UCLA Hoops Recruiting Update

UCLA has five commitments in the class of 2009. Are they looking for any more? Who are their primary prospects in the class of 2010? How about the classes of 2011 and 2012? And, how will the new rules about spring AAU events affect recruiting?

It's a new era for college basketball recruiting.

The NCAA has disallowed college basketball coaches from attending AAU events in the spring. The coaches are trying to appeal and, actually, the appeal is being considered in the next 24 hours or so. But most coaches believe the ruling will be upheld – meaning: that coaches won't be able to watch high school prospects in April AAU ball. Even if the appeal was accepted, coaches would only be allowed to be "out" one weekend in April for AAU events.

So, this changes things quite a bit. Coaches will have to see prospects on their high school teams during their season, or go to their high schools to watch them practice this spring. The general feeling amongst coaches is that it will give the more prominent programs – with bigger recruiting budgets – an advantage, since they, theoretically, would be able to afford more travel.

More than likely, it will also make programs miss more on evaluations. Head coaches – and UCLA's Ben Howland is one of them – can be very focused on their season when they're in the middle of it and don't spend a great deal of time on recruiting, particularly traveling outside of the local area to see prospects. Most of the time – and again, with UCLA it's the case – a prospect won't receive a scholarship offer until the head coach has seen the player in person, a couple of times. So, it could make the evaluation process a bit dicier, since it's unlikely head coaches are going to change their in-season habits, and take off a couple of days from their team to go watch someone across the country. Coaches usually knew they had the spring to see them in the AAU environment, and it will now eliminate a huge amount of viewing, which could make evaluations more hit-and-miss. Coaches could opt to have to stay apace with other programs and offer kids earlier than they would usually be comfortable doing, or wait longer and risk being late to the prospect's bandwagon.

Coaches will also see younger players less. The AAU environment gave coaches their best – and sometimes only – chance to see high school freshmen and sophomores. Per NCAA rule, coaches can't go to a campus to watch freshmen or sophomores. Of course, most coaches work around the rule, and ostensibly claim they were on campus to watch a senior, but it still will have a considerable impact on the ability of college coaches to scout and evaluate younger players, leading perhaps to even more hit-and-misses in recruiting.

UCLA, hypothetically, should possibly fare better than most programs. With UCLA sitting on the huge Los Angeles-area recruiting base, Howland doesn't have to travel to see elite recruits as much as, say, North Carolina's Roy Williams or Louisville's Rick Pitino.

On the other hand, the Los Angeles-area recruiting base has been consistently dwindling in terms of talent over the last 5 to 8 years. In fact, the class of 2010 is, perhaps, the weakest, thinnest and least-talented class in recent memory.

So, it's a multi-faceted issue. One that, we're sure, will create new, unforeseen factors in recruiting.

In terms of UCLA, the Bruin assistant coaches have been out perhaps even more than usual for this time of year. UCLA assistant Scott Duncan is the primary cross-country scout, and gets a huge amount of flight miles. But assistants Scott Garson and Donnie Daniels have also been out an inordinate amount so far this winter watching prospects, anticipating that they'll have their AAU viewing in April cut off.

With five prospects committed to UCLA for 2009, it puts UCLA in an interesting recruiting situation for the next two classes. Bringing in a total of 10 prospects over two years (2008 and 2009) makes UCLA scholarships fairly scarce – and will probably make UCLA far more selective.

The Bruins, having stocked up on wings and power forwards in those classes, are looking primarily for bigs and a point guard/combo guard for their immediate needs.

2009

More than likely recruiting for the 2009 class is done. The UCLA coaches are still out watching potential prospects, but quite a bit would have to happen for them to add another prospect to the class of 2009.

First, currently, UCLA doesn't have another scholarship to give for 2009. Someone would have to leave the program at the end of the season for UCLA to sign another recruit in spring.

There used to be speculation that Nikola Dragovic could leave and go back to Europe. But with Dragovic having moved into the starting line-up, that's looking unlikely.

The prospect of Jrue Holiday possibly leaving early to the NBA is the most likely scenario, and that might not be particularly likely. As we've been maintaining, it's impossible to foresee what Holiday could do in terms of the NBA Draft after the season. Anyone who projects what he's going to do is fooling themselves. There are just too many variables, too many moveable parts, to be able to predict. We know for a fact that Holiday is considered a Lottery pick talent by NBA people. It would depend on how the draft shakes out in terms of other guards, how Holiday, and all of the other guards, do in the NBA Draft workouts, etc.

Anything can happen. This time last year there weren't too many Bruin fans who were saying Russell Westbrook would be the #4 player taken in the draft.

