- Jason King
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With the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class set to arrive on campus later this month, most of the offseason buzz about UCLA has centered on the program’s newest players.
But a few of the old ones aren’t bad, either.
Josh Smith -- if he gets his weight and his work ethic in check -- has the potential to be one of the nation’s top centers. Point guard Larry Drew, a North Carolina transfer, practiced with the Bruins all last season and is poised to step into a starting role. And David Wear is back after averaging 10.2 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds in 2011-12.
No returning player, though, was as good on the offensive end last season as Travis Wear, David’s twin brother. Travis Wear averaged 11.5 points and 5.9 rebounds as a sophomore. He also blocked 1.2 shots per game.
Thursday ,he took time to speak with ESPN.com about why he thinks last season’s struggles -- the Bruins went 19-14 and missed the NCAA tournament -- are a thing of the past.
What’s the vibe around campus right now?
Travis Wear: Everyone is really excited. We have a really good class coming in. We’re putting ourselves in really good shape to be a great team next year. Everyone around here is really excited about Pauley (Pavilion) opening back up again so we can have our fan base on campus supporting us again. With the hype around this season, it makes it that much better.
How tough was it to have to play away from campus last season while Pauley went through renovations?
TW: It was definitely difficult having to play off-campus in downtown L.A. It was tough to get fan support. We didn’t have a great season, so that didn’t help, either. We’re definitely looking forward to playing on campus around our students and being in a home atmosphere.
As a current team member, how exciting was it to watch all of these high-profile commitments roll in during the past year?
TW: It was really neat to see all these building blocks being added onto our team and to think about all the depth we’re going to have, all the versatility and all the great players. Our practices should be just as competitive as the games we’re going to play in next year. Everything is coming into place. People are really excited.
TW: We knew the dates each one of them were supposed to announce. Most of the time I was off campus, so I’d just keeping checking Twitter.
You mentioned that you struggled at times last season. How convinced are you that those issues are a thing of the past?
TW: We had a big team meeting. We’ve changed up a lot of things around here. This group is tighter right now than it’s ever been, as far as on the court and off the court. Everyone is really handling their business. It feels great. Even when the coaches aren’t there, everyone is always in the gym working out. It feels really good.
What, specifically, has changed?
TW: It’s just mainly our attitude. With the class we have coming in, it’s obvious we have a chance to be really good. Everyone is really embracing that. We’re not just going to go off the hype of, ‘Oh, they have good players, so they’re going to be great.’ Everyone is here, working as hard we can to get to that level instead of just listening to the hype.
What effect did last season’s Sports Illustrated article have on UCLA’s program?
TW: Not much. During the season, it was some adversity that we had to face. We came together a little bit after that. But it didn’t much of an impact as far as motivating us. It might have motivated us a little, but honestly, it didn’t change much.
Everyone knows that center Josh Smith has the talent to be a special player, but he’s underachieved during his first two seasons. What have you seen from him during the offseason that leads you to believe his junior year will be his best?
TW: Josh has been working out every day. He hasn’t missed any workouts. He’s grinding every day with us. It’s nice just to see how hard he’s been working. He has an opportunity to be great. To see him embracing that now is awesome.
Why do you think he’s just now embracing it?
TW: Sometimes, for certain guys, the light just clicks. I guess the light just went on.
What has coach Ben Howland’s demeanor been like?
TW: He’s really excited. He’s very energetic. All of the coaching staff, for that matter, has been great. They go through the workouts with us and they hit us. They’re super-excited. You can just feel the energy from them.
The frontcourt will obviously be crowded with you and your brother and Josh -- plus the new guys coming in such as Tony Parker. How much do you like having that competition?
TW: That’s how you get better. You come and out compete every day for minutes. That’s what makes teams great, being able to compete in practice. Then in the games you execute what you’ve been practicing all along. With Josh and my brother and Tony Parker and (Anthony) Stover ... we’ll have some battles. It should be fun.
You and Larry Drew both started your careers at North Carolina before transferring to UCLA. What about him gives you confidence that he can impact this team as a point guard?
TW: Larry is one of the quickest players I’ve every played with or seen play. His ability to get into the lane and make good decisions is really going to help. It’s really going to help the guys who can step out and shoot, because he’s really good at penetrating, drawing the defense and then kicking it out to the open man. In transition, he’s a great passer. He’s very good at creating for others.
Any thoughts on the Pac-12?
TW: I’m really excited for our conference. Arizona is going to be good. Even USC ... they had so many guys who sat out last year that were transfers or guys that got hurt. I think they’ll have a really good team. The Bay Area schools like Stanford ... they’re returning a lot of guys. Cal is always good. Washington is always good. Our league is going to be very competitive next year, and this new TV contract is going to make it even more exciting. It’s all coming together. Everyone can feel it.
What summer plans do you have besides working out and hanging around the gym?
TW: Not many. I want to spend as much time as I can around the new guys to help them adapt and get used to college life. I want to work out with them and get comfortable with their games. I’ll probably go to the beach a lot, too. That’s definitely something I like to do.