Ho! So we've had two recent major developments for the UCLA basketball program. First, we hired Coach Korey McCray an assistant, and second, in less than two weeks, we received our first 2012 commitment in Korey's former pupil, Jordan Adams. We're looking forward to a huge 2012 recruiting year, so I'm going to break down our scholarship situation and discuss our targets at each position.
So here goes. we currently have, through the 2012 season, the following players (barring early entry) on scholarship (note: for ease of viewing, I've listed players at their "normal" positions):
At PG: 1 (Larry Drew II)
At SG: 2 (Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell)
At SF: 1 (De'End Parker)
At C: 2 (Josh Smith and Anthony Stover)
This brings the total scholarships we have out to 10 players, leaving 3 open scholarships. This is not to say that we will not have 4, or even 5 open scholarships come the arrival of the 2012-2013 season. There is a high probability that one of two players will leave school early, those being Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith. There is some possibility that both will be gone, and in my opinion, an even lower possibility that both will still be here. Thus, in my humble opinion, we will give out no fewer than 4 scholarships for the 2012 season. Who are our targets? Here we go.
At Point Guard, we have three primary targets, and likely any one of these could commit and lock up the spot at any moment. (We saw Ben use the same approach with Jerime and Larry Drew II for the 2008 class) Each brings a unique approach to the game, and each would impact our offense differently.
L.J. Rose (Houston, TX; 6-2/170 lb): Probably the best known of our point guard recruits, LJ Rose used to be the most highly ranked. He suffered an ankle injury that severely hampered his game, leading to somewhat of a diminished profile among the rankings. This kid is considered one of the best pure point guards in the class, and is a strong leader on the court. He is a dynamite 3pt shooter with confidence and range, yet can still be a playmaker and get his teammates involved. He possesses good quickness and solid strength, leading to many comparisons, including Jordan Farmar, all the way up to Deron Williams. Whether or not you look fondly upon Farmar's time at UCLA, he certainly had a big hand in leading us to our first of three final fours under Ben. LJ Rose has said recently that UCLA is a favorite school, and speculation is that Texas is following. We will likely see his commitment, assuming no other poing guard commits first.
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (Mouth of Wilson, VA; 6-3/210 lb) : There is some debate as to whether DSR is a point guard or a shooting guard. The simple answer is "both". He's a combo guard in the mold of Jerryd Bayless and James Harden, with plenty of strength and good shooting ability. DSR can bully his way to the rim and draw fouls or finish, and is trying to add more distributing to his game. He is a score-first guard who really draws the attention of defenders. His NBA comparison would likely be a poor man's Baron Davis. It remains to be seen whether or not he can lead a team, but Ben has offered him as a PG, and speculation is that he will play SG if both he and Rose/Artis commit.
Dominic Artis (Richmond, CA; 5-11/155 lb): And now for the controversy. It was announced today that Ben extended an offer to one of the fastest rising players in the West, and indeed the whole country, Dominic Artis. He had an extremely good showing at the recent Pangos All-American camp, and his electric ballhandling skills are causing him to become a sensation of sorts. For my money, his best comparison at this stage is Aaron Brooks, the former Oregon Duck PG and now Phoenix Sun. He has excellent ballhandling, a solid, confident shot, ability to get to the rim and finish over taller defenders, and excellent court vision. He tends to make the flashy pass, which sometimes, but not often, hurts him. Make no mistake, he looks small but does not play small.
Now with the commitment of Jordan Adams we're no longer looking for a SG, so look for us to go straight to the most contentious position: Small Forward.
Shabazz Muhammad (Las Vegas, NV; 6'6/207 lb): Ah here he is. I know plenty of words have been bandied about on many sites regarding Mr. Muhammad, but his situation is simply this: He is the most important (and talented) kid we have recruited since Kevin Love. Shabazz is tall enough to play either SG or SF, and can excel at either position. He possesses incredible athleticism, a strong handle, solid (and improving) shooting ability out to the three point line, is lanky enough to become an excellent defender at the D-1 level. However, his most impressive attribute is his killer instinct. The kid is constantly in attack mode. Once he gets the ball, it's to the rim, and (as I mentioned in another thread) God help anyone who gets in his way. He power dunks, shoots off the glass, or posts up his opponent, drawing either the score or the foul, many times both. Simply put, he's the quintessential definition of an "impact player", the kind of guy that takes good teams to great, and great teams to championship-level. Make no mistake, he will almost assuredly only spend a year at college, and it's very, very hard to blame him. He is the crown jewel of this recruiting class, but in order to land him, we have to beat out some of the best recruiting schools in the country, including Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Louisville, Memphis, and that school that we dominated last season.