Perhaps there is another transfer? Most speculation centers around J'mison Morgan, the freshman post player who isn't getting much playing time, potentially transferring. We haven't heard one credible whisper about it. It will be interesting to see what happens with Morgan, though, in the off-season; he'll have to really dedicate himself to getting in shape, transforming his body and working on his game. Sources are indicating he's saying all the right things about dedicating himself and looks to so far being putting in work, but it's a long road ahead.

So, it's impossible to really be able to predict whether UCLA will, in fact, have a scholarship to give in spring. But the UCLA assistant coaches are doing their due dilligence, and scouting potential prospects in case there is.

UCLA, if you've watched this season, lacks inside scoring. Morgan hopefully will provide some answers in the future. But it would be foolish not to try to find some other options. Anthony Stover, the 6-9 center from Los Angeles (Calif.) Windward who is committed to UCLA in the 2009 class, is a very promising prospect, but might not provide a truly potent future inside scoring threat.

Renardo Sidney, the 6-9 post from Los Angeles Fairfax, is still a consideration. Sidney has actually straightened up some during his senior season, gotten in better shape and toned down the on-court attitude. He has visited USC and Virginia, and has interest in Arizona State and others. It was thought by many close to recruiting that he'd probably go the Brandon-Jennings route and play in Europe right out of high school. But we're hearing that Sidney is trying to clean up his act – on the court and off – in order to play college ball. The intention, of course, is to play one year and go to the NBA, but there are plenty of programs, if Sidney were on the straight and narrow, who would take a one-year mercernary. UCLA, very well, could be one of them. We've heard, if everything was equal, Sidney would prefer to go to UCLA. But everything, though, isn't equal. He could very well end up at USC, or the Sidney I'm-Going-to-College promotion could all collapse and he ends up in Europe.

Kyryl Natayzhko, the 6-10 Ukrainian at Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy, is someone else UCLA coaches have been out to see. He is very skilled, has the ability to score with either hand, and he's getting a great deal of attention. There is still a question as to his amateur status, and that's held up his recruitment.

We're hearing that UCLA has connections to a 7-1 African prospect.

Jordan Mackie, the 6-3 shooting guard from Los Angeles (Calif.) Dorsey, is an exceptional athlete. He more than likely will have academic issues and probably go the Mountain West or WCC level.

As we said, more than likely, nothing else happens for the class of 2009.

2010

If everyone currently on UCLA's roster stays through their junior year, UCLA would have three scholarships to give to the class of 2010. If Holiday leaves, say, after his sophomore season, that would give UCLA four scholarships for 2010.

But, if UCLA filled all of those scholarship with the 2010 class, and no one else leaves the program, that would leave just one scholarship for the 2011 class. We're pretty certain that won't be the case.

Most likely, UCLA gives out three rides for 2010 and saves one for the 2011 class. It's not Howland to save rides, usually wanting to fill every ride for the most immediate season, but with nine or ten (depending on Holiday) still on scholarship from the 2008 and 2009 classes, and three more for 2010, he could feel secure enough to save a scholarship, especially considering that he would have just one to give to the 2011 class, which is shaping up to be a pretty talented class in Southern Calfornia.

Also, it's too far down the line to project, but other scholarships very well could open up.

But let's go with three or four scholarships that UCLA intends to give out to the 2010 class.

Much might depend on what happens with Kendall Williams, the 6-2 guard from Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Los Osos, who is verbally committed to UCLA. We've said that Williams has yet to prove he's a legitimate UCLA-level prospect, and that is still true about halfway through his high school junior season. He has also shown some behavior and attitude issues. It's believed that UCLA will continue to evaluate Williams. You'd have to expect, though, that UCLA is either going to ride the horse or jump off by this spring.

Tyler Lamb, the 6-4 guard from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, is also committed, and that's a solid commitment. Lamb has a chance to be an elite player, with good athleticism and improving skills, but with a very good sense of the game.

Josh Smith, the 6-9 center from Ken (Wash.) Kentwood is, as everyone knows, UCLA's prime target. Smith, the #4-ranked player in the nation for 2010, is a huge-bodied kid with very good hands. He has the entire country after him, but UCLA is, most insiders believe, in the lead for him.

As we said, UCLA is in the market for bigs and combo guards/point guards, so Ray McCallum, the 6-1 point guard from Beverly Hills (Mich.) Detroit Country Day, is someone UCLA has gone to see so far this season. McCallum is the #30-ranked player in the 2010 class, with good skills and play-making ability. It's believed it would be very difficult to get him out of the midwest, however.

UCLA has also been to watch Jordin Mayes, the 6-1 combo guard from Los Angeles (Calif.) Westchester. Mayes isn't a true point guard, but has a great feel and could definitely do time there in college, with good scoring skills.

