Off-Season Update on Hoops

Here's a look at how all the returning veterans -- and the five incoming freshmen -- have been doing so far in the off-season, with Josh Shipp leaner, James Keefe bigger, and two incoming freshmen who have spent some time nursing some nagging injuries...

The summer is when most college basketball players make their biggest improvements in their game.

We've been piecing together how the Bruins have been doing during the off-season, and this is what we've gathered.

Darren Collison – Apparently he's gotten a big bigger, even though it's not very noticeable, and stronger. He's been putting in serious work toward improving his overall point guard skills and observers say he's better at anticipating where his scorers are on the court.

Josh Shipp – It's really Shipp's first off-season in three years that he didn't have to spend it recovering from an injury. It's paid off, since Shipp is easily in the best shape we've seen him in a couple of years, far more lean and playing more athletically. He's had some minor issues with his hip, but nothing serious.

Mike Roll – Roll spent last season redshirting, recovering from a plantar fascia he ruptured in his left foot twice last season. He has worked out all season and, on medical advice, has rested it if it felt sore at all, and that has proved to be a good approach to managing it. He's physically in good shape, looking a bit leaner than in past years.

Alfred Aboya – Aboya hasn't changed physically much, and his game is about the same. He's been working more on a back-to-the-basket game, and he looks a bit more comfortable turning and scoring in the block, but not drastically different. The big news for Aboya was deciding to return to UCLA, and attending UCLA grad school.

James Keefe – Keefe came out of what was intended to be a redshirt year due to a shoulder injury last season. So, this off-season Keefe had the chance to really prepare for the upcoming season, and it's paid off. He's sporting a bushy beard, because he had a bet with the strength and conditioning staff that, until he makes his intended weight of 240 pounds, he had to keep the beard. As of last week Keefe was at 238 and ready to take a razor to that scratchy thing. Last season, he played at probably about 228 or so. He looks big and more physical, and is playing with a lot more confidence.

Nikola Dragovic – He's been in his native Serbia for most of August, and the reports are that he's been working out extensively and has gotten in considerably better shape. It will be interesting to see if the reports are true and how much it impacts his game.

Jrue Holiday -- The star incoming freshman guard only played sparingly this summer due to some mild tendonitis in his knee. The approach with him is that the UCLA staff would rather have him resting and allowing the tendonitis to subside with treatment rather than have him play in the Men's Gym in pick-up games. Holiday chose his high school jersey number -- # 21.

Jerime Anderson – The freshman point guard, like Holiday, didn't play much pick-up in the Men's Gym, with the staff trying to ensure that a mild groin injury is fully healed in time for the start of the season. He also chose his high school jersey number -- #5.

Malcolm Lee -- Lee looks a bit bigger than he did in high school, with slightly thicker arms and shoulders. On the court, he continues to look like he's getting quicker, which is eye-opening since he was already pretty quick on his first step to begin with. He can play out of control at times, and it's going to one of the most interesting aspects of the winter how Lee improves once he gets coached by Howland.

J'mison Morgan – He's probably been the most scrutinized of the incoming freshmen this summer, since his late signing did fulfill a very distinct need at the post position for next season. He has continued to lean down, looking better physically than he did a year ago during the summer. He's probably 6-10, maybe a hair under it, but he's a big, long athlete. Watching him in the pick-up games in the Men's Gym is, of course, not a good indicator of the player he'll be this season. It has made it clear, though, that Morgan needs to improve his stamina, getting winded fairly easily. It will also be interesting to watch as Morgan begins to understand the level of effort that Ben Howland demands. We've been told by some knowledgeable onlookers that he's closer in skill development to Lorenzo Mata than he is to Kevin Love. But any Love comparisons are completely inappropriate since Love was a once-in-a-generation type of post in the college game, and there haven't been almost any other high school post players that came into the college game with such advanced skills in many years before Love – and probably many years after. Morgan has shown flashes of skills and playing physically, and it will be very interesting to see how good he is once he achieves better stamina and understands the level of effort that is going to be demanded. By all account, he's been getting glowing reviews from the athletic department as being a great kid. He's also gotten close to the other freshmen pretty quickly, and even Holiday's younger sister and brother. Morgan has had some minor issues with his knee, which has limited his conditioning this summer. He chose jersey #22.

Drew Gordon – Having watched Gordon play a number of times this off-season, it reinforces exactly what we thought of him before. He's a very good athlete, who likes to run up and down and block shots. And he plays very hard, giving all-out effort just about all the time. He, though, has a long ways to go in learning fundamentals and how to play. It will be interesting to see, though, because of his effort level, if he ends up above Morgan in the hierarchy in terms of playing time at the post. Gordon chose 0 as his jersey number.

As of right now, we'd have to think that the starters in the frontcourt going into practice are Keefe and Aboya.

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