I know we are just 40 somewhat days away from the end of summer doldrums and start of the football season. But right now in Bruins Nation all the great news is coming from hoops (no doubt it has something to do with its great coach who is not consumed with exploring other professional opportunities). Anyways haven't seen anything official on Dragovic just yet. But there are tons of sources right now indicating that he is a pretty much a lock to join our two talented freshmen James Keefe and Russell Westbrook as Howland's class of 2006 in Westwood. So assuming Mr. Dragovic is in the fold here is an early projection for our lineup next season:
* notes Medical Red-shirt
AA2= Alfredo Aboya
RW2= Russell Westbrook
Here are few scattered thoughts that are jumping out at me right now:
This is a deep, flexible, and still a very young (only two true jrs. on the roster) 11 men rotation. Not sure if there is any other team in the Pac-10 that can match our rotation at this point in terms of depth and experience (given our run last season).
Right now I am not trying to get caught up in all the hype around Dragovic percolating in the message boards. Some folks are projecting him to be a sure fire NBA draft pick after a year in Westwood or two. JD over at BHS has a more sober assessment. That is fine. However as talented Dragovic may turn out to be as BBR notes he will have to learn to play the inside-the-jersey Howland defense to get his time in the rotation:
On the other end of the court , Dragovic will need time to improve his defensive skills and to gain strength in his lanky body, although reportedly, he has a 6'11 wingspan to work from.
Under head coach Ben Howland, a player earns playing time with their defense, and patience from all will be required as Dragovic improves this facet of his game.
I recall reading articles last few weeks that it will be AA who will put in his time at the pg spot to give DC some rest. Given Shipp's ball handling abilities we may see Shipp chipping in his minutes at that spot as well. This is one spot that is still bugging me a bit. It?d be nice to have some true depth at PG. I know as Bruin fans we are always fretting about freak injuries. Right now with Stanbeck and perhaps Love (soon) in the fold, we may have just one more scholie to give out which is already targeted for Singler. I haven?t read about any UCLA targets for pg till the 2008 class. So there is no plan to bring in a transition pg between DC and whichever elite recruit (Holiday or whoever) takes over. May be the staff thinks Westbrook by next year should be able to assume some ball handling duties while this year it will be mainly Afflalo and Shipp spelling DC at point? Given the coaches? track record so far, I will give them the benefit of the doubt and have faith in their plans.
Keefe will probably coming off the bench to spell Luuuc. Reading all the recruiting articles on Keefe from last 2-3 years he strikes me across as a player who is offensively efficient getting his points within in the flow of a structured (Howland) offense. He will get his points here and there. But I think he is going to be one of those players who will be earning his minutes by playing D, setting screens, and picking up his points within the flow. Man to think that we are going to have talents like Aboya, Keefe, and Keefe to come off the bench. Wow.
Again I am not sure if this team will put together the incredible run last year made in the tourney. But at first glance it seems like this team will have more offensive fire power than last year's team. Last year it was Jordan and Arron giving us the main scoring punch. This year (assuming if Luc, DC, Roll, and AA2 have improved their shots) we are going to have legit scoring threats from Shipp (who has already been a proven scorer), Collison, Luc, Keefe, Roll, AA2, and may be even Dragovic.
We can't forget Mata either. The kid is recovering from injury this season and he should be healed and ready to go by the start of the season. Before going down with his kneed injury Mata was making solid strides last year especially defensively. He ended up just averaging 14 mins a game with an avg. of 3.9 boards (3.6 pts). If he can stay healthy and increase his mins this season, you'd think those numbers will go up. Also hopefully we are going to have a healthy Aboya who Dohn noted to us could be the surprise MOP this year. So we should be all right at the 5.
I know I haven't mentioned Ryan Wright yet. It will be interesting to see how he progresses through this summer. Howland loves this kid and who knows he may just convince him to red-shirt next season, giving us long term depth down the line.
And lastly there is Westbrook. Apparently he has been impressing folks during the summer league. I am always cautious in not trying to buy all the hype you read about the summer leagues which are often really helter-skelter jungle ball. But he may be a good candidate to give us some solid minutes at the 2 slot to spell AA, who will be all over the court next season.
This is exciting. In just three years we have come from a patchwork line up of Bozeman, Thompson, Walcott, Morrison, Crispin, Ariza, Fey, Hollins to this. As it stands right now our 10th and 11th men - Westbrook and Wright - were 4 star recruits to come out of high school (not the recruits ("diamond in the rough") with no pics. that often shows up on Dorrell's recruiting radar).
Now this is what we call a coach making discernible progress taking his program to new heights while firing up students, alums, and fans along the way. Everyone and their mother can sense something special is happening under Howland in Westwood (not the case in other major sport).
Thank God for Ben Howland.
UCLA should have given him a life-time contract.