It's going to be a bit of a strange spring in terms of basketball recruiting. Usually college coaches have three weekends in April where they're able to be out at events scouting recruits. But this year, because of the way the calendar works this year, they'll only have two weekends.
The two weekends are April 19th and 20th, and then April 26th and 27th. UCLA coaches will be spread out all over the country over during those measley four days, trying to get a bead on some potential future Bruins.
So much is being made of UCLA needing to upgrade its talent to win a national championship.
You could say Ben Howland is systematically doing that. After getting the Gatorade National Player of the Year a year ago in Kevin Love, UCLA got this year's Gatorade Player of the Year in Jrue Holiday. UCLA signed the consensus #1 recruiting class in the country for 2008 (Scout.com's 2008 Class Recruiting Rankings).
The class includes Holiday, the 6-3 combo guard from North Hollywood (Calif.) Campbell Hall, the #3 player in the nation and a McDonald's All-American; Jerime Anderson, 6-1 PG, Anaheim (Calif.) Canyon, the #28th-ranked player in the nation; Malcolm Lee, 6-4 CG, Riverside (Calif.) North, #22 in the nation and McDonald's All-American; and Drew Gordon, 6-9 PF/C, San Jose (Calif.) Archbishop Mitty, #31 in the nation.
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, has been 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 almost certainly Kevin Love.
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.
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. As we reported, Russell Westbrook is leaning that way also. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Josh Shipp also intend to put their name in the NBA Draft. It might not be the smart thing to do for any of them but that might not deter them.
We've also heard that Aboya could leave the program, opting to do graduate work elsewhere since he gets his degree after this year.
In other words, UCLA could have many scholarships open next season if it just sticks with its four-man class. At the very least, you can pretty much bet that UCLA will lose Collison and Love, which would open up one more scholarship to give to the 2008 class. If Westbrook goes, then there are two open. Any more go, then, well...
Given how frustrated Howland has been operating season after season without a full complement of scholarshp players, this year he said he wouldn't be so concerned if he received commitments from more recruits than he had available scholarships.
In terms of bringing in another recruit next season, it would almost certainly be a big. UCLA assistant coach Scott Garson took a trip a few months 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.
UCLA looked at Krys Faber, the 6-10 center from Los Angeles (Calif.) Ribet Academy, but the most recent information we have is that it's unlikely UCLA and Faber are a match. First, Howland has yet to see Faber, which is essential before UCLA offers a prospect. Faber seems pretty far along with other programs recruiting him, and unless Faber plays during this spring's evaluation period, there really isn't a time when Howland would be able to see Faber. Also, Faber's academics could be difficult to get by UCLA admissions.
UCLA has scouted Jeff Taylor, the 6-7 PF/SF from Hobbs (New Mexico) High, as have other high majors. He's reportedly earned scholarship offers from Kentucky, Texas, Gonzaga and others. He could come out to visit UCLA this spring, if UCLA is serious about him.
Frank Ben-Eze, the 6-9 center, is another possibility. He had committed to Harvard, but then opened up his recruitment. Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Davidson are possibilities. Stanford was also involved before Trent Johnson left to take the LSU job.
There has also been talk that UCLA is looking at Phil Wait, a 7-0 Brit, but we haven't heard anything concrete about it.
It's been learned that Malcolm Thomas, the 6-8 post who played at Pepperdine as a freshman this year but is transferring, is interested in UCLA, and UCLA is showing interest. USC is pursuing him, but he apparently has said he's not interested. UNLV and San Diego State are also possibiities. Thomas could come to UCLA's campus on an unofficial visit very soon. He averaged 12 points and 8.8 rebounds per game at Pepperdine last season as a freshman, but those stats are skewed since a typical Pepperdine game had about 50% more possessions.
Before the most recent news, that UCLA could be losing more than just a couple of players from its roster early, UCLA wasn't seriously looking at any other 2008 prospect we are aware of. If, though, UCLA does get an idea that there is a chance it could lose Mbah a Moute and/or Aboya, it could change its tune this spring and seriously pursue some prospects it wasn't previously. In Faber's case, say (and this is pure speculation), if UCLA did lose Mbah a Moute and/or Aboya, it could then be more willing to go to bat with the UCLA academic committee over his acadmics. But the timing of it is tough -- since UCLA might not have an idea if it will, indeed, lose more than just Love, Collison and possibly Westbrook until well after the two recruiting evaluation weekends are over.
The number of scholarships UCLA will have available for the 2009 class is very uncertain at this point, but you can safely estimate at least five. That includes Michael Roll redshirting and being a senior in 2009-2010, Westbrook not returning for his senior season and Holiday <i>returning</i> for his sophomore year. So, it's a conservative scenario because, if we had to bet right now, we'd say that Holiday doesn't make it to his sophomore season.
Whether they have five -- or four, six, or more -- they will be fairly deep with 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 at least one perimeter player, if not two.
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 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 (assuming Westbrook isn't around for his senior year and Roll is a redshirt senior, and then you also have Lee and Anderson), if you didn't, in fact, take a guard with the 2009 class.
After watching the Bruins this year, when you could make a case that one more good perimeter player might be the missing piece of the puzzle, it'd be surprising if UCLA didn't at least take one perimeter player in 2009.
So, with so many scholarships potentially open, you can assume UCLA will be recruiting like they have at least five scholarships to give to the 2009 class, which could include two perimeter players.
The following players are guys we know UCLA has been involved with so far in the class of 2009. We expect this list to change considerably by the end of April.
