We're currently in a basketball recruiting evaluation period and the UCLA basketball coaches are out scouring high school gyms looking for prospects.
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 perhaps moved him up some, into the potential McDonald's All-American range. So far for his senior season, Anderson has been very impressive, looking bigger, longer and more athletic.
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 third of his senior season indicate Gordon is looking good -- improved in terms of his skill level. Gordon suffered a recent injury, which looks to be a stress fracture in his foot, which could keep him out for a majority of his senior season.
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 Kevin 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.
We've heard that Alfred Aboya will graduate after this year and he could opt not to return to UCLA, to pursue professional basketball or other career opportunities elsewhere.
There is also the real possibility that, perhaps, Nikola Dragovic could return to Europe, since he isn't getting much playing time this season.
It's pretty accepted that Darren Collison intends to go pro after this season. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute wanted to go pro after last season, and we know that it's Josh Shipp's long-held intention to go after this year. It might not be the smart thing to do for any of them but that might not deter them.
In other words, UCLA could have many scholarships open next season if it just sticks with its four-man class. Not only will it need help in the frontcourt, but it could find itself with only 7 to 10 scholarship playes on its roster overall.
Given how frustrated Howland has been operating season after season without a full complement of scholarshp players, it's safe to assume he might make a big effort to avoid such a thing next season.
In terms of bringing in another recruit next season, UCLA has been looking primarily at bigs. UCLA assistant coach Scott Garson took a trip a few weeks ago to Cameroon, to scout out any potential bigs and fellow countrymen of Mbah a Moute and Aboya. The thinking is that both Mbah a Moute and Aboya have been fairly well-known in their native country, and UCLA could exploit that notoriety to possibly be able to find a worthy recruit that's interested.
The other recent development has been the emergence of a high-major big in the west:
Krys Faber, the 6-10 center from Los Angeles (Calif.) Ribet Academy. Faber was considered a mid-major recruit until recently when he made huge strides to become one of the best post prospects in the west for 2008. He's got a good frame and he's probably in the range of 240 pounds. A lefty, he has a nice little jump hook that should develop into a go-to move and he's got good instincts around the basket. He's got good hands and feet, with a solid feel for the game. He passed out of the post several times in the games I saw. Overall, his skill level and feel for the game are good. He can face-up to about 15 feet, although he's better in the low post. He's a good, not exceptional, athlete and he moves well for his size. He's naturally big and doesn't look like he's done any serious weight-training. His progress since the summer is truly surprising and there's no question he's a high major prospect. UCLA has already begun to scout him, with UCLA assistant Scott Duncan attending a recent Ribet practice. We know that Faber's family, particularly his mom, would love for him to go to UCLA. It will now be a question of whether Howland, who will probably go out to see him play soon, decides to offer Faber and whether the recruit has good enough academics to get past UCLA's admissions.
If it all does work out it is truly fortuitous for UCLA. Since last summer they've been searching all over the country looking for a big to complete the 2008 class. The only one they deemed good enough to pursue was J'mison Morgan, who chose LSU over UCLA in November. So, to have a post player who can play at UCLA's level emerge from its own backyard would be miraculous.
There is also Ater Majok, a 6-9 post from Carlingford (Australia) Australian American Institute. Majok has many high majors jumping on him. Originally from the Sudan, he's been living in Australia and then played AAU ball in the States. He had committed to Baylor, but de-committed and also took a trip to Maryland. But now, with the dearth of big men nationally, the likes of Connecticut, Kansas and UCLA are showing interest.
UCLA will for certain have four scholarships to give for 2009, and almost certainly 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 as we said above, UCLA could have quite a few open scholarships in the next couple of years. And also, if you project out the roster, UCLA more than likely would definitely need a guard.
It's definitely a new era for UCLA, having to deal with the potential of many players leaving early for the pros. But UCLA has to be honest with itself if it's not going to get caught particularly under-manned. For instance, 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 looking more probable that he could go pro after his junior year, which could leave UCLA with just two guards in the 2009-2010 season.
Very simply, if everyone on the roster stays for the 2009-2010 season except Kevin Love, UCLA will have five scholarships to give to the 2009 class. If, say, Dragovic leaves, or Westbrook leaves before his senior year, or Holiday leaves after his freshman season, UCLA could have up to eight to give.
Recently, when Ben Howland was discussing the injuries to this year's team, and how he only has 11 players on scholarship, he indicated 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, with so many scholarships potentially open, you can assume UCLA will ne recruiting like they have at least five scholarships to give to the 2009 class, which could include two perimeter players.
Here's a look at the 2009 prospects:
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. Nelson is currently ranked #30 in the nation for 2009, and is being pursued by Duke, North Carolina and Texas. UCLA has offered Nelson. With the commitment of the Wear twins to North Carolina, Nelson becomes an even bigger priority. But if UCLA does, indeed, get Nelson, it very well could be a better situation for the Bruins in the long run that they missed on the Wears. The Wears and Nelson project to playing the same position in college -- power forward -- and it might have been very problematic if UCLA brought in three power forwards in one class, especially when it desperately would need a true five. And among the three, Nelson is the better defensive player and rebounder (he is an exceptional rebounder), so he's really more suited to playing for Howland. If UCLA misses on Nelson, it would be a big blow to UCLA's recruiting in the west for 2009, having already missed on the Wears and Hollis Thompson, who committed to Georgetown.
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.
Nolan Dennis, 6-5 SG, Richland (Tex.) Richland Hills. Dennis is the #6-ranked shooting guard in the national class of 2009. He has all the big names after him, and recently was offered by North Carolina. UCLA is taking a shot and they've gotten some feedback that they could have a chance.
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. It would seem natural for UCLA to take another look at Lane with the commitment of the Wears to UNC. Many scouts believe Lane to be the superior prospect anyway.
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, 6-10 C, La Canada (Calif.) Renaissance. Long and lanky, with some good athleticism, Stover has continued to develop and is probably a high major prospect at this point. What's very promising is he looks like he's continuing to grow, and his thin body is getting wider, too. He came to UCLA's camp last summer, and we've heard that high majors are starting to take a look. He's also attractive because he's a very good student. He's someone UCLA will have to seriously consider.
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. Williams has been very good so far in his sophomore season, winning MVP of a recent tournament.
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.
Anthony Brown, 6-5 SF, Huntington Beach (Calif.) Ocean View. Long, promising athlete with good skills.
Moses Morgan, 6-5 SF, Las Vegas (Nev.) Palo Verde. Very skilled wing with above average athleticism.
Allen Crabbe, 6-3 SG, Los Angeles (Calif.) Price. Crabbe is one of the most promising young guards in SoCal.