UCLA basketball: Front court breakdown

November, 4, 2011
11/04/11
5:38
PM PT
UCLA will unveil the college basketball version of "Super Size Me" when the Bruins hit the court in public for the first time on Sunday at Citizen's Business Bank Arena in Ontario.

There, where the Bruins will face Cal State San Bernardino in an exhibition game, UCLA will run out a team that features six players at 6-8 or taller, including starters Joshua Smith (6-10), Reeves Nelson (6-8) and David Wear (6-10).

"'We're going to play big this year," coach Ben Howland said. "As a coach you want to scheme to play your best players as many minutes as possible so we're going to play big."

Reserves Travis Wear (6-10), Anthony Stover (6-10) and Brendan Lane (6-9) round out the shortness-challenged Bruins squad, giving UCLA an Herculean-like presence that already has opponents intimidated.

"You walk through an airport and see them and they scare you," California coach Mike Montgomery said. "They are huge."

The Bruins will need their big men to play big. Howland will rely on the inside guys for most of the scoring this season and the team will go as far as the inside guys will take it.

Here is a breakdown of the giant-sized front court:

CENTER

Projected starter: Joshua Smith, So., 6-10

Key reserves: Travis Wear, So., 6-10; Anthony Stover, So., 6-10; Brendan Lane, Jr., 6-9

The skinny: Smith averaged 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds in only 21 minutes a game, but will be counted on for about 10 more minutes a game this season. If he can stay on the court that long, he will become the top big man in the country because he is virtually unstoppable on the block because of his combination of size, strength and soft hands. He's also a good passer. He tends to make lazy mistakes when tired so conditioning will be of utmost importance for Smith, who is listed at 305 pounds.

Wear, a North Carolina transfer, brings a completely different skill set to the interior. At nearly 100 pounds lighter than Smith, he's not going to over power people the way Smith can, but he has good shooting range and can draw out defenders. He's also a hard worker, which makes him a tenacious rebounder.

Stover, who is going to miss a couple of weeks because of a shoulder injury, is the defensive specialist on the inside. He is a tenacious, high-energy player with excellent shot blocking instincts. He's not much of an offensive threat, but his defensive intimidation presence is a valuable weapon.

Lane won't play a ton of minutes, but has the ability to make significant contributions when he does play. He had a nice three-game stretch late last season when he scored 11, eight and seven points off the bench.

POWER FORWARD

Projected starter: Reeves Nelson, Jr., 6-8

Key reserves: Travis Wear, Brendan Lane

The skinny: Nelson returns after leading the Bruins in scoring (13.9 points) and rebounding (9.1) and earning a spot on the all Pac-10 first team. He's a tough-minded forward who plays with a chip on his shoulder and simply never backs down. His defensive skills gradually improved over the course of the season and he turned into an excellent one-on-one defender by the end of the season. He's an emotional player who tends to mentally check out when things aren't going his way, but can take over games for minutes at a time when he is on.

Wear's more natural position is the power forward, but with an established star occupying the spot, he'll only get backup minutes there. Still, he will be the first man off the bench whenever Nelson or Smith needs a breather or gets into foul trouble and should get plenty of minutes in that role.

Lane's skill set also leans more toward power forward but will probably have a decrease in minutes because of the addition of Travis Wear. He's not quite strong enough to hold his own defensively and on the boards, but will bring a nice shooting touch when he is called upon.

SMALL FORWARD

Projected Starter: David Wear, So., 6-10

Key reserves: De'End Parker, Jr., 6-6; Tyler Lamb, So., 6-5

The skinny: Small forward is a bit of a misnomer with David Wear manning the position. Wear, who transfered from North Carolina with his twin brother Travis, is actually a more natural power forward, but the loss of all Pac-10 selection Tyler Honeycutt to the NBA draft left a void at the position and Wear will get first crack at filling it. He has the offensive skills to be able to handle the job, including shooting range all the way to the three-point line (he was 8-16 on three pointers at North Carolina). The question mark is his ability to defend the smaller, quicker players he'll match up against, but that will turn into an advantage with post-up opportunities on the other end of the floor.

Parker is a transfer from City College of San Francisco, where he averaged 12 points, six rebounds and five assists in leading the Rams to the State JC title. He's an athletic wing with good court vision and passing skills and knows how to finish at the basket. His all-around skill set makes him a good fit for the small forward.

Lamb will probably start at shooting guard, but may get some time at small forward when the Bruins switch to smaller lineups or if Wear and Parker find foul trouble or injuries. He's one of the top defenders on the team so that will be a bonus at any position he plays. A good passer, he led the team in assists four times, but his outside shot is a work in progress.

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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