Thursday on the Howland Trail

Thursday was a busy day in Las Vegas, especially if you have the itinerary of UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland. He watched many prospects, including UCLA's 2010 targets Josh Smith and Ray McCallum, as well as Trevor Releford and Anthony Brown, and many underclassmen...

UCLA is making a concerted effort to recruit more nationally. It's both a result of Ben Howland believing that UCLA has enough cache' to recruit nationally, and the fact that the west coast hasn't been – and won't be – overwhelming in terms of elite high-major talent.

Whether chasing after national prospects is time (and money) well-spent for UCLA is an issue that could be debated. Nevertheless, Howland's itinerary Thursday reflected his desire to recruit on a national scale.

Coincidentally Thursday most of the places I went, Howland was in the gym also, so it made it easy noting the prospects he was watching.

He had already been to a couple of games when he showed up to watch Jelan Kendrick, the 6-5 wing from Atlanta (Georgia) Westlake, who is an exceptional prospect, deserving of the #3-ranked small forward spot in the country. UCLA is trying to get involved with Kendrick, but it's considered a longshot.

Howland then watched Josh Smith, the 6-9 center from Kent (Wash.) Kentwood. We've heard many things on Smith in the last few days – particularly that he might take official visits to UCLA, Washington and Texas and wait until September to decide. At this point, we're going to go with what Smith said in one interview a couple of weeks ago – not to believe what he tells recruiting reporting what he's doing. At this point, you can't really take too much from what he's saying – but we're hearing UCLA is still in the driver's seat.

For Howland, next was Team Detroit, which features Ray McCallum, the 6-0 point guard, and Trey Zeigler, the 6-4 shooting guard. UCLA has offered McCallum, and he's at the top of the list in terms of 2010 point guards. UCLA is scouting Zeigler, and still trying to see if he figures into the Bruins' plans.

Howland went with back-to-back point guard watching, moving on to Trevor Releford, the 5-11 prospect from Shawnee Mission (Kans.) Bishop Miege. Releford isn't big (the 5-11 he's listed might be a stretch) , and he has a curious body – a bit thick. But he's very quick, on both the offensive and defensive end. He has a very good handle, and is adept at getting into the lane and dishing. He can also get to the rim, but it's questionable whether, at his size, he'll be able to do that on he elite high major level. His outside shot is not great, however. It's clear UCLA likes Releford, since Howland has made an effort to be at everyone of his AAU games since the first session of the July evaluation period.

Next on the itinerary was the So Cal All-Stars, with 6-5 senior wing Anthony Brown and 6-8 junior post Angelo Chol. Brown has been turning it up a notch this July, and he played with intensity Thursday. His shot wasn't necessarily going down, but we've seen him shoot very well before, but Brown is clearly playing with urgency, and showing some physical toughness for still being fairly thin. Chol was, as he is all the time, long, athletic and physical.

Howland was then spotted in the gym of a Dallas Mustangs game, watching, among other prospects, one of the best 2011 players in the nation, LeBryan Nash, the 6-6 small forward from Dallas (Tex.) Lincoln. Howland was one among many coaches packed into the small Rancho High School auxiliary gym, and Nash didn't disappoint. He has a long, athletic body, and his skill level is considerable; if you leave him open, he will smoothly hit threes. If you had to build an ideal small forward, Nash might be it.

Howland then peeked in to watch the Double Pump 2011s, with Josiah Turner, the junior point guard, and Spencer Dinwiddie, also a junior point guard. Turner played well, showing that excellent vision and passing ability.

Then, Howland moved on to the game of the IEBP All-Stars and UCLA-committed senior guard Kendall Williams. And it wasn't a good showing for Williams. He received two technicals – the second one came after a skirmish on the court where he wasn't originally involved but got involved. He was then thrown out of the game. Williams has had a issue with some hot-headedness on the court, and it was particularly eye-opening that it happened again, this time in front of Howland.

We'll have more on the Vegas tournaments Thursday – and UCLA's prospects – coming later in the morning...


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