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Ben Ball Roundup: Getting Amped For Next Season (With Or Without Holiday)

Let's start the roundup with two key dates for those who want to be on an obsessive JH watch in the coming weeks/months:

April 26: Deadline for JH and other underclassmen around the country to declare eligibility for the summer's NBA Draft.

June 15: Deadline for JH and other other underclassmen to pull out of the NBA draft (provided that an agent has not been hired by the player). If an agent is hired, game is over.

In other words we have a long way to go before we know what will take place. No one right now has absolutely any clue what JH is going to do. I would think it would be extremely foolish to predict JH's final decision and I don't think it matters whether we write one sentence or a PhD thesis on what should be doing. This decision will belong to JH and his family while they will get counsel from Coach Howland:

"I will tell his parents and Jrue what I think, but ultimately it comes down to his decision and their decision," Howland said. "They've got to be able to weigh the different factors in where he would be if he came out now versus where he wants to be or where he'd be a year from now."

Holiday said of his impending decision: "I kind of expected to go a little bit further than this [in the tournament], so there really is no timetable."

Well actually there is a timetable based upon the dates referenced above.

Now if JH decides to come back (and I am going to stay with the mindset that it is extremely unlikely) Howland will use him at both the 1 and 2 spot next season:

"He'll play both," Howland said. "He and Jerime (Anderson) will definitely have to play together, major minutes, and I don't think they have a problem with that. I think it was difficult for (Holiday) this year, not playing some minutes at the point, because where he's best is with the ball." [...]

"They're very, very unselfish and make plays for other people, and are really pass-first point guards," Howland said. "They can definitely play together. They did it in AAU ball."

Whether or not JH is comes back, Coach Howland along with rest of us is looking forward to next season. With 5 new freshmen coming in and at least 4 returning sophomores, Coach Howland will have one of his youngest team in years to work with in Westwood. He knows it is going to be a huge challenge but he is also looking forward to the fun (emphasis added througout):

UCLA also will have five freshmen and either four or five sophomores - depending on Holiday's decision - trying to mesh with seniors James Keefe, Nikola Dragovic and Michael Roll.

"In some ways, it'll be fun," Howland said. "These guys are going to be very young. They'll play a big role, but our three seniors, I expect to all be important, too, to next year's success.

"Whenever you have a lot of young guys, you probably have a lot of exuberance. It's fun when you see guys grow."

One of the guys Howland is fired up about?:

With or without Holiday, freshmen Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson -- the backup point guard this season -- will play major roles in the backcourt. Howland is particularly enthusiastic about Lee, the most athletic player on the roster. The coach says Lee could become another Russell Westbrook.

Part of the appeal is his work ethic.

"We want to get to the summertime and work on all our stuff because we're amped for next season," Lee said. "It's going to start with the little stuff, being dedicated and passionate."

I don't think I need to add any more to our fanfare re. ML. I have already said enough about this kid. However, what Howland is looking for ML and all of other freshmen who are coming back next season is to hit the weightroom hard this offseason:

Howland is hoping the players don't just mature mentally, but physically as well. He wants each of them to hit the weights hard enough that they're not as easily pushed around as they were Saturday against an experienced Big East team, Villanova.

In order for this team to return to Howland's staples – rebounding and defense – it will need to pack on muscle.

Lee already has gained 20 pounds since he arrived, but Howland wants him to add to his 190 pounds. He also wants Anderson and Holiday to get stronger and for Morgan to improve his lower-body strength.

Howland was disappointed in how this year's team defended and rebounded most of the year. Villanova exposed those flaws.

"That department will be a big part of how we end up doing," Howland said.

Howland could only compare next season's challenge to 2004-05, when an injury to Cedric Bozeman forced him to start three freshmen.

The comparsion to 2004-05 season makes perfect sense. It also means if anyone has any kind of ridiculous expectation re. this team winning the Pac-10 championship next year, they will have to check that out of the door now. More from the LA Times:

UCLA also has a highly rated incoming class that includes Tyler Honeycutt and Brendan Lane. But if this season proved anything, the program cannot count on freshmen grasping the system quickly.

"We try to get them organized as best we can," Howland said of the newcomers. "But we can't work with them," the coach added, which suggests the Bruins are a work in progress, who might not make another run at the top 10 and Final Four until 2010-11 at the earliest. In the meantime, the onus is on a group of players who walked away from this NCAA tournament humbled.

"Losing like that, everybody's going to be very hungry for next year," Gordon said. "Off-season workouts are going to begin very quickly."

Next year will be all about just going back to basics of Ben Ball: reestablishing the foundation built on defense and rebounding.

If the new nucleus of sophomores and incoming freshmen get ingrained in that Howland philsophy and completely buy in like AA and JF, we will get back to where we belong. It is going to be fun to watch Howland coach these guys up just like he did when AA, JF and that first freshman class came into Howlandwood.