Let the madness begin! Issues facing UCLA basketball this season

By Ben Bolch
Los Angeles Times

October 14, 2010

Losing seasons at UCLA come around about as often as Halley’s Comet and Jack Haleys.

Last year’s 14-18 record was only the Bruins’ third losing season since 1947-48, and junior guard Malcolm Lee found it especially heart-wrenching considering it was the final season John Wooden witnessed before the coaching legend died in June at 99.

“It was bad last year to have John Wooden pass on these terms,” Lee said. “Everybody wants to redeem ourselves because UCLA is known for championships, not losing records.”

With a core of three returning starters, the Bruins will have plenty of opportunities for payback, beginning with their opener Nov. 12 against Cal State Northridge.

A look at UCLA’s five most pressing issues as it begins practice Friday:

Getting the point

The Bruins’ point guard situation was so dire last season that Coach Ben Howland brought in Lazeric Jones, a junior college transfer from Chicago.

Junior college transfers are as rare in Westwood as transfers from USC. Jack Haley was the last community college transfer to play significant minutes, and that was during the 1986-87 season. (Haley’s son, Jack, is a freshman guard on this year’s team.)

Howland said junior Jerime Anderson, the starting point guard for most of last season, would not automatically retain that role now that Jones is in the mix.

“It’s going to be a full-on competition,” Howland said.

The big deal

Joshua Smith could provide the wide body in the paint that UCLA sorely lacked last season, though there’s already significantly less of the freshman center than there was when he arrived on campus in June.

Listed at 6 feet 10 and 305 pounds, Smith said he had dropped 50 pounds through a combination of conditioning and improved eating habits.

“When I went home,” Smith said, “my parents didn’t recognize me.”

Smith could start immediately, allowing sophomore Reeves Nelson to move to power forward. Sophomore Brendan Lane and redshirt freshman Anthony Stover will add depth in the post.

Sudden impact?

Smith isn’t the only freshman expected to play big minutes on a team with 10 eligible scholarship players, including no seniors and two juniors who have spent more than one year in the program.

Shooting guards Tyler Lamb, the former standout from Santa Ana Mater Dei High, and Matt Carlino, who graduated early from high school to join the Bruins, could be part of the regular rotation.

Depth charge

Howland essentially used a seven-man rotation last season, with three players averaging at least 32 minutes a game.

The coach said he plans to go at least nine deep this season, sparing some of the wear and tear on his players. The Bruins also have put a renewed focus on conditioning, with Nelson lowering his body fat from 9% to a team-best 5%.

Giving it a shot

UCLA ranked eighth in the Pacific 10 Conference in three-point shooting (32.5%) and last in free-throw shooting (63.2%) last season, a weakness players addressed during epic off-season shooting sessions.

Nelson said he took 300 to 500 shots six days a week and extended his range to beyond the three-point arc. Howland said Lee and sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt also had dramatically improved their shooting.

“We’ve got to be a better-shooting team, so we spent a lot of time on it,” Howland said.