UCLA Week: Howland’s Heralded NewcomersPosted by AMurawa on August 16th, 2012
Despite the struggles of last year for the Bruins, there was always a hopeful eye cast toward the future around the program as head coach Ben Howland had an incoming point guard transfer, commitments from a couple top-100 recruits (Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams) while remaining in hot pursuit of a couple more highly regarded players. When UCLA eventually landed the #2 recruit in the nation on signing day – Shabazz Muhammad – and bolstered its class later with a fourth top-100 recruit in Georgia big-man Tony Parker, the pieces were in place for Ben Howland to quickly put the failures of the 2011-12 season in the past. Below, we’ll take a look at the five newcomers to Howland’s program, in roughly the order in which they’ll impact the team this season.
Shabazz Muhammad, Freshman, Small Forward, 6’6” 225 lbs, Bishop Gorman High School, Las Vegas, NV – The second-highest rated recruit in the 2012 class, Muhammad comes to Westwood after averaging 29.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game as a senior at Bishop Gorman. He’s got an impressive list of accolades (McDonald’s All-American Game MVP, Naismith High School Player of the Year, Parade All-American, etc.), but more to the point, he’s got a game that is ready to make a major impact on the college landscape: great athleticism, constantly attacking, fearless finishing ability, solid jumper and a desire that carries over to his relentlessness on the defensive end. However, despite all that, questions still remain about his eligibility. Last spring when Muhammad’s recruitment was ongoing, the NCAA let everybody know that they were looking into the possibility that the elite wing prospect may have received improper benefits. Months later, that investigation is still happening (apparently at a snail’s pace) and it appears now that Muhammad will not be going along with UCLA on its exhibition trip to China at the end of this month. Muhammad remains hopeful that the situation will be resolved prior to the beginning of the season, but the situation is still unresolved. However, working on the assumption that eventually this business will get straightened out in time for Muhammad to play the majority of UCLA’s games, he’ll have an immediate impact for the Bruins. He’ll likely step right into the small forward spot from day one and become a go-to player for the team offensively. With his ability in the open court, his presence should encourage head coach Ben Howland to open up the offense a little more for transition opportunities, and his defensive commitment should jibe immediately with Howland’s priorities on that end of the floor.
Kyle Anderson, Freshman, Point Guard, 6’9” 235lbs, St. Anthony High School, Fairview, NJ – Anderson is not a player who is used to losing basketball games. His four-year record in high school was 119-6, with a perfect 65-0 mark in his final two years at St. Anthony. Much like Muhammad, Anderson received a boatload of honors from his high school career (McDonald’s All-American, Parade All-American, Newark Star-Ledger Player of the Year, finalist for Naismith High School Player of the Year), but unlike Muhammad, Anderson’s game is not necessarily based on mind-blowing athleticism. Instead, “Slow-Mo” plays the game at his own pace, but always seems to get where he wants to go on the floor. Throw in his unselfishness and great court vision and Anderson is a playmaker of the highest order. However, given his 6’9” frame, many question his true position on the court. Offensively, there is no doubt that he has many of the skills necessary to be classified as a true point. However, he may struggle a bit on the defensive end against smaller, quicker point guards. Nevertheless, don’t be fooled, the kid’s a point and the type of player that presents serious match-up problems. When Anderson is the primary facilitator on the floor, the Bruins will run as a seriously big team with several players who can either post up smaller opponents or step outside and knock down jumpers. Whatever questions exist about Anderson’s ability on the defensive end, his offensive ability should more than make up for it.
Larry Drew II, Senior, Point Guard, 6’2” 180lbs, North Carolina – In February 2011, Drew, having lost the starting point guard position at North Carolina to freshman Kendall Marshall, abruptly decided to leave the Tar Heel program and continue his career elsewhere. UNC fans were largely disgusted by not only Drew’s decision to leave the team in the middle of the year, but also the way in which he left. Rather than discuss the situation with head coach Roy Williams, Drew had his dad – Atlanta Hawks’ head coach Larry Drew – inform Williams of the decision. A one-time McDonald’s All-American, Drew had an uninspiring career at UNC – he’s not much of a scorer, limited defensively, prone to turnovers, incapable of creating for himself or others and, reportedly, not a particularly positive presence in the locker room. Now a year and a half later as Drew enters his final season of collegiate eligibility, he’s got a lot to prove at UCLA. The good news is that it seemed things were starting to click for him just before he transferred out of Chapel Hill. In his final three games as a Tar Heel, he racked up 18 assists against just two turnovers in 54 minutes of action as UNC went 3-0. And Howland is convinced that he’s going to be an impact player for the Bruins at the point, calling him a “very good decision maker” and comparing his quickness and speed to former UCLA great Darren Collison. Coupled with Anderson’s playmaking ability, Drew’s presence on the roster gives the team plenty of versatility, and given all that Drew has been through in his collegiate career, his experience should be a boon for a relatively young team provided he’s done some maturing over the last 18 months.
Tony Parker, Freshman, Center, 6’9” 275lbs, Miller Grove High School, Lithonia, GA – The last of the Bruin freshmen to commit, Parker, a McDonald’s All-American, could prove to be a lethal complement to junior center Joshua Smith if each player shows up in good shape this season. Like Smith, Parker’s weight and conditioning have been question marks at various points in his career, but unlike Smith, Parker has shown the ability to successfully improve his conditioning and drop body fat. On the court, the big man is a force to be reckoned with on the block. He’s got a soft touch that enables him to knock down 15-foot jumpers, but is at his best with his back to the basket. His great hands enable him to catch the ball in traffic where he is able to score with a variety of post moves, and he’s adept at dropping off passes to cutters as well. A skilled post player with a mean streak that helps him get after it on the glass or on the defensive end, Parker’s got great upside so long as he keeps his body in line.
Jordan Adams, Freshman, Shooting Guard, 6’5” 220lbs, Oak Hill Academy, Lawrenceville, GA – Howland’s first signee of the 2012 class, Adams has quickly been dwarfed by each successive commitment. Nevertheless, this is not a player who should be overlooked. As a senior captain at Oak Hill, he helped lead his team to a 44-0 record last year, averaging 19.8 points, five rebounds, six assists and three steals per game. A scorer capable of getting hot from deep or connecting off the bounce, Adams will challenge returning wings like Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell for their minutes.