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Ben Ball Roundup: Teaching Defense & Health(y) Notes

In case you missed while being out and about last weekend, Coach Howland held his first practice of the season last Friday from 8 to 11 pm inside a closed Pauley Pavillion. For those who are wondering how the first two practices went, we have some good clips from the local papers today. All of the reports sound of familiar themes of physical, grueling practice sessions, and productive results. We also have some good news (knock on wood) on the health front.

Let’s start with some defense. JMM is learning to play interior defense, Ben Ball style, which includes learning how to hedge on screens. Dohn reports on JMM’s “screen test” under CBH:

The affable Morgan is being asked to team with senior Alfred Aboya to replace Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year Kevin Love, and Morgan said learning Howland's defense is taxing.

A key for any UCLA big man is to be able to stop a guard from using a screen at the top of the key to either shoot a 3-pointer, or drive to the basket.

Howland acknowledged every freshman struggles with learning how to hedge on the screen, and Morgan is no different.

"It's a little different than high school," Morgan said in wryly understating things. "I'm just trying to make adjustments. If you can't hedge, you can't play. The key is to focus on trying to beat the screener to the screen, or you won't make it there in time to hedge.

"The hedging part isn't the hard part because all you have to do is stop the point guard from turning the corner and allow our point guard to get back into the play. The hard part is getting up there before he gets there."

The 6-foot-10 Morgan came to UCLA with the reputation of being a rebounder and shot blocker, but an unpolished scorer. He averaged 13.5 points per game at Dallas South Oak Cliff High, but impressed Howland in UCLA's first three practices. "I thought (Morgan) did a good job scoring," Howland said. "He scored a little better than I thought he would. He has good hands, he's long. His whole thing is going to be conditioning."

While JMM and rest of the Fab-5 are working on conditioning, AA2 is working hard to polish his defensive skills as CBH has made it clear he can’t have the future President of Cameroon getting into constant foul troubles:

Howland said at UCLA's media day Wednesday that because he needed senior center Aboya to play 25 minutes per game and because Aboya had a tendency to be in foul trouble, that any time Aboya committed a bad practice foul the team would run laps.

Collison said that in the last three days, the team hasn't had to run any punishment laps.

"Alfred's been real conscious of his fouls," Collison said. "He understands we need to have him on the court."

Collison said Aboya has shown a more confident offensive game.

"He's shooting the ball really well," Collison said. "Alfred knows that how well he plays, that's going to be the No. 1 thing in how far we go."

Well, this is where we have to hold back our excitement a bit. Call me skeptical but I am not going to get all that excited about reports of AA2 “shooting … well.” Remember we also heard a lot about LRMAM improving his outside shots last two seasons. For UCLA to be successful this year we need AA2 to stay in games so that he can contribute with his ferocious defense, rebounding, and picking up garbage points when he has the opportunity. AA2 is not going to help the team by taking jumpers and I am sure Howland will let him know that. I know I am being a little too harsh here, but the bottom line is we need AA2 for his defense and rebounding, and I am sure our coaches and he himself will be the first ones to agree wrt to his invaluable role in our team.

Moving on, some good news on the health front:

Junior Nikola Dragovic, the 6-9 shooter from Serbia, has no foot damage after undergoing "every test known to man," Howland said, and he should be back on the floor soon. Dragovic has had a cyst in his left foot aspirated, and there may be a stretched ligament, but nothing more serious.

Another junior perimeter shooter, 6-5 Michael Roll, who was awarded a medical redshirt season last year after rupturing the plantar fascia in his left foot, is back and "playing well and practicing well," Howland said.

Finally, there's freshman Jerime Anderson, who played little in the offseason to give a lingering groin injury time to heal. He's been able to go an hour a day the first two practices and an hour and 20 minutes Sunday.

"He looks really good," Howland said, the same evaluation he had for his two McDonald's All-American guards, Jrue Holiday and Malcolm Lee (Riverside North High).

That was from’s practice report which included the following notes (via CBH) on DC and JS:

He said Collison "has put on 10 pounds, five ounces of pure muscle," a figure that the new high-tech strength and conditioning machines are able to measure.

"He's faster, quicker, bigger, stronger, better in every way," Howland said. "It's all muscle."

Wingman Josh Shipp is down to 205 pounds from the 223 he played at last season.

Can’t wait to see these guys … in just about 14 days.