Reeves Nelson, 6-7 PF, Modesto (Calif.) Modesto Christian. COMMITTED. Nelson sat out most of the July period with bone spurs in his ankle, so he didn't necessarily get the pub or the rankings he might have. Nelson is the perfect Ben Howland player -- a tough warrior who loves to be physical and rebound. And he's very good at it. 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 was being pursued by Duke, North Carolina and Texas before committing to UCLA. He had a great junior year, playing only 3/4s of it, averaging 26 points and 14 rebounds.
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. UCLA coaches have been out to see him this season. If he can get through UCLA admissions, and appears to "fit" as a UCLA-type of player, expect UCLA to make Johnson a priority. We'll find out more about his academic situation this spring.
Renardo Sidney, 6-9 C, Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia. Sidney is widely considered the most talented player in the class of 2009 nationally. UCLA is recruiting him aggressively now and if he can qualify academically, UCLA will take him. He's getting recruited by some of the biggest programs in the nation, including Kansas and Memphis, while USC and Arizona State are definitely in it for him. Sidney has indicated that he would greatly prefer to stay close to home in L.A., go to a college with a reputation like UCLA, and to a program where he'd have a chance to win a national championship.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 have been monitoring him for the last year and recently picked up their recruitment of him, having offered Lane a scholarship. Stanford, Kansas, Cal and USC seem to be the others most interested, with possibly Stanford the direction he's leaning. UCLA, though, will now put on a full-court press this spring and we'll see how that affects Lane's opinion. We've heard it will probably come down between UCLA and Stanford.
Anthony Stover, 6-10 C, La Canada (Calif.) Renaissance. Long and lanky, with some good athleticism, Stover has continued to develop and is a high major prospect at this point, with some of the most potential of any prospect in the west. 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 high majors are starting to get serious. He's also attractive because he's a very good student. He's someone UCLA is looking at seriously and could offer this spring or summer. Stanford has been recruiting him hard for a while so the Cardinal will probably be UCLA's main competition -- that's if they get serious about him.
Robert Smith, 5-11 PG, Perris (Calif.) High. Smith has continued to develop and has emerged as a high major prospect, and probably the #1 point guard in California for 2009. He's continued to grow, going from 5-9ish to 5-11 in the last couple of years, and his body has stretched out. He is quick, has excellent handle, passes well and now has a very good outside jumper. He attended UCLA's camp last July, and it's well known he's a Bruin lover, that he'd probably commit if offered. It will be interesting to see if UCLA thinks it needs a point guard in the 2009 class, having taken Holiday, Anderson and Lee in 2008. This spring and summer Smith will try to convince the UCLA coaches he's worthy of an offer.
Greg Smith, 6-8 C, Fresno (Calif.) Edison. Smith might 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. Last summer was a major step forward for him, showing more aggressiveness around the basket as he got more familari playing against such high-level competition. he then took another step in his junior season, playing with more confidence. Even if he stays at 6-8, he's still a potential beast. He's been on UCLA's campus for an unofficial visit, and the Bruins would be on top of his list if his academics were more UCLA-friendly.
Daniel Orton, 6-9 C, Oklahoma City (Okla.) Bishop McGuinness. He's the #3 best center in the country, and big body with good athleticism. He plays on an AAU team that is based in SoCal, so he likes UCLA. The problem are his academics. UCLA is still recruiting Orton but there is skepticism it will be able to happen because of the academic issue.
DaShonte Riley, 6-11 C, Beverly Hills (Mich.) Detroit Country Day. UCLA took shots at many national bigs this season, and generally missed on them. Riley, who is one of the best center in the nation for 2009, ranked #16th nationally overally,hasn't eliminated UCLA, but he's considered a longshot, like the others.
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, albeit it an unlikely one.
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. He's still listing UCLA as a school of interest, but we've heard it's unlikely he'd come out west to Westwood.
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.
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. With some potential "fit" issues, UCLA hasn't pursued him seriously to date.
Joe Burton, 6-7 C, Hemet (Calif.) West Valley. Burton has lost 50+ pounds and has turned himself into a decent player. He's pretty quick for his size and crafty around the basket, and a good passer. He lacks great athleticism and bounce, which will more than likely keep UCLA from offering.
Trevor Williams, 6-10 C, Englewood (Col.) St. Mary's Academy. Williams has generaated some interest from west coast programs, with many going out to Englewood to check him out this season. He's a guy many feel has potential and will be watching this spring.
Kawhi Leonard, 6-6 SF, Riverside (Calif.) King. King is on the cusp of the elite high major level, with probably good enough skills but with a slightly stiff body.
Ray Turner, 6-8 PF, Houston (Tex.) Jones. Turner is a kid starting to get some high major attention and UCLA went out to see him this season.
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. COMMITTED. Williams verbally committed to UCLA before his sophomore season, which is probably early. 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 had a good sophomore season, even though there is some question of whether he's a UCLA-level prospect yet.
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 last July. He's been to UCLA's campus for games. He, though, has some considerable "fit" issues and, at this point, a great deal would have to be resolved before he'd ever be a Bruin.
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 is definitely recruiting him. We've heard he could be transferring to a SoCal high school for next season.
Nate Lubick, 6-8 post, Southborough (Mass.) St. Mark's. A skilled big man that has been out to UCLA and has family in California. He reportedly has offers from many high majors.
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 showed continued development as a sophomore, to the point that we feel he's the best guard in the west for 2010. He showed up to a recent UCLA game wearing a UCLA sweatshirt and has said if UCLA offers he'll commit.
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.
Flavien Davis, 6-5 SF, Miwaukee (Wisc.) Wisconsin Lutheran. Might be one of the best wings in the country, he has said UCLA is showing early interest.
George Matthews, 6-6 SF, Phoenix (Ariz.) St. Mary's. Has really improved skill set and feel and still looks very young physically. Has a chance to be UCLA level.