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UCLA Hoops Roundup: Malcolm Lee Fallout & 2011-12 Expectations

Despite loss of Malcolm Lee, UCLA still has enough talent to win the Pac-10 title in 2011-12.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Despite loss of Malcolm Lee, UCLA still has enough talent to win the Pac-10 title in 2011-12. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Malcolm Lee's departure was not a surprise to us. We knew it was coming. We had heard the chatter both on and offline from reputable sources who follow the world of UCLA basketball closely. Lee's folks did not do a great job keeping this a secret when they foreshadowed his ultimate decision through their own goodbye notes in the press.

Now lot of folks here misinterpreted Ryan's post as if we were upset with Lee for his decision to get out of UCLA. That is not true. We all like Lee and appreciate the effort he gave us every game unlike few of his other team-mates, while wearing the Bruin uniform. The problem is not with Lee. The problem is ... here is AllHailMightyBruins:

The problem isn't each of CBH's early entrants in a vacuum. The problem is the trend. CBH is consistently losing players who are mid first round to second round picks. Yes, other programs lose players early, but there is a difference between losing lottery picks and consistently losing mid to late first round picks (and especially second round picks). It would be nice for someone other than DC to announce that he loves UCLA and wants to come back to win for Westwood.

This is a serious issue and it is something we are going to keep discussing until we see either trend being reversed or sure signs of Howland returning UCLA to elite status in the world of college basketball.

Lee's decision looks worse now that not so surprising reports are out that 2011 summer league workouts reportedly will be canceled because of looming NBA lockout. It is not clear if Malcolm and his inner circle considered the consequences of being a second round pick in a LO year yet. As Howland laid out right after season, there will be no summer league ball, severely hampering his chances to make a team. There will also probably will not any guaranteed contract after the end of LO.

Lee was a crucial stage of his career. If he had gotten smart advice he would have come back for a Pac-12 contending team and could position himself for a possible first round pick. His body of work is less than impressive, except for one good defensive season. He doesn't have an outside shot. He is frail and injury prone.  If he felt happy at UCLA beyond "press release speak" it would have been no brainer for him to come back and improve on the development he finally showed this past season. Instead, he fled the program in a desperate manner.  Sorry we just see no spinning around this.

As noted in the "update" to Ryan's post Howland despite being gracious (which he deserves a lot of praise for) couldn't hide his disappointment and sadness at Lee's decision:

"In my opinion, I thought that would've been in his best interest. I shared that with both Malcolm and his family, and they appreciated me saying that. I'm saying what's best for him. Obviously it's what's best for UCLA basketball. But I honestly in my heart really believed, with all the factors, I thought that was in his best interest. But that's why as a coach you are able to give them, in my situation here, my view."

Good on Howland for not using the Lee news lower expectations (despite the effort of beat reporters like Jon Gold). More on this on the other side.

Here is what Howland articulated about his vision for next season:

"I'm very, very optimistic and excited about our team next year. We've been working out players individually now starting yesterday. I'm very excited. We're going to be very young. Zeek is able to shoot but not able to dribble with left hand. Jerime and Tyler Lamb really had great workouts today. We're going to have a very formidable front line.

That is good to hear.  Howland also mentioned the possibility of Dave Wear playing at the SF spot. That sounds interesting and I will have to see that happen with my own eyes before buying it. Blair Angulo bought it though and came up with the following projected lineup:

G - Lazeric Jones (Sr.), Jerime Anderson (Sr.)
G - Lamb (So.), Powell (Fr.)
F - David Wear (So.)
F - Reeves Nelson (Jr.), Travis Wear (So.), Brendan Lane (Jr.)
C - Joshua Smith (So.), Anthony Stover (So.)

I like Oswego's analysis better:

Talent lineup:
1- Jones (Anderson, Parker)
2- Lamb (Anderson, Parker, Powell)
3- Nelson (DWear/TWear, Lamb, Parker)
4- DWear/TWear (Lane, Nelson)
5- Smith (Stover)

Experience lineup:
1-Jones (Anderson, Parker)
2-Anderson (Lamb, Parker, Powell)
3-Nelson (DWear/TWear, Lamb)
4-DWear/TWear (Lane, Nelson)
5- Smith (Stover)

Personally I don't see neither Nelson nor Wear at the 3. I think Lamb at the 3 spot would be better option because he starts with the defensive mindset that makes a Howland team tick. If Norman Powell lives up to the hype, I hope he would get extended mins at both 2/3 spot, while Parker providing additional relief at the 3. The vision of Nelson chucking up 3 points from the 3 spot is not a comforting one.

All of these guys will have to put in some serious off-season work. The LA Times ran a quick report on what to expect this offseason right before the Lee news became official:

Howland has said players often make the most improvement during the off-season between their freshman and sophomore seasons. Howland said coaches would work with freshman center Joshua Smith on his jump hook, among other skills, and hoped the 6-foot-10, 324-pound center could continue to reduce his body-fat percentage.

"A big thing for him is going to be a commitment to really trying to get his body to the point where he can get it down to 12%," Howland said.

Players can work with a strength coach up to eight hours per week, and several will be taking up yoga with the same instructor who works with Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love and Clippers standout Blake Griffin.

"We've seen in the past how that's really been helpful in terms of being more flexible and being stronger," Howland said. "I know the Wear twins have been on a very good program."

We hope guys like Anderson, Nelson will continue to build on last year's improvement. We hope Jones will get healthier and stronger enabling him to become a better defender. Not much I need to add about Joshua Smith.

Either way there is still enough raw talent in this team for Howland to put together a good run. He will need to do it to stave off the increasingly solidifying perception of players not enjoying their time at UCLA, which arguably is having a negative effect on the recruiting trail.

As I write about recruiting, I should mention the fanshot from BruMase taking note of a Jeff Goodman report that Howland might be hiring Atlanta Celtics AAU coach Korey McCray as new assistant. Could this give him an inside track to recruit Kevin Ware? I doubt it because I am not sure if Howland is looking to add any one to his current roster besides Parker. He could potentially be helpful in landing other marque recruits such as Jordan Adams, a 4 star SG who plays in McCray's AAU team.

Ultimately for Howland, it will come down to whether he can put together a recruiting class anchored by Shabbazz Muhammad. Shabbazz has emerged as probably the most crucial "pied-piper recruit" since the signing of Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar.

If you want to go further back you can also use the examples of Baron Davis  and Charles O'Bannon.  Davis was the catalyst of Lavin's first two recruiting classes, while the signing of the younger O'Bannon played a huge role in putting together the class of J.R. Henderson, Toby Bailey, Kris Johnson and Omma Givens. We will see how this plays out because if Howland cannot put together an elite season next year and bring in Shabbaz, the writing will be on the wall.