It's the fall evaluation period and the UCLA basketball coaches are out scouring high school gyms looking for prospects.
So, of course, it's time to give you an update on UCLA's basketball recruiting.
UCLA is coming off signing the #1 recruiting class in the country in November. It's the best recruiting class ever signed by head coach Ben Howland, and it contends as one of the best for UCLA in the last couple of decades.
UCLA's 2008 Recruiting Class
Jerime Anderson, 6-1 PG, Anaheim (Calif.) Canyon. The #28th-ranked player in the nation had a tremendous performance during the summer, 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 #22 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. Having just seen him in his first game of his senior season, Lee has filled out a bit in his upper body, and his athleticism has continued to improve as he's gotten bigger and stronger.
Jrue Holiday, 6-3 SG, North Hollywood (Calif.) Campbell Hall. Currently ranked the #3 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. It's obvious, too, that he's been working on his shot since the summer, with an improved stroke so far early in his senior season. UCLA fans should hope that Holiday doesn't become too polished -- because if he does he might not be sticking around Westwood too long.
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 #31 in the country, he's probably more on the unlikely list to be chosen as a McDonald's All-American. Reports on the first few games of his senior season indicate Gordon is looking good -- improved in terms of his skill level.
So, where does that leave the class? Is UCLA done? Or will it look to sign more in the spring signing period?
UCLA, having signed three perimeter players, is looking everywhere for bigs. If UCLA, in fact, could find an available big that could play at UCLA's level it definitely would look to sign him in spring.
But that's a huge "if."
There just aren't many bigs, in the west or even nationally.
If you project UCLA's roster, you can see why UCLA's coaches are pulling out their hair looking for bigs. Next year, they lose Lorenzo Mata-Real, and it's a very real possibility freshman Love goes to the NBA after one year in college.
If that's the case, then next year UCLA would have three players that could play the five spot on its roster -- senior (in 2008) Alfred Aboya, junior James Keefe and freshman Drew Gordon. Aboya is undersized at about 6-7, Keefe isn't a natural five, and Gordon will still be learning how to play college basketball.
And that's the good news in terms of the five position at UCLA.
UCLA will probably have a scholarship available, if they wanted to take another recruit in the 2008 class in spring -- if you figure that Darren Collison goes pro, as is expected, as does Love. That would make one scholarship available.
Again, as we've repeated, there is also the chance that someone transfers -- say, Nikola Dragovic decides he isn't getting enough playing time after this season and goes back to play in Europe.
Recently, when Ben Howland was discussing the injuries to this year's team, and how he only has 11 players on scholarship, he indicted that he would, in the future, consider taking more commitments than the 13 allowed in any given season, and then, presumably, let it shake out. So, if a big good enough to play at UCLA emerged by spring you can be certain UCLA would pursue him.
If that happens, great. But most likely it won't.
So, that points UCLA toward the 2009 class.
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, also, if you project out the roster, UCLA more than likely would definitely need a guard.
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. And the way Westbrook is playing, it's not inconceivable that he could go pro after his junior year, which could leave UCLA with just two guards in the 2009-2010 season.
Available scholarships probably wouldn't be an issue. If, say, just Love leaves by the 2009-2010 season, UCLA would have five scholarships to give to the 2009 class. If Dragovic leaves -- or Westbrook or Holiday -- that could make up to eight scholarships available.
So, it's a pretty good bet UCLA will take at least one perimeter player in the 2009 class as well.
Here's a look at the 2009 prospects:
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 #26 and #27 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 just recent returned to playing. 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 #30 in the nation for 2009, and is being pursued by Duke, North Carolina and Texas. UCLA has offered Nelson.
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 #21 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 have been out to see him so far this fall. If he can get through UCLA admissions, and appears to "fit" as a UCLA-type of player, expect UCLA to make Johnson a priority.
Renardo Sidney, 6-9 C, Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia. Talking about "fit" issues...Sidney is widely considered the most talented 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. It's those good ol' "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. Sidney came to the Texas game.
