Alex Stepheson, the 6-9 sophomore center from North Carolina, has decided to transfer and is looking to play at a school close to home, according to sources close to the situation. Stepheson played his high school ball at Harvard-Westlake in North Hollywood and UCLA has been mentioned as one of the obvious possibilities. I think Stepheson would be an excellent fit at UCLA, for a number of reasons.
With the addition of J'Mison Morgan from the 2008 class, UCLA has apparently solved its short-term issues at center. Morgan figures to come in and play a lot of minutes right away next season. But as is the case with any highly ranked big man, there's always the possibility that you'll lose him after one or two years. If Stepheson were to join the Bruins, he would sit out next season (Morgan's freshman year) and then have two more years to play. So if UCLA does lose Morgan after one year, the Bruins would have a redshirt junior in Stepheson ready to step in and play right away.
Stepheson does two things pretty well right now at the high major level. He can rebound and he can defend. Those just happen to be the two most important requirements for a Ben Howland post player. But with a year to redshirt, and work on his low-post skills, Stepheson has the chance to expand his game. He showed signs this year at UNC of making progress as a scoring threat. By the time he gets to his junior and senior year at UCLA, Stepheson could very well turn into a solid low-post scoring option.
Having watched him this year at UNC, I thought Stepheson looked great physically. He's added good weight and he's much stronger than he was in high school. While he played limited minutes at UNC, you could see signs that he was becoming more comfortable as a shot-blocker. It's always difficult when you're asked to play a couple minutes and then sit – tough to get in a rhythm that way – but I was impressed with the progress Stepheson made from his freshman year. In reality, he probably should've redshirted his freshman season, as there weren't many minutes available with Tyler Hansbrough and Brandon Wright taking the majority of the time. Given his limited opportunities, I thought Stepheson showed real growth in his game. With a year to sit out and work under Ben Howland, I think Stepheson has the potential to really grow as a player.
While there is sometimes a concern with players that are looking to transfer, Stepheson has a very good reason to transfer. One of his family members is ill and it is understandable that Stepheson is looking to be closer to home. So this isn't a case of a player leaving a school at the first sign of adversity, but rather a kid looking to do the right thing by his family.
With the Bruins coming off three consecutive Final Fours, and UCLA sending players to the NBA on an annual basis, it would make sense that Stepheson might view Westwood as an ideal destination. If UCLA does manage to secure Stepheson's services, Bruin fans should feel very good about what the former Harvard-Westlake star brings to the program. After spending the entire past year worrying about big men going forward, Ben Howland and his staff would be in great shape with the addition of Morgan and Stepheson.
Could Stepheson Be Good As A Bruin?
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