Michigan's Three "Fab" Freshman

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By Phil Fattore

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

UCLA Bruins

2011-2012 record: 19-14 (11-7 Pac-12)

Head Coach: Ben Howland:

Projected Starting Line-up:

PG: Larry Drew

SG: Shabazz Muhammad/Norman Powell

SF: Kyle Anderson / Tyler Lamb

PF: David Wear

C: Travis Wear

The 2011-2012 UCLA Bruins’ season ended during the Pac 12 tournament against Arizona, failing to make any post-season tournament. Last season was only the 7th time UCLA has not played in the NCAA tournament in the past 50 years, but Howland’s 3rd time. Out of the last 8 coaches to coach at UCLA, no other coach has had the opportunity to miss the tournament 3 times during his tenure. After the #17 UCLA Bruins lost their opening game to unranked Loyola Marymount at their home-away-from-home LA Sports Arena, Howland knew that he had a rocky season ahead of them.

"This past season has been the most challenging of my 31 years as a college basketball coach. I have endured seasons with fewer wins, but none with more disappointment.”

Howland endured another season of let downs for one of the most storied college basketball programs. UCLA has made the NCAA tournament an amazing 43 times in the past 50 years. Howland has not been as lucky, missing the tournament 3 out his 9 years as UCLA’s coach. Howland’s lack of success is a glaring mark for the program with the most NCAA championships. As the Bruins return to Pauley Pavilion, the house that Wooden built, for the 2012-2013 season expectations are high. UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero contemplated relieving Howland of his head coaching duties, but decided that Howland‘s “overall record and performance proves he is more than capable of delivering.”

With three straight NCAA Final 4 appearances under his belt, Howland has one of the top resumes among current college coaches. At UCLA, that success is expected to be consistent. Howland realizes it is a struggle because, “so many guys leave early,” and “It’s not easy to reload every year.” Despite how difficult it is to reload, Howland appears to have done it by landing four of the top 50 ranked freshmen this year.

UCLA fans should be tempering their expectations because of Howland’s recent and shaky history with top tier recruits. Since 2008 Howland has recruited 19 top freshman recruits or transfers. Eight of those players ended up transferring or were dismissed. Only 6 players from those recruiting classes are still on the team, but that might not be a bad thing. After Sport Illustrated’s article “Not the UCLA Way”, which portrayed UCLA’s players as wild partiers and Howland as a disconnected coach with little or no control over his team, it was clear that a horrible precedent had been set with the team.

This off-season Ben Howland, armed with a second chance, set out to change the culture of his team. First Howland got rid of his remaining problem players by dismissing Anthony Stover. Stover was the last of four underclassmen from last year’s squad who will not be back on campus this year. Howland seems to have rid the team of possible distractions that could corrupt another talented class, but still needs good character guys to step up to lead.

Unfortunately the talented freshman class took a hit before Howland was able to implement a new tradition. The NCAA is investigating Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson’s eligibility. Both freshmen are expected to be central figures on this year’s team, if eligible. Anderson is being investigated because of his relationship with a prominent UCLA booster. Muhammad, on the other hand, is being investigated because of money his family received from Muhammad’s high school assistant coach. The arrival of Shabazz Muhammad has brought the national spotlight back to Westwood. His loss would hurt the team, but could take some of the national spotlight away from the team. With Muhammad missing the trip to China, Howland was able to see what the Bruins look like without him.

The UCLA Bruins’ trip to China was very successful going 3-0 and averaging 93.3 points per game. On defense they did not seem to miss Muhammad, averaging 19.7 steals per game. Freshman Tony Parker, who did not make the trip due to a hamstring injury, was not missed much either as UCLA dominated the boards with 45 rebounds per game. None of the three games were close with a 29-point victory over the Shanghai Sharks being their closest victory. The PAC-12 competition will not be as easy and the young Bruins may need to lean on its oldest player (and most battle–tested) to learn how to play against tough competition.

Larry Drew II, a senior transfer from UNC, is the oldest player on a young team and will need to lead this season. Although Drew was not exactly impressive in China (only averaging 4 points), Howland seems to believe in Drew claiming, “He has the quickness and speed that we haven’t seen since Darren Collison.” More importantly Howland believes that Drew is “a very good decision maker.” Drew’s decision making was on display in China when he dished out 5 assists each game while turning the ball over less than once a game. Drew will also have to defend with his “much stronger and improved” body as he did in China (2 steals per game). If Drew can continue to defend and distribute while taking care of the ball, the Bruins will go far because Howland has “high expectations” for Drew. If Drew turns the ball over as he did during his last full season at UNC (3.7 turnovers per game), fails to stay healthy, or decides to quit midseason again, the UCLA Bruins will struggle with a thin backcourt.

If Larry Drew II does not pan out, Tyler Lamb could get more playing time at point guard. He leads returners in assists and led the team with 5.3 assists per game in China. However, Lamb will most likely be sitting out at the beginning of the season due to the arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on October 8th. Lamb should be out 4-6 weeks. However, he showed that he can do a variety of things well during the trip to China. Lamb averaged 10.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.3 steals, and 1 block a game. Despite showing how effective he can be, Lamb will have to work hard when coming back from his injury to earn time among the talented freshmen.

Shabazz Muhammad comes to UCLA as the #1 freshman in the country and left-handed scorer has impressed. Howland believes that Muhammad is “a great player” who “can do a lot of different things for us and will do a lot of different things for us that we haven’t had recently.” Last year Muhammad led all high school seniors 29.4 points per game and added 10.1 rebounds. However, Muhammad’s great defense and ability to guard many positions with his athleticism and size is probably his greatest asset. Muhammad should improve his streaky 3-point shooting, but none of that will matter if he is found ineligible.

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