Honeycutt Brings Unique Talent to UCLA

Tyler Honeycutt, the #21-ranked player in the nation, committed to UCLA Wednesday, and since we've been watching him for a couple of years, we think we can provide a very informed perspective on his attributes, talents and what he can bring to the UCLA program...

With the commitment yesterday of Tyler Honeycutt, Ben Howland has added a unique talent to the Bruin program. The 6-8 small forward from Sylmar (Calif.) High has an unusual skill set and the type of versatile game that potentially creates match-up problems for other teams. Simply put, he's got the length and height to play inside, but the perimeter ball skills to play outside as well.

Honeycutt's story is an interesting one, as he really only emerged as an elite prospect in the last six months. When the April evaluation period began, he was coming off the bench for Pump N Run, his AAU team. By the end of April, he was one of the go-to guys on the team. You could see his confidence grow every time out, as he started to realize that he was better than most of the guys he was going against. By July, Honeycutt was clearly the best player on Pump N Run. When a couple of the post players missed tournaments, he was the only interior presence on the team and he did a great job both defensively and rebounding. In one game, he went against the highly touted Mason Plumlee – who looks to be around 6-10 – and Honeycutt dominated him.

I've been watching him for the past couple years and Honeycutt seemed to grow a little bit more every time I saw him. He is not yet physically mature and it's possible he'll get taller still. He's slender now and he'll certainly fill out and add strength in the coming years. For the Bruins, however, it might be a good thing if he just added weight and strength. UCLA needs him to play the three and that might be difficult if he gets any taller. As it is, he's going to have to work on getting in a stance and learning to defend on the perimeter. I think he'll be able to do it, as his length will be a major asset. I saw him go against Toby Bailey in a pick-up game on UCLA's campus recently. When Bailey tried to take him off the dribble, and then shoot a step-back jumper, Honeycutt surprised him by blocking the shot. I saw that kind of play all summer, where opponents would be surprised by Honeycutt's length and quick-leaping ability to get to a shot.

While Honeycutt's shot-blocking ability is certainly an asset, it's his skill level at the offensive end that makes him a standout prospect. To start with, he's got a very good feel for the game. His instincts and vision are terrific, as is his passing ability. He's a good, not great, shooter, but he does have deep range on his shot. However, he's really more of a scorer than pure shooter. He can make tough running shots in the lane, or post up smaller defenders, or get putbacks on offensive rebounds. If you try to defend him with a smaller player, he'll take you in the post. And defenders his size will have trouble when he takes them deep on the perimeter. Since he's been at UCLA, Coach Howland hasn't had a small forward with Honeycutt's size and attributes.

I've had some people ask me about Honeycutt's toughness. As a scouting friend of mine says, "Don't mistake skinny for soft." In the game where Honeycutt dominated him, Plumlee got so frustrated that he caught Honeycutt on the chin with a vicious elbow. Honeycutt took the shot, didn't back down and just kept playing. He's slender and youthful-looking, and he plays a very skillful game that is more finesse than power, so some people assume he might lack toughness. But I never questioned his toughness watching him throughout the spring and summer.

As I mentioned before, Honeycutt is a unique prospect. Because he's somewhat unique, and because he's not a finished product yet physically (far from it), it's a little difficult to know just what kind of impact he'll have immediately at UCLA. He has to add weight, and get stronger, and he'll likely be playing with a much different body a couple years from now. But given all the positive attributes he brings to the floor, I feel pretty confident projecting a very successful career for Honeycutt at UCLA. I don't know exactly when it'll happen, but I believe he'll eventually be an all-conference level player for the Bruins.

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