I've been holding off since the class is fairly incomplete at this stage.
But heading into the home stretch leading up to the early signing period in November, it seemed like a good time to do it now, since the list of UCLA's hard targets has been narrowed down considerably.
I think it's probably best to break down UCLA's primary targets into individual stories.
We'll start with Ray McCallum, the 6-1 point guard from Beverly Hills (Mich.) Detroit Country Day.
McCallum is the #23-ranked player in the national class of 2010, and he's earned that distinction in a fairly unusual way. Most prospects who are ranked among the top 25 in the nation are incredible athletes who can jump out of the gym. While McCallum is a good athlete, he's earned his top-25 status the old-fashioned way, through being an intelligent and skilled basketball player. In watching AAU ball, there are the guys that immediately "jump" out at you, the ones throwing down the monster, one-handed dunks. McCallum's game, though, takes a while for you to appreciate. In fact, if you don't know what you're looking at and are only looking for the highlight-reel type player, you might even overlook him.
McCallum, physically, is well-suited for the point guard position. He has good length, and a body that has good musculature but still has plenty of room to add good weight and muscle. He doesn't have blazing quickness but good quickness, and he uses that and his length well defensively.
Skills-wise, McCallum is a good to very good ballhandler, with a strong dribble. It's obvious he's been well-coached, doing everything fundamentally correct -- two-hand chest passes, not jumping to pass (well, not too often, since just about everyone does it in AAU ball), and using jump stops (which just about no one does in AAU ball). He's a good to very good shooter, with a smooth, high shot release.
McCallum could be the most UCLA- and Howland-type prospect on UCLA's list of targets for 2010, for a number of reasons. McCallum's game is based on intelligence, game awareness, and not making mistakes. Many national scouts feel that he's the most heady point guard in the country – maybe not as flashy as others, but a true floor general. In UCLA's type of system, the point guard is perhaps the most important player on the court, having to run the structured offense, while also being the primary provider of defensive pressure on the ball. McCallum is the ideal candidate for this job in Howland's system, with a great feel for the game, being a coach's son, with very good leadership and a recognition of the importance of defense. In one interview during the summer, McCallum cited defense as the element he thought was being under-emphasized in today's basketball – a Howland-esque quote. McCallum, as we said, isn't overly flashy, but he makes the easier, smarter pass, and does it error-free, which is exactly what Howland's offense needs to make it work. In UCLA's offense, the point guard doesn't have to be a guy who breaks down opposing defenders, but knows where the opportunities are created in the offense with movement and screens, and knows where his shooters are. Howland also likes his point guards to be good shooters themselves – in fact, there have been times in the past when Howland hasn't recruited other very athletic point guards because of their lack of shooting skills. McCallum is a good shooter, which adds that needed dimension to the position. In Howland's offense, it's critical that the perimeter defender have to play tight on the UCLA point guard, to create the space and enable the movement away from the ball. If the defender doesn't feel he has to honor the UCLA point guard's shot, he'll sag off a bit, taking away the crease and enabling him to cheat over and provide some help D on other players. It's the basis of UCLA's bread-and-butter play, the high ball screen. If the defender sags, because he doesn't have to necessarily honor the UCLA point guard's shot, it gives the defender plenty of space to slip under the screen. In fact, if UCLA had to choose, it would prefer its point guard to be a better shooter than off-the-dribble penetrator, preferring that the defense come out to get the point guard rather than sagging off, to create more space in the middle.
McCallum, too, is a UCLA- and Howland-type of player on and off the court. Sources close to the recruitment talk about what a quality person McCallum is, how he has a very impressive work ethic, appreciates the importance of academics and has a value system that is rare for college prospects these days. McCallum, like any other elite high school prospect, has his eyes on the NBA, but isn't deluded – like just about any other elite high school prospect – into believing that all he needs is a season or two in college and he's off. McCallum told an interviewer a while back that, even though he wants to play in the NBA, he doesn't intend to leave college early. Now, of course, prospects will try to say the right things but, these days, it's considered laudable if an elite college prospect says he intends to stay two years in college.
There's a reason why many reports reveal how many other recruits feel close to McCallum. Two of UCLA's other recruiting targets – Josh Smith and Trey Zeigler – mention him as a close friend, someone they'd want to play with in college – someone they want running the point guard spot on their team. McCallum is a natural-born leader, someone other prospects gravitate toward. Not enough can be said about how eliciting respect and having strong, natural leadership abilities are key aspects of being a point guard. They are the intangible elements that you don't find on a stat sheet that make a team play well together.