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Could UCLA's 2012 Basketball Recruiting Class be the Best Ever?

Head coach Ben Howland of the UCLA Bruins ability to teach defense and prepare players for the NBA is a big reason why the Bruin class of 2012-13 COULD be the best ever..  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Head coach Ben Howland of the UCLA Bruins ability to teach defense and prepare players for the NBA is a big reason why the Bruin class of 2012-13 COULD be the best ever.. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
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Hyberpole alert.  Caveats: okay, the headline is over the top. Cynics may remember the last time UCLA had the top class in the nation.  Any class headed by KAJ, the greatest player in college basketball history, was probably the best class ever.  Most importantly, while Dominic Artis and Jordan Adams are a very good start, for the class to be ranked truly great, UCLA must not just lead in the recruiting of a number of the best high school players but most get these high school seniors to commit.

But with those caveats, UCLA is leading or in the running for two of the top five players in the country.   And two of them are talking openly how they want to play together:

Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson, perhaps the top two prospects in the Class of '12, are talking about playing together at UCLA.

"We're thinking about it a lot," Anderson told Five Star Basketball on Friday evening. "I mean, we're thinking about it. I don't know how far it will go, but there's definitely a possibility it could happen." . . .
"Kyle, me and him really want to play together in college," Muhammad told Five Star Basketball. "Just building a relationship with these guys, trying to build up a team for college. We need guys to go with me so our team can be a national championship contender.

"Yeah, I think (UCLA) is an option. We've been really talking about that. Pretty much he's like my best friend now, so I'm always hanging around with him. We're just talking about UCLA, what other schools he likes, what other schools I like."

Muhammad plays his cards close to the vest.  Anderson in another article (hat tip zigggzzzaz) was more definitive:

Asked if UCLA was the only potential landing spot for both players, Anderson said, "Yes."

Muhammad and Anderson?!?  Number one and number five recruits going to one place.  The consensus number one recruit and one of the most unique players in years.  It makes sense.  Both are good kids and future pros.  Where better to learn the details (number one being defense) that they need to be pros?  Both are high on Howland.  Both want to play in a major media market like LA (most recently, who could forget the hype following Kevin Love when he came to UCLA and then declared for the NBA Draft?).

But that is just scratching the surface of the news.

How about how they play?  Okay, check out this excerpt from Saturday's all star game:

Kyle Anderson (St. Anthony High in Jersey City, N.J.), who has UCLA on his short list - a very short list that includes Seton Hall, St. John's and Florida - was easily the most impressive player on the victorious squad. The 6-foot-8 Anderson finished with 18 points, eight assists and no turnovers in 20 minutes.

Shabazz Muhammad (Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas), who is also contemplating a future as a Bruin, had a game-high 25 points with nine rebounds for the Raymond Lewis group.

A couple notes. Let me speak in terms of hyperbole a bit more like I started. Shabazz is the best high school senior in years. He has a passion for basketball like Kevin Love, driven like Arron Affallo, and attacks the basket like no one else I can think of off the top of my head. Okay, what is his flaw?  Well, although all signs are UCLA is "leading" in his recruitment, Shabazz is going to take his time in deciding, likely waiting until spring.

While this is frustrating to UCLA fans, I remember what Moses Malone said recently.  He called his recruitment the best time of his life. It was the first time in his life he had been to a place bigger than Petersburg, Virginia (a suburb of Richmond).  He got to see the country and it was a great experience.  While with all-star tournaments, etc.  Shabazz has certainly seen more of the country, but if you're a basketball junkie and you don't mind the crap that goes with it, why not take a front row seat to Kentucky's midnight madness like Shabazz is doing? While I refuse to predict a high school kid's decision, Kentucky is not a major media market, which is one of Shabazz's stated desires.

On Anderson, let me just quote from Scout in an article not behind a firewall:

Closing out the top five is Kyle Anderson, who moved into the top 10. A truly unique and special prospect, Anderson, at 6-foot-8, is as skilled a prospect in the class of 2012 and possesses terrific vision and passing ability, but also has improved his mid-range game.

But and this is a big but, these are not all the players UCLA is after or in the running for.  In terms of UCLA prospects (list edited by me to reflect other reports, rankings are from Scout):

Shabazz Muhammad was No. 1 now No. 1
Kyle Anderson was No. 14 now No. 5
Tony Parker was No. 18 now No. 20
Shaq Goodwin was No. 26 now No. 25
Dominic Artis was No. 95 now No. 64
Jordan Adams was No. 90 now No. 74

First on Tony Parker.  Parker is now considering UCLA.  Parker is a true center and reportedly a good student and hard worker.  I like this recruitment over another true center Upshaw, who had a questionable work ethic.  It is hard to find anything recent publicly on Parker to quote, but here is something from a month old post from a Memphis blog:

He said tonight North Carolina, UCLA, Connecticut and Kansas have now jumped into the mix to land his services.  . . . rates Parker, who has a soft shooting touch when outside the paint and gets up and down the floor quickly for his size, a five-star prospect. As a junior last season, he led Miller Grove to its third straight Class AAAA state title, averaging 16 points and 12 rebounds.

ESPN adds:

With his combination of size and skill level, Parker is one of the elite big men in the 2012 class. He is a space eater in the post who can carve out position on the block. When watching him play you quickly see the skill he possesses;

But there is more,  Shaq Goodwin is strongly considering UCLA, in part because we will let him play two sports:

Goodwin, meantime, met with both the football and basketball staffs and he said they told him, "Definitely, I could play both."

Goodwin is a power forward dream who may be a very good tight end as well. He played for assistant UCLA coach McCray. I would say more but this is already too long. I will only add, Goodwin is on the way up.

The last two on the list have already agreed to attend UCLA and arguably address our most immediate needs. Artis is a true PG who is getting better. This was the top generic recruiting target. The other weakness of recent years is outside shooting. Jordan Adams is a true three point master.  He is ranked lower because questions on his body but he is only 16 and is already the best pure shooter UCLA has recruited since Michael Roll

UCLA basketball is looking well poised for 2012-13.  However, finishing second to someone in recruiting is the same as finishing last.  UCLA needs to seal the deal and we are talking very young kids.  UCLA does not need to bat a 1000 on the players listed above to have a great class.  Thus, hyperbole aside,  I am cautiously optimistic of a monster class in 2012-13.  

Go Bruins.