kansas, UCLA or LSU. Kansas is thought to be the leader, since Morgan's ex-high school and AAU teammate, Darrell Arthur, is at Kansas, and there are previously established ties between Kansas and Morgan's AAU coach.

But the word is that UCLA definitely has a shot, especially after the official visit this weekend.

Again, if UCLA doesn't get Morgan, there would be a roster issue at the five, an issue it could have for a couple of seasons. As we've reported, UCLA is recruiting some true fives in the 2009 class, the class after Morgan, but there aren't many that look greatly promising for UCLA. Daniel Orton, the 6-9 center from Oklahoma City (Okla.) Bishop McGuinness, is a top-20 national prospect that UCLA is recruiting that has interest in the Bruins, but he could be a longshot, in terms of the competition UCLA will face recruiting him and possibly because of academics. Renardo Sidney, the best post prospect in the nation for 2009 who is in UCLA's own backyard, very likely will have the well-discussed "fit" issues with UCLA. There aren't any other big prospects in the west that are currently caliber; Greg Smith, the 6-8 post from Fresno (Calif.) Edison, would have to continue to develop to be UCLA level and could also have academic issues. UCLA has gotten involved with Stephan Van Treese, the 6-9 post from Indianapolis (Ind.) Lawrence North; Mason Plumlee, the 6-11 prospect from Arden (North Carolina) Christ School, and Milton Jennings, the 6-9 prospect from Southwood (South Carolina) Pinewood Prep, and are scouting others. The word is that UCLA has offered Van Treese, but he and the rest would have to be considered relative longshots for UCLA at this time. All of them, too, don't necessarily envision themselves as fives.

Again, it's difficult out there finding a 6-10+ true center that sees himself as a center. The pickings are incredibly slim in the west for the 2008 and 2009 classes, which has sent UCLA out nationally, where it's going to find the recruiting far more competitive.

That's why Morgan is a big recruit for UCLA. He's a national recruit that UCLA has a legitimate shot at getting. Coming in as part of the 2008 class is so much better for UCLA's program than having to wait to get a center in 2009, if they got one at all.

Again, it's not the end of world if UCLA doesn't get Morgan. The sky wouldn't fall. They very well might be able to resolve the potential roster issue at the five over the next couple of years another way.

But he becomes significant because, like it's stated above, getting Morgan would truly make UCLA set in terms of personnel and rosters for the next couple of years. And in an era when it's hard for a program of UCLA's caliber to "be set," it would truly be an enormous accomplishment if UCLA did, indeed, get Morgan.

It wouldn't hurt, either, that with the addition of Morgan to UCLA's 2008 recruiting class, which is already being ranked #1 in the nation, it would cement that distinction.


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