UCLA Basketball Roundup: Transitions

Will UCLA see a lot of McDonalds High School All American forward Shabazz Muhammad (15) dunking in transition this year. Coach Ben Howland says so. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

There is a lot of news recently on basketball which I can't recap all here. Let me just start with I hope Shabazz is one and done because according to him.

Muhammad, already projected as a lottery pick in the 2013 NBA draft, said he would put his NBA career on hold if UCLA fails to reach the Final Four this season.

The skeptics, who based on the last four years, have good reason to be skeptical. And that concern begins not with Shabazz but with the Point Guard position.

But before we get to this season, let me just say a word of gratitude to the last point guard to lead us to even the tournament because his experience may be very relevant for this year. Lazeric Jones worked harder than any other Bruin last season. He was the undisputed MVP of the team and did it all, including moving from point guard to shooting guard. The year before that he did something amazing for a basketball player, he played with not one but two injured hands. Lazeric really gave it his all. And in a way he is getting recognition for it, as the Sacramento Kings invited him to their summer league team.

Former Chicago Simeon star Lazeric Jones is on the Summer League roster for the Sacramento Kings of the NBA.

Jones played the first two years of his college career at Juco powerhouse John A. Logan College ahead of transferring to UCLA and becoming captain of the team.

I am not sure if Zeek has the athletic ability to make the NBA but he would be a good guy to have on your team because he gives his all. Good luck Zeek!

But I also bring up Zeek because the last season he was only a point guard may be relevant to this season. For in 2010-11, Jones was the fifth option and was not even supposed to be the lead playmaker. For that team was designed around its pre-season predicted superstar Tyler Honeycutt. It was supposed to be a "push it" team. Tyler was a big who could supposedly do it all starting with rebounding and leading the break.

In 2010-11, partly because Tyler was not comfortable being a leader, partly because he has a habit of turning the ball over, and lastly because of the emergence of Josh Smith: the Bruins turned from "push it" to pound it inside to Josh Smith.

A player even better at that sort of thing then Tyler is Kyle Anderson on this year's team. An even taller 6'8" true point forward who can rebound well and pass as well as any true point guard.

This year the team is once again starting the season "pushing it" and running the ball. yesterday during an open practice.

During a practice session of nearly an hour Tuesday, the Bruins worked exclusively on transition offense -- getting out and running the floor.

The practice was proof of what Howland had been saying. The Bruins are going to run this year. Last week he said:

Howland says he plans on emphasizing the up-tempo game during these summer workouts. With the athleticism of Muhammad and Anderson along with speedy point guard Larry Drew -- a senior transfer from North Carolina who is the other new face for UCLA this season -- the team is well-suited to push the tempo.

And with good depth at every position for the first time in several seasons, Howland said he'll be able to rotate guys in and out more often so speeding the tempo won't cause too much fatigue.

"We're really trying to speed up how fast we're going to get the ball up the floor and take advantage of having good depth by playing faster," Howland said. "Obviously, we want to build our defense from day one, but we want to get a lot better than we've been at pushing the ball the past couple of years."

Cynics will point out he said this before as in 2010-11. Critics will also point out that he may be saying this to help with recruiting to combat the "boring" image that Howland's offense has. But Howland may also be genuinely trying to run. Putting aside the Wears, Parker and Stover this team could be very quick. In addition to the obvious great finisher in transition Shabazz Muhammad, Larry Drew is very quick, and Kyle "slo mo" Anderson is not slow when you compare him to other 6'8" guys. And let's not forget the returning players: Norman Powell is very good in that kind of game and Tyler Lamb is comfortable running.

Of course this brings us to the best player who cannot run, Josh Smith. Josh like Howland is seemingly vowing something different this year.

And Howland said Smith is finally beginning to figure out just how much better the team will be if he can play productive minutes.

"He understood that last year because I told him that," Howland said. "But I think he's starting to embrace it."

It's already paying dividends on the court. During a practice session of nearly an hour Tuesday, the Bruins worked exclusively on transition offense -- getting out and running the floor. Smith played the entire session without a break and never seemed to lag far behind.

He ran the floor as hard as he could, scored, rebounded and blocked shots. A youth basketball camp was there watching and, after the session was over, the Bruins treated the kids to a slam-dunk session. Smith threw down three two-handed power jams without much of a problem.

So ideally maybe this team will be a little like the old ShowTime teams of the Lakers led by a 6'8" point guard. Run first and, if that fails, then pound it into the big fella:

"I don't think there is anyone in the college game who can stop Josh one-on-one in the post," Howland said.

It is July so all this now is still just talk. But the pressure is on Howland and to a lesser extent Josh Smith. Josh has a supporting cast of players that not only try hard but have a lot of talent. This could be a great team and a fun team to watch.

Let me close on a sad note on the greatest UCLA team. One of the UCLA group of freshman that achieved more success than any other in college basketball history just died. Bruin great Kenny Heitz passed away.

Heitz enrolled in UCLA in the fall of 1965 and was a member of the Bruin freshman team that defeated the two-time defending NCAA champion UCLA varsity squad, 75-60, in the first-ever game in Pauley Pavilion (Nov. 27, 1965). A starting forward on the freshman team, he averaged 14.3 points and 6.8 rebounds during the 1965-66 season. Heitz's UCLA frosh teammates included center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor at the time), guard Lucius Allen, and forward Lynn Shackelford.

During his first two seasons with the Bruin varsity (1966-67 and 1967-68), Heitz was both a starter and key reserve at both forward and guard on teams that captured NCAA championships with records of 30-0 and 29-1, respectively. As a sophomore, he played in all 30 games and appeared in 27 games as a junior. Heitz was a starting guard as a senior in 1968-69, as UCLA compiled a record of 29-1 and became the first school in history to win three consecutive NCAA titles. He earned Academic All-America honors that season. During his three-year career, UCLA won 88 of 90 games to go with the three national championships and conference crowns. . . .

Ken's wife, Linda, said "the UCLA basketball family was a great comfort to Ken throughout his battle with cancer. The constant stream of visits and calls from his UCLA teammates of over 40 years ago including Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), Mike Warren, Shack (Lynn Shackelford), Andy Hill, Kenny Washington, Coach (Ben) Howland and so many others connected to the program, helped him through his fight and always raised his spirits."

RIP Kenny Heitz. Our condolences to your family.

Hopefully this year's team will not only run more but also have the success that Shabazz pledged and that past teams have had. Go Bruins.

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