Caught up with incoming freshman guard Norman Powell (San Diego, Calif./Lincoln) over the weekend. Powell is Ben Howland's only high school signee for the class of 2011. He is expected to compete for the void left by Malcolm Lee's departure earlier this month.
How did you fare in the San Diego County All Star Game Dunk Contest on Saturday?
A good way to cap your high school career, I'm sure. What are your plans moving forward?
My first official day [at UCLA], from talking to the coaches, will be June 19th. I should be on campus earlier to move my stuff in, but I think that will be my first official day. Really, what I've been focusing on since my season ended has been working on my handles, trying to get my dribbling skills right. I'm working on attacking the bucket and getting my shot to go down on a consistent basis, a quicker release.
You won the CIF State title as a junior but couldn't get to Sacramento this year. How disappointing was that?
Really, at first I couldn't believe it. But with my performance [missed nine of 10 attempts from beyond the arc] it just wasn't our night. I was taking shots I usually take in a game, they just weren't falling. When I noticed that I tried to get it going to the bucket. It just wasn't my night.
How tough was it to shoot with that Galen Center backdrop?
It was pretty tough, but it was nothing we hadn't seen before. We won at Galen the year before. I was ready for it, I was just off.
UCLA received some bad news when Malcolm Lee hired an agent earlier this month, but it's a bit of good news for your playing time. What was your reaction when you heard about Lee's decision?
I was happy for him because it's a good time for him and his family. But I was also kind of mad because I wanted to compete with him. I wanted him to show me the ropes of being that guard everyone looks to to be aggressive, to be that defensive stopper.
But with him gone, it does open up a spot maybe for me to start. I'm really excited and hopefully I'll be able to live up to everybody's expectations, maybe exceed those expectations. I can't wait to do my part on that team.
There's some uncertainty with two starters now gone. Where do you want to play? The two? The three?
I really want to start right away and contribute to the team offensively and defensively. I feel like I can go in there as a freshman and be one of the go-to guys. I want to be the guy that gets the big bucket in the game or that big stop. I'm looking forward to making an immediate impact.
I'm focused on any position. Wherever you put me, I'm going to play to the best of my abilities. Whether that's the two, the three or the one -- I'll play any position that will help us win.
I remember seeing you at Pauley Pavilion a few times last season. What was your feeling watching that team?
Being at their games was great. The crowd was chanting my name, which made me feel like they're looking forward to me coming in next year. I picture myself on that court playing with those guys. Heading up there and talking to guys like Lazeric Jones, Joshua Smith -- they're real cool. They're planning on showing me around when I go up there for my official visit in May. They're the two guys I got close to.
Did you have the chance to watch them play in the NCAA Tournament?
Yeah, I watched both games. It was a tough loss for them.
What do you think went wrong?
I feel like (Tyler) Honeycutt didn't perform like he could have. On the defensive end they really needed him on some plays but he seemed lost.
You obviously weren't there but did those losses make you a little angry?
That fired me up. I wanted them to go far. They were underdogs going in there. People were saying, "UCLA is a good team, but they're inconsistent." Looking forward to next year, with me going in there it's like, "OK, we lost in the second round, now let's do better than that, let's push ourselves." Getting to the second round isn't good enough. We have to do better and prove everybody wrong. We have to keep excelling as a team. We're trying to bring back that tradition UCLA once had with John Wooden.