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Ready for another Title run?

Of course we are not talking about Dorrell's football program. Hoops practice starts tomorrow and Coach Howland and our boys had media day yesterday. The official website has lots of cool pictures (check them out). WWL has this:

Keefe to be next Howland freshman phenom? AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

Howland set the expectations for this season right off the bat:

UCLA lost three starters from the squad that lost to Florida in the national title game, but as practice opens Friday, the expectations remain high.

"The only way to get better from last year is to win it all," UCLA coach Ben Howland said Wednesday during the team's annual media day.

"Our expectations are to try and win the Pac-10. It all starts with winning the Pac-10, because if you do that, if you look at it historically, the Pac-10 champion is going to get a very good seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"Last year we really came on and ended up as a No. 2 seed, which was really, really good for us."

The Bruins lost point guard Jordan Farmar, wing Cedric Bozeman and center Ryan Hollins. Darren Collison replaces Farmar and Josh Shipp, who redshirted last season because of hip surgery, replaces Bozeman.

The center position still needs to be sorted out, but the Bruins return leading scorer Arron Afflalo, a junior guard, and reigning Pac-10 freshman of the year Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

UCLA adds McDonald's All-American power forward James Keefe, point guard Russell Westbrook and wing Nikola Dragovic.
We take Coach Howland seriously when he talks about these types of lofty expectations because - well - he actually won Pac-10 championship(s) (both regular season and conference titles) and had the team on the brink of banner no. 12. He knows something about winning big games.

Anyways Howland did note there are some questions Bruins will need to answer if they can mount another magical. The first one being depth at PG. From the LA Times:
Coach Ben Howland said Collison is ready. But Howland isn't sure who will be the backup.

"Arron's a possibility," Howland said. "He did it two years ago."

Howland also said freshmen Mustafa Abdul-Hamid and Russell Westbrook would get looks.

"Mustafa will get a lot of practice," Howland said. "Russell, I'm not sure about the defensive end yet or his ball-handling. We cannot handle a lot of turnovers."

Howland is also hoping he doesn't have to handle a lot of injuries. Last season, Afflalo, Farmar, Shipp, Alfred Aboya and Bozeman sat out parts of the season -- and already the Bruins have an injury to announce.
It's intersting to note that Howland specifically mentioned Mustafa getting lot of practice time.  I wasn't sure about how much playing time he is going to get.  If he picks up Howland's system of inside-the-jersey defense then who knows. Meanwhile, everyone is learning about Mata's minor injury. He should be all right (hopefully). This brings up questions at center because his absense leaves AA2 and Ryan Wright competing for that spot. Also wrt the frontline lot of curiosities about our late signing Nikola Dragovic. He is now officially part of the team, and Dohn gave us an early scouting report:
The 6-foot-8 Dragovic, who hails from Belgrade, Serbia, was added in the summer. He took the spot of Marko Spica, also from Serbia, who failed to qualify for UCLA and is with Ziegler, now the head coach at Central Michigan.

"Nikola's a good shooter," Howland said. "He's got a lot to learn. He's going to have to become a much more focused player at the other end of the floor. He's got a good feel for the game, but his ball-handling skills, the ability to guard a (wing), these are all things that remain to be seen. His ability to rebound &I just can't tell you."
So as you can see there are still a number of questions/concerns this team needs address before we can think about cutting down the nets early Spring of 2007. But with Howland in controls and AA, Prince Luc, DC, Shipp and co. back in action we have no reasons to worry too much.  I can't wait for Ben Ball to tip off in just about three weeks.