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An Optimistic Look at UCLA Basketball

Between the cleansing threads and what has happened to our football team, I want to turn the page and do the opposite.  I wanted an optimistic thread on basketball before the season starts.  In that regard, I want to review our starting 6 (one TBD) optimistically but realistically.

Let me go through each one with their role on the team.

The Star

Tyler Honeycutt (TH).  Nicknamed the "tool box" by Don MacLean and with good reason.  Tyler Honeycutt did it all in any given game last season.  He led the team in points in a shorthanded win over OSU with 18.  While playing POWER FORWARD, he led us in assists with 8 in a win against Stanford and 9 in a in narrow loss to Oregon, in both cases more than the rest of the starters combined.  The assists were also team season highs.  (How many times does a power forward do that?!) He was the leading rebounder.  He had the team season high of 5 blocks in a game.  All that in a year when he missed the early games with an injury and was limited in practice. 

I could go on but let me just quote from a recent story on TH:

The Bruins got a glimpse of the kind of all-around game Honeycutt is capable of late last season. He led all Pacific 10 Conference freshmen with four double-doubles, all coming over the final 11 games.

Honeycutt acknowledged that he would like "to have played a bigger role offensively, but we had a lot of older guys and I had to do what it takes for us to win and I was fine with that. As one of the older guys and leaders now, I will have to take a bigger role."

Coach Ben Howland called Honeycutt one of the Bruins' best players and said he had improved his shooting since his freshman year, when he made 49.6% of his field goals and 34.5% of his three-point attempts.

"I think he's going to be a much better perimeter player than a year ago because of the time he's put into it," Howland said. "I expect him to have a really, really solid year."

I hope that this version of Ben Ball will have TH as its star.  Whatever the team needs, points, rebounds, defense, assists, I hope TH will step up and do it. 

Realism:  TH needs to stay out of foul trouble and improve his FT%.  If he can do those, watch out. 

The Captain

When you think of the ultimate Ben Ball Warrior you think AA.   The only thing AA ever did wrong at UCLA was leave early.  The best player in the Ben Ball era when he is done with his pro career may may just be Russell Westbrook.  And why we focus on the great success at Point Guard, let's not forget the outstanding 2 guards that we have had at UCLA under CBH  as exemplified by AA and RW.  Lets hope Malcolm Lee will be next.

Okay, I know some of you think this is hearsay or that I must have said unrealistic not optimistic.  In my defense, I will say ML is the best defender on this team and shut down various players on the opposing team last year when he played them in M2M.  Moreover, in the zone he was a key up top.  He made our zone defense, for what it was worth, work.  He may not be AA or RW but he is dam good and in the same mold on the defensive side. 

Also, the few times he played his natural position of 2, he showed he could score.  ML's 29 points in a game against ND where more than AA or RW ever scored in a game at UCLA.   

But most important to me about ML is his heart.  I know there is another cynical side to say the kid was foolish to make the "caged pit bull" comment last season but don't forget ML unlike AA or RW did not go pro or declare himself for the draft after his sophomore season as RW and AA did.  ML also never complained when he had to play most of last season out of position at PG.

Remember I am being optimistic but let me close with what CBH said in naming him captain:

Malcolm Lee is our Captain and his leadership has been tremendous thus far. Nobody on our team works harder. Leadership by example!

 The Scorer

A scorer is not necessarily your team leader.  He is a guy you can rely on night in and night out to put points on the board.  He does not have to lead the team in points but he does have to be able to consistently score.  He has to draw fouls and go to the line.  He has to find a way to score no matter what happens.  For this team that player is going to be Reeves Nelson.    Last year RN scored 8 or more points in every PAC 10 game he played but the two, games in which he was injured.  He lead the team in FT attempts despite being sixth in minutes.  RN will get his points for UCLA next year especially in light of his returning to his natural 4 position and his work on his shot this summer.  How much work? 

Try 25,000 to 30,000 shots.

Reeves will score points next year.

The Guaranteed Success

One guy is a guaranteed success this year and he has never played a college basketball game.  He will be a success because of who he is not and because of the attitude he has already.  How can I say that? Joshua  Smith does not have to be the star (TH), the leader (ML), or even a scorer (RN), he just has to be humble and smart.  He doesn't even need to be a great rebounder with TH and RN around. 

He has to not take dumb shots.  He has to play D.  In other words, not be Drago the guy he is replacing.  Others comment all the time about losing Drago is addition by subtraction.  It is more than that.  It is attitude and work ethic that are also important.  And guess what, Smith has shown he is both humble  and willing to work .

Joshua Smith is already looking like a success.  Whatever else he can contribute is the only kind of gravy Smith is going to have this year.

The Great Intangible

Who is the first person you think of when you think of the  three final four teams?  Farmer at the Gonzaga game.  AA's leadership, KL's stardom.  Well there was only one player who started on all three of those teams.  LRMAM did all the little things right and made a difference when it counted.   Without him it is doubtful UCLA would have gotten that far those three years.  You can't quantify his role for those teams in stats.

Which brings us to the one part of the team that will not likely show up in the stats but may well determine how good a team we are.  The PG position.   

Will it be Lazeric Jones, the kid who loves talking about defense?  Is Zeke another diamond in the rough PG discovered by CBH?  How much more CBH can you get then someone who talks about his "off ball defense." 

Will it be a repentant JA who statistically looks solid and sounds more dedicated?  On the former, JA had a better Assist to Turnover ratio last year than JF had for either of his UCLA seasons or than last year's league MVP, regular season champion CAL PG Jerome Randle.  He is also the leading returning three point shooter.      

The reality is statistics or quotes won't tell the story here.  This is the scary part of the season in even an optimistic post.  But then again, no one, has coached more current NBA PGs than CBH.  He does not need one of these guys to be the next one, just a guy good enough to do the intangibles. 

Go Bruins!