Analysis: Best 2009 Class

We're going out on a limb like we've never done before here on Bruin Report Online, and actually pick the rest of the recruits we think would complete the most ideal Bruin recruiting class for 2009. Our most ideal prospect is probably a bit of a surprise...

We've actually never done this before – pick our favorites for a recruiting class. It always seemed too fraught with issues.

Maybe it's old age, but for some reason the concept of it doesn't seem as foolish now as it used to.

So, here goes.

As we said in our recent recruiting analysis, after getting the commitment from J'mison Morgan, the whole landscape of UCLA recruiting has changed. It's shifted dramatically from being frantic to get bigs to, well, being pretty comfortable with the projected frontcourt.

There is also the distinct possibility that UCLA's future frontcourt will get even more stocked with the addition of North Carolina transfer Alex Stepheson. Sources are indicating that UCLA is the strong leader for him at this time.

These developments impact UCLA's recruiting of the 2009 class, and take the focus predominantly away from getting bigs to perhaps perimeter players.

It also impacts the amount of scholarships they'll be able to give out to 2009. We did the math in the recruiting update, taking into consideration the players that will more than likely stay in the NBA draft, and came upon the educated guess that UCLA will more than likely have five scholarships to give without getting Stepheson and four to give if they do indeed get him. For the sake of being able to do this analysis, we're going to figure five.

Here are our picks for what would make up an ideal – but realistic – recruiting class for 2009.

If you look at the future frontcourt with Morgan added to the roster, it looks pretty good. If you add Stepheson, it's even better. In the 2009-2010 season, at the five you'd have Morgan, (potentially) Stepheson, and Drew Gordon able to do time. At the four, you'd have James Keefe as a senior, Nikola Dragovic as a senior, with Gordon and (potentially) Stepheson able to put in time there, and freshman Reeves Nelson.

Pretty nice. Six post players – the exact number coaching staffs want to carry.

You figure, however, that Morgan might be a candidate to leave for the NBA – even before you get to the 2009-2010 season and definitely after that. You're losing Keefe and Dragovic after that season. So, UCLA will definitely want to add another post player to the 2009 class in addition to Nelson, and possibly two more. You can probably safely rely on UCLA going after at least one more if they do get Stepheson, and definitely two more if they don't get Stepheson (or if three Bruins stay in the NBA Draft).

With Nelson, primarily a four, already on board, it would seem that UCLA's need would be at center. But that might not necessarily be the case. A very likely scenario is that, after losing Keefe and Dragovic, UCLA would have more guys in the frontcourt that can actually play the five than the four, or at least an equal amount. UCLA will probably pursue the best frontcourt prospects, regardless of whether they are more of a four or a five.

The three most ideal (and realistic) candidates for the frontcourt spot (or spots) are Brendan Lane, the 6-9 power forward from Rocklin (Calif.) High; Greg Smith, the 6-8 center from Vallejo (Calif.) Bethel, and Anthony Stover, the 6-9 center from La Canada (Calif.) Renaissance.

Lane is the most skilled among the three, with the ability to hit three-pointers and post up. Picture a taller version of Oregon's Maarty Leunen. You can't say that Leunen, who UCLA recruited aggressively, wouldn't have been a very welcome addition to Ben Howland's Bruins in the last four years. Lane would provide a real scoring threat at the four spot, as well as good rebounding. With Nelson, too, not necessarily being the best scoring threat from the perimeter as a four, Lane would give UCLA that capability from the four spot.

It's easy to see Smith fit right in to the UCLA program, weighing probably 230 pounds already with a very strong body, and able to rebound and defend the five spot. From all reports, UCLA loved him this spring. He would also give you the depth at center you would need in case you do, in fact, lose Morgan early.

Stover, also, now fits into UCLA's plans well, after the addition of Morgan and the potential addition of Stepheson. Without Morgan, UCLA really needed an immediate-impact type of guy at the five for 2009, and Stover more than likely isn't that guy. But with Morgan (and, again, possibly Stepheson), it gives UCLA the luxury of potentially taking on a very promising project like Stover at the five. Stover wouldn't be forced to come in and play immediately as a freshman; he could, in fact, redshirt, get in the weight room for a year and get more experience banging against the likes of Morgan, Gordon and the rest of the big Bruins in practice. Stover is a four-year guy, the type of guy UCLA needs in its program to help balance the potential one-and-done types who, while they are huge boosts, can also decimate a program with early departures.

Comparing the three, there is perhaps a slight edge given to Lane and Stover, for a couple of reasons. We've heard that Smith might want to go to a program where he could get a great deal of immediate playing time and, given UCLA's projected depth in the frontcourt, that might not be the case if he were a Bruin. Smith would play at UCLA; he's that good. But remember, it's all about perception. Smith might perceive there isn't a great deal of immediate playing time as a freshman and whether that's correct or not doesn't matter; it's all about his perception. Also, because UCLA might want to bring in another recruit in this class, a perimeter recruit, who might not have excellent academics, the two among these three with good academics – Lane and Stover – might fit better.