Arnaud Moto (Alexandria, VA; 6'6/210 lb): Here's a player you may not be familiar with. Arnaud Moto came onto the scene at the EYBL LA session. Moto was an athletic scoring presence, and played lockdown defense, drawing comparisons to local standout Luc Richard Mbah A Moute during his time at UCLA. Flying up the rankings, Mr. Moto is certainly a hot commodity, and certainly UCLA fans love to hear about his stout defense. During the EYBL games, he unofficially visited UCLA, and we are said to be among his top schools. This draws and interesting line, as the versatility of Shabazz is not in question, and he could be paired with Moto or any other SF or PG, but the commitment of Adams leaves limited space on the wing. If Moto commits, Ben will likely ask him to wait until Shabazz commits to accept. As we saw with other prospects in previous years, this is a dangerous strategy among the highly recruited, but the high-risk, high-reward style could benefit us in the end.
Xavier Johnson (Santa Ana, CA; 6'5/205): Last, but certainly not least contentious, Mr. Xavier Johnson. The skilled lefty out of Mater Dei has excellent athleticism and long arms, and has been working his way up the recruiting rankings for some time now. He is improving his shot out to the three point line, and is coming into his own offensively. Like Shabazz, his frame has excellent potential on the defensive end. Yet, as is discussed ad nauseum with Mater Dei players, toughness is the focal point. Is he or isn't he a tough player? We shall see, yet his skills cannot be denied. UCLA has plenty of connections with Mr. Johnson due to current Mater Dei players Larry Drew II, Tyler Lamb, and David and Travis Wear. Several reports have stated that Xavier is UCLA's to lose, though it is highly likely Ben will wait on the commitment of Shabazz (especially after Jordan Adams' commitment), and will go with Johnson on a fallback. I, personally, would take Moto over Xavier as well, despite my admiration for his work ethic.
Big men after the jump...
So now onto the Power Forwards... We've got the Wears on the roster, however, they will only be here for another year, assuming neither leaves for the NBA. To add to that, we have seniors Brendan Lane and Reeves Nelson on roster. Meaning? By the 2014-2015 season? We'll have a whopping 0 power forwards on roster. To Ben, and to all of us, that means we recruit.
Brandon Ashley (Oakland, CA; 6'9/200 lb): At the top of the power forward food chain is Brandon Ashley. To put it simply, Brandon is your prototypical power forward for college and beyond. He's extremely skilled, very athletic, with excellent footwork, a tireless motor, and a desire to win. He plays primarily with his back to the basket, although he can face up his opponents and beat them to the rack. He has excellent hands and catches near everything inside. His best attribute? His potential. As he adds strength and technique, including counter moves (as the scout profile mentions) and more of a midrange game, he will be a force to be reckoned with. His potential likely pegs him as a one-and-done player. Recruiting pundits everywhere consider Ashley somewhat of a longshot to UCLA. Many think he's an Arizona lean, and would be an excellent get for them, however they may want to recruit, oh I don't know, a Center at some point? He will join the likes of Sidiki Johnson, Angelo Chol, etc. if he decides to take his talents to Tucson (alliteration definitely intended), creating a Sean Miller squad chock full of skill, fresh out of size and strength. How his recruitment proceeds will be interesting to watch. I for one would love to see Coach McCray get his claws into Ashley, casually mentioning how he helped train Dwight Howard. Here's hoping Ashley will be listening.
William "Shaq" Goodwin (Decatur, GA; 6'7/220 lb) My personal favorite among the PFs currently being recruited by the Bruins is Shaq Goodwin. Shaq is a spectacular athlete with an excellent feel for the game, and tons of explosiveness. He has a good jump shot, which is improving every time he steps on the floor. Shaq is an excellent rebounder and tough player inside, and thrives in transition where he can fully utilize his athletic gifts. Extremely strong around the rim, Shaq plays a lot like Reeves Nelson, but with more athleticism. Shaq is a member of Coach McCray's Atlanta Celtics and teammate of Jordan Adams. This fact alone put us in contention to land him, and Adams' commitment makes that tie even stronger. If we can land a commitment from Mr. Goodwin, we would be injecting significant athleticism to our squad. With continued jumpshot development and work on his footwork and post game, Shaq could easily be on of the best Power Forwards in the country.
And now, to the real-estate eaters, the mountains down low, the biggest of the big men. Centers...
