After losing two sophomores and a freshman to the first round of the NBA draft, having an incoming recruit declared ineligible for 2014-15 (who knows if Jonah Bolden will ever suit up for UCLA), not getting a graduate transfer accepted to a program (Jon Octeus has no impact on 2015-16), Norman Powell graduating after this season, and two likely starters possibly entering the next draft (Kevon Looney and Isaac Hamilton), 2015 recruiting - understatement of the year alert - is crucial.
I already thought 2014-15 was a lost season, but at least, I thought, the style of play was going to change to emphasize defense and rebounding - any other fans of the Pat Riley Knicks out there? Then came the Octeus and Bolden news.
The student fans will be getting a seating upgrade at Pauley, ICYMI (btw, if you got the phone call from the Athletic Department yesterday, then you know how desperate they are to sell seats), but the product on the floor seems to be going downhill. We won't let Alford off the hook for 2014-15, but is there hope for 2015-16?
Three weeks ago, I laid out the recruiting board. Guards Aaron Holiday and Prince Ali are already committed. Here's what's left:
- Stephen Zimmerman -- official visit 10/24.
- Carlton Bragg -- official visit 10/31.
- Jaylen Brown -- official visit on 11/15.
- Brandon Ingram -- in-home visit 9/12, no official visits announced. Heavy lean towards the in-state North Carolina schools.
Besides these four, Caleb Swanigan, Ivan Rabb and Brandon Sampson are still talking about UCLA, but they seem to be only remote possibilities because they are heavy leans elsewhere (Rabb is unclear - just not UCLA). Kevon Looney was thought to be a major surprise for 2014 (0% UCLA in the 247 Crystal Ball), but he was the only recruit at the open practice (what passes for our midnight madness) last October and he looked cozy with the staff and players - so I thought there was a shot.
Except for Sampson, every one of these recruits has an official visit scheduled or planned to Kentucky. Most have Kansas and Arizona as well. How do you like our odds?
Jaylen Brown is a transcendent talent. Alone, he makes the class. He actually has his own blog on USA Today! Education ranks high in his decision making - that's good for UCLA. However, he's a sure-fire one-and-done, and in this article, he seems intrigued by the Emmanuel Mudiay's decision to play in China next year (some would say the NCAA was about to rule him ineligible to play for SMU) - he's rumored to make $1.2 Million plus an endorsement deal from Under Armor.
The other curious item is Brown's visit date - which he may change. November 15 is as late as I've ever heard. The early period for signing an NLI is November 12 - 19. What do you make of someone who schedules his last official visit with UCLA, during the signing period and was thought to be a UCLA-lean until his mother dialed him back in hopes that he would stay in Georgia?
The tea leaves seem favorable, but as Zagsblog points out, there is a trend for elite recruits to sign late this year, including announced intentions from Brown, Zimmerman, Bragg and Swanigan. Just a couple of weeks ago, I said that only one or two players can get away with this each year. I had to scratch my head. What changed? Well, I couldn't see the forest for the trees until Zagsblog pointed out that the NLI is really only in the school's interest - it binds the athlete, not the school. We have our own high profile case of an athlete getting screwed by the system -- Isaac Hamilton. How many times did I point out that his brother Daniel Hamilton signed a Grant-in-Aid, not an NLI, with Connecticut, which kept hope alive that DHam would be a Bruin in 2014 (huge miss for Alford in light of the defections and other losses). So why commit early unless you believe you will lose your spot?
Here's the other news:
- Cal is adopting a stricter academic standard for incoming athletes starting with the 2015-16 school year. New basketball Cuonzo Martin, who came from the Tennessee job, probably won't like this, but kudos to Cal. I've talked about the problems in college hoops before, and recently I commented that I see a world in which football and basketball players will be paid more, and schools will either opt-in or opt-out. Thinking about it a little more, basketball by itself would be headed for major changes faster. It's a sport with a handul of elite athletes who can play with adults at the age of eighteen (see Emmanuel Mudiay above), and get paid by foreign teams, advertisers or, in the future, the NBA Development League. This will never be true for football, and it will be very difficult to de-couple basketball from football in the power conferences, but one can hope (see Big East).
- Wooden and Calipari mentioned in the same sentence? Apparently, Wooden once told Calipari he should play fewer guys. This is the second post from SB Nation's Kentucky site regarding Calipari's new platoon system. He's got too many stars this year!
- Get ready for an avalanche of preseason previews and rankings.USA Today has us at #29, and here's a historically reputable ranking without UCLA in the top 25. No surprise - see the first paragraph above.