People are both excited and apprehensive about the upcoming basketball season. The justifiable skeptics will not forget the last four years while the optimisms are being swept away by a gaudy number one recruiting class. Others like ESPN are just being stupid about UCLA basketball. While the most important thing for UCLA basketball right now is recruiting for 2013-2014, I thought I would address some of the misperceptions that are arising out there about this team.
Myth #1: ESPN believes no point guards can be over 6'4" unless they are announcers
Last week, ESPN called Larry Drew II the most important player on the Bruins. The reason behind this is coming out. They just do not believe that a 6'8" person can play point guard. The latest ESPN moron is Andy Katz, in a piece entitled UCLA Hopes Ride on Drew:
Ben Howland took Larry Drew II into his office Monday to continue coaching his mind as much as his playmaking skills. He needs both from Drew for UCLA to be a Pac-12 champ in the upcoming season. The North Carolina transfer has one season to play for the Bruins but he is the only true playmaker for UCLA. "He has the quickness and speed that we haven't seen since Darren Collison,'' said Howland. "He's a very good decision maker. He's gotten much stronger and improved his body. We have high expectations for him.'' The only other option for UCLA at the point isn't really a true point in 6-foot-7 Kyle Anderson. Howland said Anderson isn't cleared yet for contact after offseason thumb surgery while fellow freshman Shabazz Muhammad isn't working out with the team yet either. Muhammad is recovering from a sprained ankle from earlier in the month. Howland said the Bruins will start practicing for an August trip to China on July 31, Aug. 1-4 and then Aug. 14-21 with one day off on Aug. 18. The Bruins won't be practicing in the renovated Pauley Pavilion until October.
Yep, Magic Johnson was never a point guard, it was really Norm Nixon, Mike McGee, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper. No way a 6'7" (actually 6'8") guy like Kyle can "really" be a point guard.
Myth #2: the bad attitudes are gone
The truth about Drew is he could be trouble or he could still play a role. The reality is Larry Drew II will have to prove he has the right attitude and that Howland can deal with him after North Carolina's Roy Williams failed.
So while yes, bad attitudes Reeves Nelson and Drew Gordon are gone. I will add that Drew Gordon still does not get it as while trying to improve his image to NBA scouts he hired O.J. Mayo's former agent who was banned for a year from basketball by the NBA (think about how bad one must be as an agent to have that happen).
But there are two potential attitude problems left on the team. Let's start with Reeves Nelson's best friend on the team's recent tweet:
ReezyF22 is Reeves Nelson and Anthony Stover was congratulating Reeves on making the NBA summer league Lakers. But Anthony, do you really think you should salute Reeves' "hard work?" His "work" at practice caused a scandal and his getting kicked off the team. Reeves is not the guy you want to model your efforts after. Stover has previously tweeted some items that have not made the coaching staff happy along with goofing off with Reeves at practice.
And then there is the reality of Larry Drew II. Drew left North Carolina in the middle of the season when he was benched for Kendall Marshall. His leaving was a shock to everyone at North Carolina. No one saw it coming. While Drew was never a disruptive force in practice like Gordon or Nelson, this is a big worry in that it is hard to predict how Drew will deal with Kyle Anderson being the primary point guard on offense or possibly not starting. Ironically if Drew had stayed last year at North Carolina he would have been starting in a regional final game for the injured Marshall.
Howland better have learned how to deal with these players and any other attitude issues that come up.
Myth #3: the 2012-13 Bruins can't play Ben Ball style defense
Of course, while I believe in Kyle as a point guard on offense, Kyle may not be able to guard all the other points. That is where Larry Drew could help. Drew could be a key on defense for Bruins. And Drew could really help to bring that on ball pressure that Howland's teams were famous for. This is not as far fetched as it sounds as Drew did keep Kendall Marshall on the bench for a while based on his defense.