Robert Upshaw (Fresno, CA; 6'11/270 lb): Here is a fairly contentious recruiting target among UCLA fans, and pundits as well. "Robert Upshaw is a project." That is the line you hear every time his name is mentioned. "He's got a ways to go." These aren't necessarily untrue statements, however they do sell Mr. Upshaw a bit short. Robert, as you can tell from his measurables, is a massive guy. 6'11 and still growing, Robert might top 7 feet before he arrives at UCLA. Having left Ryan Hollins, our last 7-footer behind after our first Final Four run under Ben, it would be intriguing to see the impact of another in his system. Though he is large and takes up plenty of space, a common criticism of Robert has been his conditioning. Indeed, he had some bad weight on him roughly a year ago, but Robert, according to reports, has worked tirelessly on his game and his body in order to put himself in the best possible position come signing day. This is, in my opinion, one of the most critical aspects of a basketball player at the D-1 level. Regardless of how good you are coming in, no player needs no improvement in their game before they hit the NBA. Ben has proved that he can take players and make them NBA ready, and Robert would be no exception. The players that buy into what Ben is saying and work tirelessly to improve themselves? Look at Arron Afflalo, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, and to some extent Kevin Love. These players are making serious money and leading NBA teams. Robert has a developing post game, and is showing good improvement as his recruiting continues. As he continues shedding bad weight he will get more and more explosive, and his already strong playing style will gain even more strength, the goal being domination in the post. Look for Robert to become a big factor by the time he steps on a D-1 court. The added benefit of his recruitment is that he is unlikely to be a one-and-done player. I think we should do our best to land him, and we are in good position going into the last year of his high school career.
Tony Parker (Lithonia, GA; 6'8/265): Here is a prospect whose stance with us is somewhat murky. He's a wide-bodied player whose game is specifically located down low. He reminds me of Josh Smith, playing big down low, though below the rim for the most part. He has excellent hands and good footwork, and is a good finisher even over taller defenders. Like Josh, his conditioning will be an issue, and I'm in the dark with regards to his work ethic. He is ranked highly, and many recruiting sites speak well of him. He seems to be a solid choice to get the torch from Josh as our low post option, and with continuing work on his conditioning he'll become a greater force on the low block. He is a Georgia native, but it remains to be seen how much of an impact Coach McCray (also a Georgia native) will have in his recruitment, if any.
So these are the prospects we're looking at. I'll note that we're also looking at players like Gabe York, Anrio Adams, and others, however these are our primary targets for our remaining 3 (or 4, or 5) remaining scholarships. Rest assured Ben plans to use every one available. My preferred class would be as follows, and I'll explain why:
pg- L.J. Rose
sg- Shabazz Muhammad
sf- Jordan Adams
c- Robert Upshaw
You may note the absence of a PF, which is glaring considering the level of PFs we're currently recruiting. However, I believe these players are the best fits for our program. To begin, LJ Rose is as complete a point guard as you will find in the 2012 class. He can shoot, score at the rim, pass, and defend. He has good size and good athleticism, and would be an excellent team leader. He is also not necessarily going to be gone in 1 year. Then we come to Shabazz Muhammad, who is a dynamite scorer and star of the class. His impact on both sides of the court would be exceptional, and he would handle the majority of the scoring load. Then we come to Jordan Adams, who can force defenders to respect him with his excellent jump shooting, opening up the lane for Shabazz and LJ. He is also not guaranteed to leave immediately. Finally, we come to Robert Upshaw, a force on the low block, can rebound, score, and defend, and with his size be an intimidating roadblock that we've lacked since the departure of Lorenzo Mata and Alfred Aboya. His upside is tremendous, and his work ethic commendable. He is definitely not a guaranteed one-and-done. This class avoids our slight logjam at the PF slot, where we will still have the Wears and (hopefully) Brendan and Reeves. It also gives us our point guard of the future, a star in Shabazz, and excellent shooting and length on the wing in Adams. In short, it's a complete class.
This is not to say I would shrug at the addition of Ashley, Goodwin, Artis, or Johnson, however, I would prefer the above class. Here is my ideal depth chart...
PG - L.J. Rose/Larry Drew
SG- Shabazz Muhammad/Tyler Lamb/Norman Powell
SF- Tyler Lamb/De'end Parker/Jordan Adams
PF- Reeves Nelson/David Wear/Travis Wear/ Brendan Lane
C- Anthony Stover/Robert Upshaw
Please note that I have accounted for the departure of Josh Smith. Of our current roster, I believe he has the most pro potential, and would be most likely to leave early. Hopefully he stays to dominate the Pac 10, but I believe this is a reasonable assumption.
Something to remember, before I close. The NBA is reviewing the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, and may implement a change to the infamous "One-and-Done" rule. This change, if it occurs in the next year, would likely guarantee a two-and-through or more stay for every high school prospect. If this occurs, simply imagine what Ben could do in two years with players like Shabazz Muhammad or LJ Rose. The mere thought is enough to explode John Calipari's head. This could be crucial in terms of lending momentum to Ben's recruiting.
I would love to hear your favorite recruit combinations, and your input about where we stand with these various players. Feel free to take a look at the provided videos and fire off your own conclusions. My selections are based upon who is most likely to commit and who would be most effective (IMO) in Ben's system. Also please feel free to rip my opinions to shreds. That's always fun! Go Bruins!