Greg Smith, 6-8 C, Fresno (Calif.) Edison. 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. He played on the Pump N Run team so is tight with all of the UCLA committed guys.
Milton Jennings, 6-9 C, Summerville (South Carolina) Pinewood Prep. A long athlete with good skills, UCLA has been to Summervile to watch Jennings and has offered him a scholarship. Jennings is one of the national bigs UCLA is trying to get seriously involved with, and he has said UCLA is among his top five, along with North Carolina, hometown Clemson, and Florida, which is pretty tough competition.
DaShonte Riley, 6-11 C, Beverly Hills (Mich.) Detroit Country Day. One of the best centers in the nation for 2009, ranked #16th nationally overally, Riley has mentioned UCLA and the Bruins are trying, but he's a longshot.
Mason Plumlee, 6-11 C, Arden (North Carolina) Christ School. His older brother just committed to Stanford, which is a good sign, showing that a sibling can come across the country. But the younger brother might have more elite programs after him. Just about everyone has offered him, including UCLA, but North Carolina. UCLA coaches spent a good amount of time this fall watching him practice.
John Henson, 6-9 C, Round Rock (Tex.) High. Henson is the #24-ranked player in the nation, with very good athleticism and a young body that could continue to get bigger. He'll be another tough out-of-stater, with some of the biggest programs in the country also pursuing him.
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.
Kenny 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 and have been out to see him so far this fall. He's a guy that UCLA would be really aggressive in recruiting if they deem him good enough.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. UCLA, though, for whatever reason, hasn't shown that much interest in Snaer through the summer and fall. Being a typical kind of Howland player, and with UCLA probably needing a guard, you could easily see UCLA getting involved with Snaer more seriously.
Jordan Hamilton, 6-6 SF, Compton (Calif.) Dominguez. The #15-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 has said UCLA was on his short list of favorites, but there could be fit issues, and it's uncertain just how serious UCLA is about recruiting him.
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, but haven't shown that much interests in him. Kansas, Cal and USC seem to be the most interested.
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. during the summer. UCLA hasn't pursued him seriously yet.
Anthony Stover, 6-9 C, La Canada (Calif.) Renaissance. Long and lanky, with some good athleticism, Stover, as of now, isn't UCLA's level. He doesn't have the skill level or the aggressiveness, but if the light turns on, he could be someone UCLA could get involved with since he's a very good student.
With the 2008 and 2009 classes more of a priority, most college coaches haven't spent a great deal of time watching 2010 prospects. But these are the guys we know UCLA made an effort to go out and watch in July.
Kendall Williams, 6-2 PG, Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Los Osos. Williams recently verbally committed to UCLA, which is probably early -- just starting his sophomore season. But Williams has some of the best potential of any guard in the west -- with good size, good hops, and nice skills. And the 3.8 GPA doesn't hurt. He came to UCLA's camp and was one of the most impressive prospects there. Locking up a kid like this early is a great indication of how well UCLA is doing these days in recruiting -- with Williams' family wanting him to go to UCLA and verbally committing early to make sure they don't miss on the opportunity.
Jeremy Tyler, 6-9 C, San Diego (Calif.) High. He's the #1 player nationally in the class of 2010, and he really impressed when he stepped onto the national stage for the first time really in early July. He recently came to the Texas game and UCLA had recruited him very early on. But the Tyler recruitment could become a circus, and UCLA could bow out if it does.
Josh Smith, 6-9 C, Kent (Wash.) Kentwood. Smith is a big body, who is actually taller than he looks because of that big body. He has soft hands and good skills, and can get that 260+ pounds off the ground pretty well. If he continues to develop, and his body tones up some, he's a potential top 25 national prospect. UCLA has definitely watched him.
Evan Anderson, 6-11 C, Eau Claire (Wisc.) North. A top ten prospect in the national class of 2010, UCLA coaches went out to see him this fall.
Tyler Lamb, 6-4 SG, Ontario (Calif.) Colony. Lamb has good skills and a nice outside shot, and a good court sense. He could be held back only by limited athleticism, but he's someone UCLA is definitely watching.