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Ben Ball News & Notes

Last week Rye posted the tentative Ben Ball schedule for 2008-09 season which listed UCLA's participation in the Coaches v. Cancer tournament. Rye mentioned that Duke and Michigan will most likely join UCLA in that tournament. Jeff Eisenberg from the Press Enterprise posted more information on the topic:

For those curious who UCLA might be playing in the 16-team Coaches vs. Cancer tournament next season, my understanding is the other three host schools will be Michigan, Duke and Southern Illinois.
Each of those schools will host first- and second-round games on Nov. 12 and 13. If all four host schools advance, the Nov. 20 semifinal matchups at Madison Square Garden would be UCLA-Michigan and Duke-Southern Illinois.
I don't know what schools will be in UCLA's pod yet, but tournament organizers have done everything in their power to create a UCLA-Duke final, so I wouldn't expect any riveting additions to the home schedule. Tournament officials reportedly went so far as to replace Pittsburgh with Southern Illinois because they were worried the Panthers could beat Duke and ruin their dream final.

Hmmm. I wouldn't be so sure about a UCLA-Duke final with Michigan in our bracket. Howland's UCLA team has always had trouble with Beilein's 1-3-1 trap zone. Remember Beilein beat Howland for two straight years with the Mountaineers. And also last year Beilein's young Michigan team featuring two sophs and two freshmen gave our guys a hard time in Ann Arbor. So this year with the freshmen in mix for Howland, this could be a very competitive match in which the Wolverines are going to try to send a message to rest of the nation. So our guys better not get complacent thinking that the Wolverines are going to just roll over to set up a Bruins-Devils grand finale at MSG.

Meanwhile, one of the freshmen who will be in the mix next season - Malcolm Lee - has been on a mission to make USA's U-18 team this summer. He was recently name as one of the 14 finalists as the team will cut down the roster to final 12 on Tuesday. Guess what Malcom has been focusing on to make the team (emphasis added):

"In travel ball, I was a shoot first, pass second player. Here I have to remind myself to pass first and shoot second, and I'm comfortable with that. Whatever it takes to make this team and then, hopefully, win a gold medal."

Described by many as quick and lanky, defense wasn't a priority for Lee until recently. His change in attitude can be attributed to his future coach at UCLA, Ben Howland.

"When coach Howland was recruiting me, he recognized that defense was one of my weaknesses, and he pointed that out. After he told me that, I started to play really aggressive on defense to get stops and control the pace of the other point guards. I just really concentrated on my defense because UCLA is a defense first University.

"Mostly it was a change in my mindset. Defense is about intensity and aggressiveness, but you have to play disciplined. If you are too aggressive, you'll get burned or in foul trouble. Defense comes with lower body strength, so I started to work out harder off the court. I did squats and worked on my quickness, so that I can be quicker than my opponent."

With UCLA looming in his future, Lee said his focus is on the present.

"It would mean a lot to me to represent our country and wear USA across my chest. To go to Argentina and play against teams from other countries would be a real honor, and I know it would make me a better basketball player for the future."

Malcom will have the entire BN cheering him on. And that cheering section will include this familiar name who recently published this optimistic writeup in the Canyon News on the future of our Ben Ball warriors:

When someone hears the name UCLA, one of the first things that comes to mind is UCLA basketball. Some may reminisce about the legendary John Wooden and the 10 national championships he won while he was there. Some may think about the tall, skinny frame of a young man named Lew Alcindor towering over his opponents  in the middle of key or the dominance of UCLA basketball in the early ‘90s. Or if you had been around UCLA basketball the last few years, you might reminisce about the three straight final four appearances and three consecutive Pac-10 conference titles.  

Three Bruins who helped spearhead these memories have now taken their act to the grand stage of the NBA. On June 26, UCLA's Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute were taken in the NBA draft. Russell and Love were right after each other, 4th and 5th, in the first round, while Mbah a Moute was taken as the 37th pick in the second round. Westbrook, who attracted scouts with his raw athleticism and suffocating defense, was picked up by the Seattle Supersonics to form a solid duo with former number one draft pick Kevin Durant. Love was selected by the Memphis Grizzlies, but then in a surprising move was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for O.J Mayo who was from cross-town rival USC and Mbah a Moute was picked up by the Milwaukee Bucks.

Even though the UCLA basketball team is losing three very key players in their program, they plan to continue their success next season.

"Ben Howland and UCLA are a great combination," said Guerrero in a UCLA press release. "Ben is at the top of his profession and is deserving of this commitment by the University. He has returned UCLA to the nation's elite, as illustrated by three straight Finals Fours and three consecutive 30-win seasons. He is an outstanding recruiter, and the foundation Ben has built for our program promises to keep us at the forefront for the foreseeable future."

That foreseeable future looks very bright, with Howland bringing in the nation’s top recruiting class which includes guards Malcom Lee, Jru Holiday, and Jerime Anderson; forward Drew Gordan; and recently signed center J'Mison Morgan. With the return of Dareen Collison and Josh Shipp next season to go along with their great freshman class, the Bruins look to make another run at the NCAA title in 2009.

Not bad Tobi. Read rest of Tobi's effort here.