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Monday, July 25, 2011
UCLA's recruiting back on solid ground

By Eamonn Brennan

There was a time -- say, off and on throughout the past three years -- when it was commonplace to wonder if UCLA's recruiting power under coach Ben Howland was dwindling. The Bruins were struggling on the court. Even worse, they weren't landing top players like Kevin Love anymore. Instead, in 2010, UCLA settled for the likes of promising but oversized big man Josh Smith and good-but-not-elite players like Tyler Lamb, a class more representative of recent struggles than the high-flying talent grabs of years gone by. Howland's reputation among AAU types had seemed to suffer from the notion that his style wasn't conducive to maximizing a player's individual talent, thus hurting those players' draft stock when they left UCLA for the NBA.

I think we can go ahead and close that chapter in Howland's history; UCLA's recruiting is coming along swimmingly, thank you very much.

The latest bit of proof came courtesy of Dominic Artis, a Findlay Prep player who committed to the Bruins after his performance at the Fab 48 in Las Vegas Sunday night. ESPN Recruiting's Dave Telep covered Artis's rise into the top 100 and his emergent status as one of the best point guards (and maybe the best point guard from the west coast) in the 2012 class. UCLA needed a point guard, Artis improved enough to become a realistic option, and the two sides made things (essentially) official this weekend.

But Artis isn't the only reason UCLA appears to have gotten its swagger back. For one, the Bruins have already landed a verbal commitment from Jordan Adams (whose name you might recognize from the Tennessee mess covered here and here today), the No. 61-ranked player in the class. And UCLA is reportedly one of the leaders for Shabazz Muhammed, one of, if not the, best players in the 2012 haul.

If Muhammed lands at UCLA, well, you won't need me to explain why that's a good thing. But even if he doesn't, it's clear Howland has made huge strides in shoring up his recruiting operations. The "UCLA Factor" -- wherein NBA scouts have begun to see UCLA players as more ready for the rigors of the NBA than some of their peers -- has undoubtedly played a role in this reversal. The decision to hire Korey McCray, a major AAU power broker from the Atlanta area, surely won't hurt things moving forward. Or maybe this isn't a reversal, so much as a return to form after a brief rebuilding dip in the wake of multiple early NBA departures and consistent success.

Whatever the reasons, the Bruins are back, and the rest of the Pac-10 -- which was no doubt enjoying Arizona and UCLA's twin forays into mediocrity -- will no doubt be taking notice.