Any one, or two, among those three, would fit well into UCLA's future plans. A threesome of Nelson, Lane and Stover – or Nelson, Lane and Smith -- would give UCLA a loaded frontcourt for years to come, and it would offer the roster a great deal of balance and versatility, talent for the short term and insurance for the long term.

Lane and Smith have been offered scholarships by UCLA, while Stover hasn't.

Speaking of scholarships, it's a bit of a stretch to actually deem a player who doesn't have a UCLA scholarship offer as perhaps it's most desirable prospect for the UCLA class of 2009.

But that's what we're going to do with Tyler Honeycutt.

Yep, we're going out on a considerable limb here (probably old age again).

Honeycutt, the 6-7 small forward from Sylmar (Calif.) High, is the guy we've picked as UCLA's most needed recruit for 2009. As we stated in the recruiting analysis, UCLA's biggest need on its roster is at the small forward position. It doesn't project to have a pure three on its roster, and actually hasn't had one in a long time. It's intriguing to think what Howland's Bruins could do with a true small forward, one who can really shoot and score, and rebound. Honeycutt can definitely shoot, perhaps being the best perimeter shooter on the west coast for 2009. He can handle the ball well for his size, and is an excellent passer. Picture Austin Daye, but not quite as tall and quicker. The question on Honeycutt (as it was, and is, with Daye) is his body – the slender, narrow build – and whether he'd have the quickness and mobility to guard a three in college, or if he could continue to grow into a four. So far this spring, Honeycutt has shown the ability to guard a college three; perhaps he wouldn't be a lockdown defender against a quick, high-major three, but he'd be entirely worth having on the court because of the offense he offers. He also plays hard, and physical for how narrow he is, and likes to get inside and rebound. And, if he did grow into a four, it wouldn't necessarily be the end of the world since he'd be a devastatingly tough match-up for any opposing four to defend.

UCLA's relationship with Honeycutt will probably be made or broken as a result of his performance at UCLA's Elite Camp in late June. While Howland has seen Honeycutt play some with the Pump AAU team this summer, Honeycutt was still just feeling his way on that team, and truly just starting to assert himself and realize how good he was. In the camp, Howland will be able to really get a good look at him, and even work with him. We're banking on the fact that Howland will probably recognize that Honeycutt's all-around offensive game far outweighs any potential negative of his slight build.

At guard, the prospect that has emerged as the potentially ideal guy for UCLA is Avery Bradley, the 6-2 guard from Tacoma (Wash.) Bellarmine Prep. He perhaps edges out Elijah Johnson, the 6-1 guard from Las Vegas (Nev.) Cheyenne. Offensively, there are some differences between the two, with Bradley being far more of a two guard and Johnson a combo. But there are many similarities, too, with both being very explosive offensively; and both being able to create a shot. While Johnson is the better ball-handler, both are probably described as decent shooters at this time. Both, too, have academic situations where they would need a special admit to get by UCLA's admissions as long as they qualified by NCAA standards. Bradley, perhaps, edges out Johnson because of his defense, mental approach to the game and his penchant for playing hard all the time, on both ends of the court. It's not that Johnson is a slacker, but that Bradley is particularly exceptional in these areas, and that makes him such a good fit for Howland's program. He truly could be compared to Russell Westbrook; while Westbrook might have more point guard savvy than Bradley, the two are very similar in body type, athleticism, effort and energy. Also, Johnson might see himself needing to play more point guard in college, to be able to have scouts project him as a potential NBA point guard, and he might perceive UCLA to be fairly well-stocked at the point, given the 2008 class. Bradley, being more of a two guard, and able to even play the three, might perceive a better fit from a roster standpoint. Realistically, even with the guards from the 2008 class on the roster, either of them would probably get considerable immediate time in UCLA's backcourt. Remember, Darren Collison came to UCLA a year after Jordan Farmar, and look at the court time and exposure he received early.

Really, with the way UCLA is going under Howland, with so many players leaving early to the NBA, any recruit who comes to Westwood has to expect he'll have an opportunity at more playing time than the projected roster might indicate. It'd be foolish, really, to make a decision about UCLA based on projected rosters that include a majority of its players staying all four years, or even three. Recent history has proven otherwise.

So, ultimately in conceiving of the "ideal" Bruin class for 2009, there are some variables. There is the staple of Reeves Nelson, and definitely ideal would be Brendan Lane and Tyler Honecutt (if he passes the camp test), and then the variables of Anthony Stover or Greg Smith, and Avery Bradley or Elijah Johnson.

A class of Nelson, Lane, Honecutt, Stover/Smith and Bradley/Johnson would fill UCLA's recruiting needs both in the short term for the 2009-2010 season, and the long term. It might not be dominated by prospects currently in the top 25 of many national rankings for 2009, but as we've said before, national rankings, year to year, are deceiving and not really pertinent to a program's specific situation and needs in a given year (And they're so often invariable wrong). Such a projected class gives UCLA the small forward it doesn't have, the much-needed fourth guard and sixth post for 2009-2010, and insures there is a high-level of talent on the team in case of early departures from, say, Holiday or Morgan, or anyone else.


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