Which brings up another point, this UCLA team is potentially a very good defensive team. Of course this depends on Smith but if Howland wanted to do so, this could be a great defensive team. The best defensive lineup would probably look like this on defense:
PG: Larry Drew II
SG: Norman Powell (the best athlete during Howland's time at UCLA not named Westbrook)
SF: Shabazz Muhammad (the hardest worker since AA)
PF: Kyle Anderson (a legitimate sized power forward, good rebounder and no longer slo-mo when he is against fours)
C: Josh Smith
I am not saying this should be the starting team as it has an obvious flaw (no one shoots outside well) but the 2012-13 Bruins should be a good defensive team. Howland has the horses.
Myth #4: if Josh Smith fails so does UCLA
We are all pulling for Josh. An in-shape Josh has a huge potential to be a star not just in the Pac-12 but for all of the country. However, losing Josh or Josh failing to get into shape should not be an excuse for a less than stellar season. Without Josh, UCLA is still potentially the best team in the Pac-12.
UCLA has two other legitimate centers on their roster and two more guys who can play the five okay on offense. Tony Parker is raw but the #21 recruit in the country. Stover and Travis Wear both ranked in the top 10 in the Pac-12 in blocks. UCLA could have a good Pac-12 level "center by committee" without Josh.
And unlike last year, the center does not have to be the star or a leading scorer. Shabazz is a lottery pick and will lead the Bruins in points. Anderson as a point guard is the most unique player in the Pac-12 since Derrick Williams at center. Anderson and Shabazz are better rebounders at the swing positions then Tyler Lamb and Zeek Jones last year and could help pick up the slack there as well. This is not last season when Josh was expected to carry the team.
Lastly, Howland is saying he is planning to run. Even an in-shape Josh does not plan to figure into a running game. Howland has no excuse for losing because of any actions by Josh Smith this season. UCLA should dominate the Pac-12 with or without Smith.
Myth #5: this team is so deep
I hear a lot of people say this and they are implying that the new recruits are adding to a good team. I am not as sure about that because the team last year was not that good and lost its best player (MVP Lazeric Jones). The NBA is not a good measuring stick necessarily but you look at the returnees from last year's team and who is most likely to have a reasonable chance to make an NBA roster? One player, Josh Smith. How about the next level, besides Smith, how many from last year's team are likely All-Pac-12 during the course of their careers? Obviously it is too early to tell but it is hard to see anyone. I guess one could argue Lamb if he keeps exponentially improving as he did between his freshman and sophomore seasons. Norman Powell (who I might bet on) and Anthony Stover (for all Defense) have the athletic ability and could conceivably get there. But right now, no one.
Shabazz's coming is not like the arrival of Kevin Love. Love came to a team coming off back-to-back Final Fours and replaced a center who led the team in blocks and shooting percentage (LMR). Shabazz is replacing either a graduated JC transfer point guard forced to play shooting guard or a 40% FG shooter.
Howland had better go young and go young from the start. This is a team with talent but not all eleven scholarship players are equal. This is a team of a some potential stars, a couple athletes, and role players.
Myth #6: UCLA is too young to go far this year or expect too much
In the finals of the NCAA tournament the last two years:
- Kentucky's 2012 championship-winning team started 3 freshman and 2 sophomores
- Connecticut's 2011 championship-winning team started 3 freshman, a sophomore and a junior.
Youth is not an excuse. In almost all conceivable starting lineups, UCLA will likely be more experienced than the last two national champions.
Myth #7: UCLA will start slow as it takes a while to learn to play defense
This UCLA team will have more practice before the season than any Ben Howland team including an exhibition tour of China. They should be ready and this is not an excuse. Early on in the Legends Classic, lack of experience could hurt a bit on the road but again the defense will have more practice than any other Howland team at the same point.
Myth #8: the re-opening of Pauley will help with home games
It will also help with road games. The morons in the athletic department had UCLA practicing on courts in the Men's Gym that were shorter than regulation courts last season. Practicing in Pauley as well as playing in Pauley will make a huge difference this season for all games.
I will add UCLA really should be able to go undefeated at home this season.
Ben has no excuses for not winning big this season. There is reason for excitement but no room for excuses.