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 May Be The Best UCLA Recruit Since Kevin Love, But Questions About His Eligibility Still Linger (Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)
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.
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