Report on Monday Hoops Practice

It was billed as the first practice of the season in which all of UCLA's players would be available, but it just didn't happen. Ben Howland, like always, emphasized attention to detail, and a couple of freshmen stood out as potential significant contributors...

It was being promoted as the first UCLA practice of the season when all of the Bruins would be able to practice, but it didn't quite happen.

Freshman forward Brendan Lane didn't practice, still out with an ankle injury.

Sophomore point guard Jerime Anderson, coming back from a groin injury, did practice for the first time this season, for about 2/3s of the session.

Mike Roll sat out about half of practice, being kept out of the contact drills in the second half, because of his ankle injury.

Then, Nikola Dragovic left the court about halfway through practice because of food poisoning.

J'mison Morgan also experienced some issues with fingers on his left hand.

So much for having every player at practice.

In eyeballing the players, there are some notable physical changes. Anderson clearly looks bigger through his shoulders and arms. Roll is more defined. Bobo, as its been well-documented, is profoundly leaner. When he ran sprints at the end of practice without his shirt he looked almost emaciated. He didn't get fatigued, though. Dragovic looks to be in better shape, leaner in his torso. James Keefe is less bulky and moving better. Drew Gordon looks to have gained bulk in his shoulders.

After the team went through warm-ups, Head Coach Ben Howland took the team through a walk-through of offensive sets, which they then ran at full speed. As we've reported before, Howland is particularly hands-on for a head coach, running every minute of practice. He repeated some instruction a couple of times for Reeves Nelson, who was a bit behind, having missed a couple of practices last week with illness. He got on Mike Moser a couple of times to hustle. He emphasized an attention to detail to Malcolm Lee.

The experienced guys – Roll, Dragovic and Keefe – look like they could do it in their sleep, getting to the spot or initiating a pass even before Howland calls it out.

The team then went through a shooting drill, where one player shoots around the perimeter and the ball is rebounded by a teammate. On this day, there weren't any truly outstanding shooting performances. Roll shot pretty well. Dragovic was inconsistent in his form, falling away or bringing down his arms after the shot. Anderson looks to have improved his stroke a bit. Freshman Tyler Honeycutt shoots a bit of a knuckle ball, but it goes in.

While the perimeter players were shooting, assistant coach Donnie Daniels went through post fundamentals with Morgan, Gordon, Keefe and freshman center Anthony Stover. Keefe looks more comfortable now scoring around the basket. Gordon is far more fluid compared to how mechanical he was last season.

The next drill was a 5-on-0 semi-transition. It's not a fast break, but designed to still take advantage of the defense before they've matched up in the half court.

Then, Howland moved to one of his stalwart drills, the close-out drill, where a defensive player starts below the basket and closes out on a shooter. Howland emphasized the details, especially to Nelson. He used Lee as an example, and Lee's feet were incredibly quick. In one example, he closed out on assistant coach Scott Garson and stole the ball before Garson could get off his shot, and in another he blocked Garson's shot, to some hoots from the players.

That drill segued into a close-out competition, where the defender closes-out and the ball is live, with points being given for every basket. The team was divided into two different courts. On one court, Honeycutt easily won, showing some great natural creativity in getting his shot. He made a couple of three pointers, then, on one rep, drove the baseline, pump faked, then stepped diagonally to give himself an angle on the basket and banked it in. One another, he drove, then pulled up from about 10 feet and lofted in a soft one-handed tear-drop.

Howland then took the team through a defensive walk-through, going over how to bump and push through screens, and then went live with it. When Honeycutt put up a wild, off-balance shot on a drive, Howland lectured how the #1 thing for him as a coach offensively was shot selection.

The next drill was a 5-on-0 session on how to get the ball in and up the court against pressure. Howland said, "We're going to be seeing some pressure Wednesday night," referring to UCLA's exhibition game against Concordia.

The next period was how to break a 3-2 zone in the halfcourt.

At one point, when Lee had an open shot but then put the ball on the floor and charged into his defender, Howland stopped the drill and lectured Lee about not always driving and taking his open shot. He turned to the team and asked, "If you were an opponent, how would you defend Malcolm? Always assume he's going to put the ball on the floor."

In terms of the freshmen, as we said above, Honeycutt stood out because of his natural offensive ability. He also flashed his great passing ability. He looks very young, though, physically. Nelson looked very active inside and more explosive than he was in AAU ball in the last year and a half. He's not near as bulky physically and moving much better, and is probably the best natural rebounder on the team. Moser still looks a bit overwhelmed. He has a long outside shooting stroke, but it goes in more often than you'd suspect. Stover looks like a colt, all arms and elbows. From a distance, walk-on Alex Schrempf has a little bit of Toby Bailey going on physically.

As was announced, Anderson, Roll and Lane will not play against Concordia Wednesday, but Howland expects all of them to be able to play next Tuesday in the exhibition against Humboldt State.


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