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The Arrival of Warrior Season

So where was Brian Dohn? No one saw him at Karl Dorrell’s football "practice." Well, here is your answer. These guys are back:

Photo Credit: Kevin Sullivan, The OC Register

Yes, Coach Howland (the anti-Dorrell of Westwood) and his Ben Ball warriors had their media day yesterday, and Dohn was there to cover it.

No surprise who was the focus on this much anticipated "Season of Love". However, as Dohn reports, the big guy is maintaining the right perspective amidst the expectation that comes with being one of the focal points on the greatest basketball program in America:

"It seems pretty high, doesn't it," Love said. "The expectations are high, and it's actually a good thing. I'm a very competitive person. I want to exceed expectations. I think this team does as well, as does coach (Ben) Howland, but he won't tell you that because he'll give you some sort of other answer."

The engaging Love said he was walking on campus Tuesday, on his way to media day, when members of the student body called out to him.

"People were yelling, `K-Love, you gotta win a national championship,"' Love said with a chuckle. "I'm kinda like, `Yeah, OK.' As soon as we lose it will be, `Screw you Kevin. You can't win a game."'
I have a feeling it is going to be an absolute delight to see the interaction between Kevin and the Den this coming season at Pauley. I get the sense that it is going to remind us of our interaction with King Ed during that magical 1994-95 season.

Yet, despite all the hype, Coach Howland is not ready to award KL the starting position yet. More from Dohn:
Even with all the hype, Howland will not award anything based on reputation. Asked to name his projected starting five, Howland said point guard Darren Collison, guard/wing Josh Shipp, center Lorenzo Mata and power forward/wing Luc Richard Mbah a Moute were starters.

When it came to a fifth starter, Howland would not commit to Love.

"It would be Kevin vying for it, or Alfred (Aboya), or Mike Roll or Russell (Westbrook)," Howland said. "There's a lot of options."
Uh, yes, "options." What an incredible concept. Options at a major revenue program at UCLA, while the football team is in position to make do with walk-on level athletes at the most pivotal position on the team (sorry for digressing).

Now, even though Coach Howland will have a lot of options at his disposal, there are lingering questions wrt a number of injury issues heading into the season.

We all remember the issues with Luc’s knees (along with his jump shot), and Kuwada from the OC Register has more on the Prince:
The forward is expecting to see improvement in both when the Bruins open practice Friday. It will be a key if, as Coach Ben Howland has suggested, the 6-foot-8 junior is to play some minutes at the shooting forward position this season.

"I worked on my knees a little more, took a lot of time working on strengthening the areas around it so it can get better for the season," Mbah a Moute said Tuesday.

He missed one game because of a sprained right knee and was hindered by pain during other stretches of last season.

"I feel like, if I'm healthy, that's half the battle. Hopefully that work is going to pay off when the season starts," Mbah a Moute said. "I just did a lot of strengthening around the knees, the muscle and stuff, my hips and my glutes. Talking to the trainers, they found out it was weak and that is one of the reasons why I had pain in my knees. I did a lot of stretching and just trying to get better and it's been working for me."

The shooting touch is a wait-and-see proposition. Mbah a Moute has been great around the basket, leading the Bruins in offensive rebounds with 117 as a freshman and 87 as a sophomore. But he has made just 22.1 percent (15 of 68) of his career three-point attempts.

"I did a lot of shooting, especially during the spring," he said. "I'm still doing a lot of shooting now. It has gotten better, it just has to continue to get better."
My hope this season is, now that we have Love in the middle, Luc doesn’t feel pressure to do too much in the front court. We have said this about him before, but he needs to do what he did during freshman year. Let the game come to him. He will have his opportunities to score within the flow of Howland’s offense, and now he will have more space to operate since Love will be getting a lot of attention. So if Luc focuses on what makes him so amazing, playing the Howland brand of ferocious defense, cleaning up the boards, and driving to the basket, he will get his chances to knock down some jumpers here and there. He just cannot force it.

Speaking of jumpers, Kuwada as this note on Roll, who is dealing with turf toes:
Mike Roll (Aliso Niguel High) has been suffering from cases of turf toe on both feet the past two weeks, the same ailment that sidelined Bruins football player Chris Markey. "I've got some anti-inflammatory cream, some new orthotics and I just tough it out from here," Roll said.
Hope Roll takes it easy. And I have a hunch Coach Howland will not put him in a situation where he has to take painkillers to get back in the game. Oh, sorry for bringing Dorrell’s joke program into the discussion again. It just seems to come up.

And we'll end our season’s first Ben Ball roundup with notes from good ole Diane, who started her report admiring Shipp’s "sharp angles and defined muscle"
Josh Shipp is all sharp angles and defined muscles. He has the shoulders of a swimmer and the legs of a weightlifter. Most important, he feels great.

Shipp says he is fully recovered from surgery in April on his left hip, his second hip surgery in two years. He was all smiles Tuesday when the UCLA men's basketball team reported to Pauley Pavilion for photos, interviews and health reports.
Yes, it will be fun tracking Diane once again. Anyways, I am excited about Josh. After going through some ups and downs last season, he really came around with his defense down the stretch, and I thought he was spectacular during the Dance. If he starts where he left off in terms of his D, and bring that effort on a consistent level, it is going to be fun. Diane also had this update on Keefe’s ongoing rehab from shoulder surgery:
James Keefe, a 6-foot-8 forward who had begun contesting for rebounds and making shots in the lane during the NCAA tournament, suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder while playing pickup basketball in Orange County. The shoulder was popped back into place and Keefe thought nothing more about it until a week later when he had an MRI and found out surgery was necessary.

Keefe just this week received doctor's permission to resume running. He's not allowed back in the weight room yet.
Hope Keefe gets well soon. I think to me that was probably the most disappointing development of the summer. But, from what I hear, he is a resilient kid, who is working extremely hard to get back. And once he is fully healthy, and gets conditioned through Howland’s practices, I have no doubt he will make contributions this season.

There is of course more coverage from Bruin Basketball Report and What's Bruin (Part I & Part II). BBR has Coach Howland’s comments on RW and the primary goal of this coming season:
Among the other returning players, Howland is extremely positive on the offseason development of sophomore Russell Westbrook. While he expects Westbrook to play minutes backing-up Darren Collison at point-guard, he also says Westbrook will play the two-guard alongside Collison at times during the course of the game.

"Russell may have made more improvement than any other player in the program this offseason," Howland said. "He is really strong, very athletic and explosive, more so than he was a year ago. On defense, no one should be able to get by Russell, he is so much stronger now and actually grew some over the summer."

Howland said his team's primary focus is to win the Pac-10 this year and then let the chips fall as they may thereafter.

"The Pac-10 is by far the best conference in the country," Howland said. "Winning the Pac-10 is so important because it gives you the best chance to get back to the Final Four since it allows you to play close to home during the early games of the tournament."
Sounds good to me coach. We can’t wait.

BBR has a nifty photo gallery from yesterday’s media day, as does the official site. Check them out.

Exactly 30 more days ladies and gentleman till our Warriors open the show at Pauley.