Featuring what could be one of the most dominant front courts in the nation, the UCLA Bruins were picked by the Pac-12 basketball media to finish first in the conference. Coach Ben Howland and senior guard Lazeric Jones addressed the team's season outlook today at the Pac-12 Basketball media day.
The Bruins will be led by All Conference power forward Reeves Nelson, coming off a sophomore season in which he averaged almost 14 points and over 9 rebounds per game, but Nelson is far from the only quality big on the roster. In addition, sophomore Joshua Smith figures to have a big impact - literally - as the massive 300 plus pound center looks to improve on his All-Freshman performance last season. Joining Reeves and Smith will be David and Travis Wear, 6'10" sophomore twins who transferred to UCLA from North Carolina. After red-shirting last season, the Wear's already have a year of practice in Howland's system and should be able to contribute right away. As if having those four bigs were not enough, the Bruins also have defensive terror Anthony Stover (6'10") and Brendan Lane (6'9") among the players returning from last season. With the glut of talent at the big positions, Coach Howland expects David Wear to play a lot of minutes as a 6'10" small forward, unheard of at the NCAA level. In the "no kidding" department, Howland says "We're going to play bigger this year."
However, if the UCLA front court is ocean deep, in the backcourt and especially on the wing depth may be an issue. Point guard Jones is one of three returning starters and is expected to be much improved after a summer that included playing pickup against NBA players on the UCLA campus during the lockout. Also returning from last season's roster are 6'5" sophomore Tyler Lamb and 6'2" senior Jerime Anderson (who will serve a two game suspension to begin the season after an off-season arrest). Lamb will likely start at the shooting guard, but both Lamb and Anderson need to step up their productivity if the UCLA backcourt is going to compete with some of the other Pac-12 schools.
Coach Howland is also hoping that newcomers Norman Powell and De'End Parker can contribute right away. Freshman Powell is a big time athlete who could compete for minutes in the backcourt. Parker is a Junior College transfer who will get a chance at small forward where he can go a long way to shoring up perhaps the only weakness of this UCLA team.
With Pauley Pavillion undergoing renovations, the Bruins will be playing their home games off campus this season at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.