Anthony Brown, the 6-6 small forward from Huntington Beach (Calif.) Ocean View, has some big upside, but hasn't had a very good junior season so far. UCLA did get Tyler Honeycutt and Mike Moser in the 2009 class, two 6-6+ wing types, in the 2009 class, which might muddy up things for Brown, even though he has the ball skills to play guard. He's a good student – a prototype UCLA kid – but he'll have to show considerably more between now and summer to garner a UCLA scholarship offer.

Perhaps one of the currently hottest recruits in the west is Alex Kirk, a 6-10 center from Los Alamos (New Mexico) High. Kirk has some skills, and that's brought out the likes of just about the entire Pac-10, some of the Big 12 and Gonzaga. Having good grades, there are some reports that a good portion of the Pac-10 has already offered him. UCLA recently traveled to New Mexico to scout Kirk, and in the gym were coaches from Cal, Gonzaga, Stanford and Texas Tech.

Stephen Holt, the 6-1 point guard from Portland (Ore.) Jesuit, is another one to watch.

With the west coast 2010 class being down, and not many point guards or centers, Kirk and Holt are getting some considerable attention.

Harrison Barnes, the 6-6 small forward from Ames (Iowa) High, the #1 player in the class nationally, has some interest in UCLA, but it's very unlikely UCLA will have a chance with him.

Of course, we expect UCLA to be on more prospects in the 2010 class by spring, but recognize that it's a very weak class. If UCLA got a commitment from Josh Smith, it very well might stand pat for 2010, not recognizing anyone that UCLA has a legitimate shot at getting as good enough for a scholarship offer.

2011

The 2011 class looks quite a bit better in California in terms of talent. It's still early for sophomores, but right now there are clearly more potentially elite prospects in the 2011 class than the 2010 class in the west.

As we discussed above, it's near-impossible to determine how many scholarships UCLA will have to give to the 2011 class. Hopefully at least three. They will almost certainly need a point guard, but after that it's too tough to tell so far out.

Tony Wroten, the 6-4 combo guard from Seattle (Wash.) Garfield, is the #1-ranked player in the class nationally for 2011, and his recruitment will be a circus. UCLA is trying. It could help that Wroten's AAU teammate is Josh Smith.

Gelaun Wheelwright, the athletic 6-1 guard from Corona (Calif.) Centennial, will probably be considered an elite national prospect as soon as the national scouts get a look at him. He likes UCLA quite a bit (Today's Story on Wheelwright)

Kyle Caudill, the massive 6-10 center from Brea (Calif.) Brea-Olinda, continues to improve his body, athleticism and mobility. He has good skills and hands, and if he continues to develop at the pace he is, expect him to be a UCLA-level recruit. If UCLA offers him, we've heard that the Bruins would be the strong leaders for him.

Angelo Chol, the 6-7 power forward/post from San Diego (Calif.) Hoover, is an incredibly long athlete who plays above the rim, and is really blossoming as his offensive skills develop. He's averaging a triple-double as a sophomore. UCLA has spent some time watching him, and it's thought he could be on his way to a UCLA offer.

Kevin Johnson, the 6-9 post from Gardena (Calif.) Serra, is a big body with a good post feel, and definitely a high-major D-1 prospect. There could be academic and other issues.

Norvel Pelle, the 6-8 power forward from Compton (Calif.) Dominguez, is a great athlete for his size. He claims USC and Texas have already offered him a scholarship.

Kyle Wiltjer is a 6-9 skilled power forward from Portland (Ore.) Jesuit, who came to UCLA's elite camp last summer and was impressive.

Jabari Brown, the 6-3 shooting guard from Richmond (Calif.) Salesian, is considered one of the best backcourt players in the west for 2011.

Nick Johnson, the 6-2 shooting guard from Gilbert (Ariz.) Highland, claims offers from ASU and Gonzaga, and has interest in UCLA.

James McAdoo, the elite 6-8 power forward from Norfolk (Virg.) Christian, is probably a top ten national player who has UCLA on his list of elite programs. It's believed it will be a case of everyone trying to beat North Carolina in the end.

2012

Trying to project 1) what UCLA will need in the 2012 class, 2) how many scholarships they'll have and 3) who will be a UCLA-level prospect is near-impossible.

We know one thing, though: Xavier Johnson, the 6-5 small forward from Temecula (Calif.) Chaparral, has a chance to be one of the best prospects in the country for his class. He has a classic wing body, great athleticism and an excellent feel for the game. Encouraging for UCLA, he came to the Bruin elite camp and likes UCLA.

Brandon Ashley, a 6-6 power forward from Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd, is very long with great mobility and has a very good skill level for a freshman. He was at UCLA's elite camp also last summer.


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