Let's continue with the story lines on the Ben Ball warriors coming out of Media Day. One thing I am already liking about this upcoming season is the absence of incessant chatter from the local (and national media) driving the narrative that UCLA basketball season is a bust if there is no Pac-10 championship or drive towards the Final-4. Don't get me wrong. I want the Bruins to win the Pac-10 title every season and make a hard charge to the Final 4 (and banner number 12 and beyond) in every post season. However, the reality - especially in today's world of one and done ballers - it is not going to happen every year and there will be times when the Bruins will be in semi-rebuilding and reloading mode.
Well this is one of those years during which observers both inside and outside the BN are not going to expect a lot out of UCLA in terms of conference championships or deep run in the Dance, but we do have a team that has the potential to develop into something fun to watch and achieve a result somewhere in between what Howland accomplished between his second and third season at UCLA (something beyond just a 1st round tourney team but not necessarily a Final-4/Pac-10 championship team). Where the Bruins end up will depend on number of factors.
We will have to find out what kind of transition JA makes as the full time floor general replacing DC (who made a fantastic transition taking over for JF). From the LA Times:
Anderson expected to be a factor last season but got boxed out by Collison's decision to remain in school one more year. As a result, he played only 8.6 minutes a game.
The sophomore is eager to make up for lost time. "I definitely know how to run a team," he said. "This year, I'm going to be allowed to do that."
From what I saw in JA last year I saw a kid who certainly has the tools to become a good floor general and get the ball to his talented team-mates. However, the question I have in mind is his defensive mindset. How good and aggressive will he be defensively and generate pressure on the opposing guard. He did struggle at times during last season. For some reason I have bad memories from the Wasington game at Pauley (even though we won that game) of moments when DC left the court. I am hopeful that JA is going to grow into his new role and get to work out the kinks during the non conference. He will get to do that against very tough competition which will include dates with the Jayhawks at Pauley and a solid Mississippi State team in the Wooden Class. JA is not the only question mark around this team though. More after the jump.I am also wondering who will emerge as the go to guy in this team in terms of when we really need a key bucket. Last year it was all about DC, JS and PAA. The year before ... well we had options such as KL, RW, LRMAM along with DC and JS. Of course we had the AA/JF core in preceding years. Who are going to be the scorers this year? JMM thinks everyone is ready to step up:
"It makes it a lot easier - we don't have to just look for 'that' guy," Morgan said, after the team serenaded legendary coach John Wooden on video, celebrating his 99th birthday. "Last year it was, 'We're in trouble, we need to go to Darren, we need to go to Jrue, we need to go to Josh.' Now I feel like we can go to anybody on the team and they can take care of business."
I love his enthusiasm but we will have to see. It will be interesting to see how ML emerges this season. Part of me still wishes he got more time last season, especially given JH's tendency to take time off on defense. I think ML has the natural ability to one of those guards who will be able to create offense with his athleticism (within the frame work of Howland's scheme) by attacking the basket and also connecting from the outside. I also like the energy he brings on defense (at least based on what I saw from last year. In addition to ML, another kid who could provide some scoring punch right off the bat is TH who is thankfully allright and was cleared to practice. From Jon Gold in the Daily News:
Honeycutt enters the season as the hottest ticket in the group (of freshmen), rated the No. 3 small forward by Scout.com, a double-double force from nearby Sylmar High. He was cleared to practice on Wednesday after re-aggravating a stress fracture in his back during the summer. "I'm going to have that mentality that I have to go in there and do whatever I can for the team," Honeycutt said. "Whether it's score the most or lock up the best player. A lot of people say there's not really a go-to-guy - I'm going to try to be that guy this year."
Honeycutt enters the season as the hottest ticket in the group (of freshmen), rated the No. 3 small forward by Scout.com, a double-double force from nearby Sylmar High. He was cleared to practice on Wednesday after re-aggravating a stress fracture in his back during the summer.
"I'm going to have that mentality that I have to go in there and do whatever I can for the team," Honeycutt said. "Whether it's score the most or lock up the best player. A lot of people say there's not really a go-to-guy - I'm going to try to be that guy this year."
The combination of TH and other highly regarded freshman - MM from Oregon - is going to be fun to watch. From what I have heard and seen (from his couple of games on television) he strikes me as a little more polished version of LRMAM when he came into college. However, I have no expectation that MM will produce the same way as LRMAM who was just an athletic FREAK in his first year at UCLA. However, if MM can bring that defensive energy and we can combine that with TH and ML's athleticism, it could be something really fun to watch.
We will also probably get long range bombs from MR and ND. However, we will reall need MR to step up in big conference games and ND to toughen up his defense (and build on his tangible improvement he demonstrated last season.
We also have quesitons at the 5 spot and who is going to fill the big shoes left behind by PAA. From the LA Times:
As the heart of last season's team, Aboya brought grit and tenacity to the middle.
"It's a very tough thing to match," Howland said. "Especially on the defensive end of the floor where he made up for other people's mistakes because he drew so many charges."
Sophomores Drew Gordon and J'mison Morgan will compete to replace him, along with senior James Keefe, who started at power forward for part of last season. Freshman Anthony Stover is in the mix.
Injuries hit Keefe (shoulder) and Gordon (knee) this summer; both are working to get back to full strength. Morgan, looking trim after an out-of-shape freshman year, still has much to prove.
Well there are lot of questions here. We will have to see what kind of shape JK and DG are in early in the season. Coaches have to be careful about how they work them in early on. We have talked anough about JMM's footwork and need to play better defense. The report in terms of how hard he worked off season to get in better shape is certainly encouraging.
AS is a definite curiosity. Have heard great things about his athletic ability but I think we can expect him to be pretty raw and unpolished early on. We will also have couple of other freshman forwards in BL and RN (who MR described as a "bull" in the LAT report linked above). I think those guys will definitely get a chance to compete early on but it will all depend on how they pick up on how to play Ben Ball D. So the whole team is going to be a collective work in progress to say the least and they are going to need every out of conference game to develop chemistry among themselve and get accustomed to Coach Howland's style and demand of playing basketball. What we do know is that Coach Howland is going to have some pure athletes to work with.
The group of freshman and sophomore he has now are collectively more athletic than the group he had when the freshman group of DC/LRMAM/PAA/MR/Ryan Wright joined up with AA/JF/LMR/JS. So that said here is the biggest question I will leave everyone with. Will the current batch of Ben Ball warriors play with the same passion, desire, determination and intensity we saw from the crew led by AA and JF in their second year in Westwood? I think the answer to that question will have a lot to do with what kind of season we have this year in Howland.