In our series of UCLA teams that divide All Star teams by coaches, the Steve Lavin era is harder to write about. For the simple reason that his best teams weren’t really his. His only Pac-10 title and Elite 8 finish came with a team led by the veterans of Harrick’s 1994-95 Championship team. Four out of the five starters on that team played for the national championship team. On the other hand, while Lavin was clueless as an X and O basketball coach, he did recruit some very talented players over the years. But even when he did that, how did they do at UCLA?
Matt Barnes went on to have an extremely long and successful NBA career but, at UCLA under Lavin, he was just a marginal starter. Who started in front of Barnes for part of that time? Walk on Sean Farnham, Lavin’s “good luck charm.” Barnes is an example of a talented guy that was not allowed to shine because of clueless Lavin’s use of guys like Farnham and Rico Hines. The latter shot 27% from the field the year he started. Thus, this list is the result of what they actually did for UCLA during the Lavin Era not what they could, or should, have done.
Three players stick out as could have made the team. Dan Gadzuric showed flashes of greatness and finished in the top 10 in blocks all four years at UCLA. He shot for a high percentage and was a good rebounder who averaged 12 rebounds a game in his final of three consecutive sweet 16 runs. Barnes also just misses the team as he showed he was truly a jack of all trades, finishing in the top 10 in steals, rebounds, and assists during his junior and/or senior seasons. The last is Toby Bailey. Toby will always be famous as a freshman on the championship team under Jim Harrick. His Lavin years were good, including leading UCLA in assists but not quite good enough as he was never the best player on a team.
The Bench Player - Cameron Dollar
Point Guard Lonzo Ball was unique in that he would rather pass then score. Point Guard Cameron Dollar was unique in that he would rather play defense. Cameron was a tenacious defender and a good point guard. Although he only played one year for Lavin, he led the rookie “coach” Lavin to the Elite 8 and was part of the “All Region Team.” In the win against Iowa State that took UCLA to the Elite 8, Dollar had one of his best offensive games of his career leading UCLA with 20 points. Cynics can argue that Cameron was the coach that helped UCLA to its best finish under Lavin.
The Just Missed: Earl Watson
I was all over ranking Early Watson. Before looking at the stats and reviewing the season, I had Watson ranked as high as second. I also cut Watson from the team because he was arguably never the best player on any team. That said, UCLA made three consecutive Dinal Fours with Watson starting and that may not have happen without him. His senior year was his best and showed the frustration of Lavin. The team finished sixth in the Pac-10, but still made the Sweet 16. Watson ranked second in assists and steals that season to go with eight in field goal percentage and tenth in points. The graduation of Watson was a reason UCLA missed the tournament the next season and chronic underachiever Lavin was finally fired.
The All-Lavin All-Star Team
5. The Ultimate Lavin Player
Jelani McCoy is all over the UCLA record books in strange ways. He is still the Pac-12 all-time leader in shooting percentage at 69%. In 1995, he had the elusive triple-double game with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 11 blocks. He was the starting center for that Elite 8 team. The problem with Jelani was that his freshman season was his best. He averaged 3.3 blocks a game that year and his career high 7.8 rebounds. He later shot 76% (first in the NCAA), but then only played part of his junior year after being suspended. He ranks this high based on that first season and may be an example of the negative coaching of Lavin as he got worse every year.
4. What Could Have Been?
A fascinating tale of Baron Davis in his own words of “What Could Have Been.” Stats don’t tell the whole story of Baron. Pre-knee injury, he was a Russell Westbrook-level athlete, but, post-injury, he was “just” one of the best players of the Lavin era. As a freshman, he shot 53% from the field. For his career, he averaged 2.5 steals and led the Pac-12 in steals per game. He was not a good three-point shooter, but he was from an era where that was of secondary importance and was ranked second in effective field goal percentage his second season and 24th all-time in 2 point percentage (the second highest rank of a point guard).
3. The Pure Shooter
Jason Kapono was arguably UCLA’s first “pure” three-point shooter and led UCLA in scoring for three seasons. Yes, Reggie Miller was one of the all-time greatest three-point shooters, but Reggie was a scorer who would fight through screens to get open and, with his less than perfect technique, seemingly willed shots to go in. Kapono’s stroke was perfection. In an era when most shots were from two, Kapono took most of his shots from three and still led UCLA in scoring. In 1999-00, Kapono led the Pac-10 in offensive win shares and true shooting percentage. He is second all-time in three-point percentage in Pac-12 history. He also led the Pac-10 in free throw percentage and was a decent rebounder who could play forward or guard. He is often underrated and overlooked, but one of the greatest pure shooters in UCLA’s glorious history.
2. The Original Kyle Anderson
J.R. Henderson (now Sakuragi) was a jack of all trades. A good ball handler for his size, he was probably most comfortable playing three, but his senior season he was starting at center when Jelani McCoy was suspended. A career 55% shooter, JR did everything well if nothing great, but he was a clutch player. He played all 45 minutes in UCLA’s win over Iowa State that helped UCLA get to the Elite 8. In 7 NCAA tournament games under Lavin, he scored over 20 points 3 times. A fun and versatile player to watch and one of those that stats don’t tell the whole story. He also was the leading scorer and rebounder his senior season under Lavin.
1. The brother was not bad either
Charles O’Bannon only played one year under Steve Lavin, but what year it was. He shot 55% from the fiend and led UCLA with 17.7 points game. He was in the top 10 in the Pac-10 in field goal percentage (#2), free throw percentage (#6), rebounds (#6), points (#4), and offense win shares (#2). In the tourney, he stepped up even more. Averaging 20 points per game, he shot 65% for the tournament. He was the best player of Lavin’s best team.
I admit that I broke my own rules on this list by discussing Lavin as a coach. Please try to be better than me in the comments. The fog of time passed definitely effected me on this list. Looking at the talent of some of these teams those makes me shake my head.
This is the third of a summer series on UCLA Basketball “All Star” teams divided by coaches. The format will be five “best” players, one near miss and one bench player. Also, no preference is given to those who stay longer or those who leave early. Instead, I will rely more on best seasons as Bruins. Pro careers are irrelevant for these posts. Obviously, these are only my opinions and please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments. This series will focus solely on the performance of the players and not on the coaches themselves.