First Impression of Hoops Practice

Even though practice has been closed, BRO has the 411 on the first week of practice so far. The Bruins are beset with injuries, which has hindered the coaching staff. In just the first few days, though, it's becoming clear which players will be the starters and primary contributors, and which freshmen most likely will play the most...

UCLA started practicing last Friday and the main issue has been injuries.

Five scholarship players were out of practice Monday, which leaves Ben Howland with just eight.

It's difficult to practice with eight scholarship players.

The five guys who sat out at least some of practice Monday are: sophomore guard Jerime Anderson (groin), senior forward James Keefe (shoulder), sophomore guard Malcolm Lee (concussion), freshman forward Brendan Lane (ankle) and freshman forward Mike Moser (back).

The Bruins have a regularly-scheduled day off Tuesday and will resume practice Wednesday. Hopefully this will give at least a couple of the players some time to mend and return to the court.

Lee hit his head on a back screen Sunday in practice, but his concussion is considered mild (grade one). He's day-to-day, will follow up with the doctor Tuesday, and it's anticipated he'll likely be able to return to practice Wednesday.

Moser suffered a lower back strain in practice Monday. He is also listed as day-to-day and will be seeing the doctor tomorrow.

Lane suffered a left ankle sprain in practice Monday. The X-ray hasn't been read, but he is expected to be out 1-2 weeks. He will be joining his teammates at the doctor's office Tuesday.

Anderson will also have a follow-up Tuesday with the doctor for his strained left groin. He is not expected to return to practice this week.

All of these injuries make it difficult for Ben Howland to run a proper practice.

Take the UCLA point guard position. You generally need two point guards in a typical UCLA practice, and the position is already not a deep spot. The projected starter, Anderson, is out, and the guy who is projected to provide the back-up minutes at point guard, Lee, was out Monday, leaving UCLA with only walk-on junior point guard Mustafa Abdul-Hamid.

So, even though the injuries have made practices difficult, the first few practices have provided a glimpse of what we can expect for the season.

First, the feedback from the program is that the chemistry of the team will be much improved over a season ago. Last season, there was some tension between the freshmen and the seniors, but it appears that this year's group of seniors is much more team-oriented.

The general opinion is that UCLA is talented but young, not incredibly athletic but long…and that much will depend on Jerime Anderson.

Anderson, who hasn't practiced yet because of the groin injury, is key to the season. He's the only true point guard on scholarship, and is expected to step into the main leadership role on the team as a sophomore, after having averaged 8.6 minutes per game last year. The program is very confident that Anderson has the tools to be successful, but that he should more than likely experience some bumps along the road to consistency. It's also critical that Anderson remain healthy.

As of right now, with James Keefe not projected back for possibly another month (at around the beginning of the season or perhaps a couple of games in), the projected starting lineup is Anderson at point guard, Lee at shooting guard, senior Mike Roll at small forward, senior Nikola Dragovic at the four spot and sophomore Drew Gordon at the center position.

Roll has been getting rave reviews from practice onlookers. He's shooting the ball extremely well and looking like he has continued to improve his quickness and ability to defend.

Roll and Dragovic look to be the guys who, at least initially, will provide UCLA with its scoring. Dragovic has looked very good in practice, shooting well from the outside but also having added a little bulk, which has given him more opportunities to score around the basket.

Lee is going to be another key. With the roster being thin on true guards, Lee looks to get a huge amount of minutes starting at the shooting guard spot and backing up the point guard position. He could average upward of 35 minutes per game, which is a considerable leap for him, since he played 10.7 per game a season ago. It's a lot to expect out of a new starter, especially one who is expected to be the lockdown defender on the perimeter. Lee has reportedly looked good in practice, with his shot going down and displaying that first quick step to the basket. He's apparently playing more under control than he did a year ago.

Gordon has bulked up a bit, looking a bit broader in his shoulders and arms. He's been rebounding well in practice, and has been an active shot-blocker. He's worked on his back-to-the-basket game, and it looks like it's improved a bit. And he's attempting to shoot more face-up jumpers, and that has improved a bit also.

When Keefe returns, he's expected to complete for the starting center spot and also get time backing up Dragovic at the four. Even if he doesn't win the starting center position, he'll play quite a bit backing up both Gordon and Dragovic. Keefe has slimmed down some from last season and improved his quickness and athleticism. At least, he's supposedly closer to the sophomore Keefe than the junior Keefe.

Morgan, whether he's ready or not, will play a good amount of back-up minutes. To his credit, Morgan has transformed his body, losing 25 pounds and reducing his body fat from 17% to 7%. He's still working on moving his feet better, but he's the guy who gives UCLA the bigger presence inside and is a good, natural shot blocker.

Among the freshmen, Reeves Nelson is thought to be the one who will be ready to contribute the earliest. With a muscular 225 pounds on his 6-7 frame, he's been rebounding well in practice, which, of course, will get you minutes in Howland's program. His offensive skills are still pretty raw, shooting a set shot from the outside and without any real footwork inside. But the coaches are encouraged by how Nelson has looked so far in practice.

Freshman Tyler Honeycutt, the 6-7 small forward, is getting very good reviews, with a few practice onlookers saying that he's clearly a future pro. He's shot the ball well, and displayed his great court awareness and passing ability. He, like all of the freshmen, is overwhelmed a bit on defense, learning all the fundamentals, but it hasn't necessarily slowed him down like some others. The spinal stress fracture still needs to be managed, and right now he's not practicing for a full practice and is icing the back daily.

The other 6-7 freshman, Mike Moser, is struggling a bit with how much has been thrown at him in his first week of practice. He's thinking so much about details and fundamentals he hasn't really been able to play freely. He's shown flashes of good athleticism, and has shot well at times, which it's believed will get him time backing up the two-guard spot this season. He got stronger over the summer, and has already proven to the coaches that he has a great work ethic.

Reports from practice say that Brendan Lane, the 6-8 power forward, might have the most upside of the freshmen. His skills have been very impressive, with a combination of a good outside shot and a developed game inside. He, however, will be held back this season because of a lack of strength. In fact, what might be best for him is to redshirt this season, and come back 225 pounds next year. It's uncertain if he would, in fact, be able to redshirt; Howland isn't one for redshirting players.

The freshman center, Anthony Stover, though, very well might have a good chance to redshirt. Reports are that he's shown how raw he is in practice, just not skills-wise but in knowledge of the game, but he's also shown flashes.

You can expect Abdul-Hamid to get playing time this season. Even if everyone remained completely healthy during the season, he'd probably still play. As a fourth-year junior, Abdul-Hamid has continued to improve in his time at UCLA. He's a good shooter when given time to set up, and an active defender, even though he lacks great quickness.

Overall, the team isn't as athletic as its been in recent years. That could present some issues defensively, but it's believed the Bruins will emphasize more of a team defensive philosophy, one with less pressure on the ball but better help and double-teaming, to take advantage of the team's length, more like Washington State was under Tony Bennett.

UCLA has two weeks until its first exhibition game against Concordia November 4th, and four weeks until the games that count beginning with Cal State Fullerton in Pauley Pavilion November 16th.

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