UCLA freshmen: Who’s staying, who’s going?

Jordan Adams put a stop to any possible rumors that could spill about his UCLA future. The Bruin freshman says he’ll be back for his sophomore season.

He couldn’t say the same for his teammates, Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad.

UCLA head coach Ben Howland apologized on Monday for being “too honest” in announcing Muhammad had played his final game at Pauley Pavilion following the Bruins’ win over Arizona last Saturday.

Howland says, at the time, he hadn’t had any discussions with Muhammad about it being his last home game and still has not talked to him about his future.

“It’s kind of obvious when a kid’s a lottery pick,” Howland said of Muhammad. “Normally the No. 1 player in the country coming out of high school is one-and-done.

“It’s incumbent upon me as the coach here if a kid is a top-10 pick to encourage him to do the right thing for him and his family and, in my opinion, almost without question, if someone is a lottery pick, he should go to the NBA.”

Muhammad, meanwhile, is leaving the door open ever so slightly for a return.

“I never said I wasn’t coming back,” Muhammad said. “I know I’m going to be in a pretty good position draft wise but, I mean, I’m looking at our team next year and we could be really good.”

While that may sound good to UCLA fans it’s not a strong belief Muhammad will stick around to be a part of next year’s squad.

“Of course we’re going to miss him,” Adams said. “He’s more than just a basketball player, he’s like our brother, a close friend but we kind of knew (with) his talents that he has no choice to leave with his talents because you don’t want him to stay and something bad happens.”

Which sparks the conversation about Anderson, who like Muhammad, was a top-five player in the 2012 recruiting class.

During a pivotal home stand in the Bruins’ most important stretch of the season, Anderson has played his best basketball. As a result, he was named Pac-12 Player of the Week after averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds against the Arizona schools.

Anderson has been more aggressive offensively, scoring in double figures in five of his last six games.

Unlike he did with Muhammad, Howland won’t make any declarations regarding Anderson’s future. Moreover, he said he won’t make any suggestions until after the season.

There are benefits to him returning for his sophomore season.
“Kyle having the ball in his hands more is even going to make him stand out more,” Howland said. “His real, greatest strength is making plays for others and by having the ball more and playing more of the point on offense, which is the plan a year from now, I think is going to (increase his draft stock).

“If Kyle’s back, he’s our starting point guard.”  

There’s a plan for him defensively as well if he returns. Howland says he won’t guard any power forwards next season. He’ll only guard small forwards, which Howland says they have talked about. It’s Howland’s belief that defense is vital to playing in the league. Anderson still has strides to make guarding on the perimeter.

“You’re not going to play (in the NBA) unless you can defend a position,” Howland said. “They’re not going to play you.”

With a plan in place, the decision, of course, is up to Anderson.

“I do think he’s leaning towards coming back,” Anderson’s father, Kyle Sr. told the Orange County Register. “Mentally, he’s prepared to come back.”  

Who’s staying and who’s going has superseded the Bruins’ preparations to close out the regular season.

Back in the AP Top 25, No. 23 UCLA will travel to the Washington schools this week.

The trip will begin Wednesday at 6:30pm against Washington State, with a Pac-12 regular-season title hanging in the balance.