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Ben Ball Roundup: Preseason/Practice News & Notes

We now have less than 5 days to go till the tip off for the 2008-09 Ben Ball season. The Pac-10 is having its “Media Day” today. As rye noted Bruins were picked as near unanimous number 1 team in the conference. Apparently Tim Floyd finally caught up with reality:

"They're the measuring stick,'' he said. "I think it's great when UCLA is great. We need for UCLA to be great and they're going to be great again.''

Floyd is few years late. Whatever.

Speaking of polls, the ESPN/USA Today poll was released today in which our Bruins checked in at number 4. I actually think that ranking might be a bit high given all the questions we have to address heading into this pre-season.

Anyway, yesterday Coach Howland held his only open practice for this pre-season and we have some juicy tidbits out of that in today’s paper. Dan Webber from the Press Enterprise saw our Ben Ball warriors doing some running and gunning during practice:

[Y]es, they will run the floor, Coach Ben Howland said after his Bruins' annual open practice for fans and media Wednesday.

"If we can rebound it," Howland added after watching holdovers Darren Collison and Josh Shipp join freshman Jrue Holiday and run and gun -- if that can ever be said about a Howland-coached team -- their way through the five-on-five sessions.

Not surprisingly JH is playing a role in pushing the tempo:

The 6-foot-3 Holiday, the leaper with the long shot in the mold of O. J. Mayo, will score "every place," Howland said .

To be more specific, he'll do it on "jumpers, drives, short shots, second shots and in transition," Howland said of the 180-pounder Holiday, who said his favorite spot was the midrange stuff, "10 to 15 feet out."

Yet as CBH said above, we are going to see a faster tempo only if our guys are rebounding. It looks like JK is listening to his coach. He has solidified a starting spot at the 4 thanks to his rebounding so far during practice:

Keefe earned Howland's praise as one of the two strongest rebounders so far in practice, along with Aboya.

The junior said that was his plan all summer.

After starting last season weighing 238 pounds and planning to sit out as a redshirt to recover from shoulder surgery, Keefe was pulled into action in January because of other injuries and started UCLA's first NCAA tournament game in March against Mississippi Valley State. He was down to 224 pounds at the end of the season and said he knew what his summer agenda was.

"Gaining weight," said Keefe, who weighs 235 now. "Getting stronger, being able to take getting fouled in the paint, and I think it's paying off. The first two weeks of practice I've felt my new body that I built up all summer has been working for me."

In addition to JK, the other bigs (according to the PE report linked above) have looked good during practices so far:

[T]he two freshman big men, 6-10, 255-pound J'mison Morgan and 6-8 Drew Gordon, seemed to interchange relatively smoothly with the two experienced inside players.

Alfred Aboya, a 6-9 senior starter, is working on finesse and quickness while toning down his foul-prone power game as he appears to have gotten leaner and quicker.

Based on LAT's report the starting five is currently set with DC, JH, JS, JK and AA2. Yet I think from what I am hearing from folks who attended that session last night both JMM and DG will push AA2 very hard during practices. Per Diane Howland was pleased with JMM's "steady hands" which made him "a good passer and confident rebounder."

It sounds like ND is still nursing his injury but will be back in action soon. ML sat out with a minor injury (groin) but he should be all right. MR looked good yesterday according to few folks who attended practice yesterday as well. What is encouraging about this pre-season is Howland can finally have legit 5 on 5 practices after having to deal with extensive injury and depth issues last two seasons. We still need ND and other freshmen to get fully healthy but it sure sounds like Howland is conducting some intense practice sessions taking full advantage of the depth he finally has in our program.

Hopefully I will be able to post more notes from Pac-10 Media day early tomorrow am. If you can’t wait till dawn tomorrow and want to beat me to it, go for it by sharing your notes etc here in the comment section or via FanPosts/FanShots. You know the drill. Just 4 more days to go.