David Lassen of the Ventura County Starr talked to Ben Howland about next season:
“It’s going to be the youngest team since I’ve been here,” said Howland, with the possible exception of my second year, when we started three freshmen because Ced (swingman Cedric Bozeman) got hurt.”
* * *
“I always have said that I think you see the most improvement in a college basketball player between their freshman and sophomore years, when they really see how it’s a different level, and the guys are older and stronger. I expect our freshman will take a big jump between this summer and next year. Russell (Westbrook, who blossomed dramatically as a sophomore) was the classic example of that.”
* * *
“I think they’re all going to have to contribute,” said Howland. “Just look at the numbers. We have three seniors back in (Michael) Roll, Nikola and James. No juniors, and then you have five in each class, assuming Jrue is back. If not, four and five. So there’s a large majority of players that have one year under their belt or none. “We have five new players that are freshmen coming in this year, they all think have a chance to be good players. How much they can do in their freshman year remains to be seen. It is tough.”
* * *
“When you look at the teams that are left in the tournament right now, they have a lot of things in common,” Howland said. “One, for the most part, would be field-goal defense and rebound margin. This year, we were not nearly as good a rebounding team as we’ve been in the past. What we do next year in that department will obviously be a big part of how we end up doing.”
Next season should be very interesting and also a lot of fun. Howland will have a lot of raw talent at his disposal and it will fascinating to see how he fits it together.
The first big question for next year will be settled some time this spring when Jrue Holiday either stays or goes. If you think of next year's team as being on a journey, the Holiday decision represents a major fork in the road. If Holiday stays, then he's likely paired in the back court with either Malcolm Lee or Michael Roll and Jerime Anderson comes off the bench. If Holiday does not return, one presumes Anderson starts with either Roll or Lee -- but that dominoes into the playing time for freshmen like Tyler Honeycutt and Mike Moser.
The second question as far as I'm concerned will be the play of J'Mison Morgan. Morgan came into the season out of shape and never really played this year, but recent reports are that he's committed to staying at UCLA and he says he'll work hard to improve his conditioning and his skills on the court. I feel he has a lot of potential and that a contribution from him either as a starter or as a solid reserve behind Drew Gordon is essential.
Like this year, next year's team returns three seniors. Unlike this year, the seniors on next season's team (Roll, James Keefe, Nikola Dragovic) are role players (I realize Dragovic starts) who won't play the same senior leadership position that Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya did this year. As Howland indicated, next year's team will be very young. I feel expecations for next year should be guaged accordingly.