UCLA: Reeves Nelson

Players reject SI allegations against Nelson

May, 23, 2012
5/23/12
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Former UCLA player Reeves Nelson filed a lawsuit against Sports Illustrated and reporter George Dohrmann Wednesday and the suit includes declarations from 18 current and former UCLA players who reject various claims made in a March Sports Illustrated article that depicted Nelson as a boorish player with a propensity for violence and out-of-control behavior.

Some, such as Drew Grodon, and Tyler Trapani, were alleged victims of Nelson's violent antics who said Nelson never did to them what the Sports Illustrated story said. Others, such as Blake Arnet and Alex Schrempf, said they spoke with Dohrmann and told him the information he had was incorrect only to see it end up in print anyway.

All of them disagreed with the Sports Illustrated depiction of Nelson as a player who intentionally injured teammates and was coddled by coach Ben Howland, who turned a blind eye to Nelson's transgressions.

"I never saw Nelson intentionally hurt or intentionally try to hurt any member of the UCLA basketball team or staff, nor do I believe that Nelson ever intentionally hurt or tried to hurt any member of the UCLA basketball team or staff," reads a passage in each of the 18 declarations. "I did not observe and do not believe that Coach Howland favored Nelson over the other players in any fashion, not with respect to discipline or anything else."

Some players addressed specific incidents alleged in the article. Gordon, for instance, was reported to have gotten into an off-campus fight with Nelson that resulted in a black eye for Gordon, but Gordon's declaration stated "The article’s description of Nelson’s behavior toward me is false. We have never had a fight, not at a teammate’s apartment or anywhere else, nor has Nelson ever given me a black eye from a fight or otherwise."

The Sports Illustrated story also reported that Schrempf, a former UCLA walk-on, suffered a serious back injury as a result of a Nelson attack during practice. Schrempf's declaration said that never happened. In his declaration, Schrempf acknowledged speaking with Dohrmann but told Dohrmann his facts were wrong.

"During our conversation, Dohrmann specifically told me that he had 'heard' that Nelson intentionally injured me during practice by knocking me to the ground from behind," Schrempf's statement says. "According to Dohrmann’s 'source,' Nelson’s conduct caused me to suffer a serious back injury. I explained to Dohrmann that this version of events was incorrect."

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Lazeric JonesKelvin Kuo/US PresswireLazeric Jones has stepped up to be the leader UCLA needs in what has been a tough season off the court.

LOS ANGELES -- Lazeric Jones picked a heck of a season to be UCLA’s captain.

From a floundering 2-5 start to the season, to the dismissal of all-conference forward Reeves Nelson to center Joshua Smith’s ineffectiveness and last week’s Sports Illustrated article portraying the team as a program in disarray, this has been a season filled with one bit of adversity after another for the Bruins.

But to find the Bruins playing their best basketball at the end of such a difficult season is a testament to the heart and character of the players, led by their captain.

Jones, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, has been the steadying influence who helped keep off-court issues off the court. He has been the hard-nosed player who brought a brand of Chicago toughness in a season when the Bruins needed it most.

And he has been the leader on the court, too, coming up with Pac-12 Player of the Week honors last week as UCLA defeated Washington State and conference regular-season champion Washington to give the team momentum heading into the Pac-12 tournament.

The No. 5-seeded Bruins (18-13, 11-7) play No. 12 USC (6-25, 1-17) in a first-round game Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. at Staples Center and must win four games in four days if they want to make the NCAA tournament. To do so, they will look to Jones, their leader on and off the court, to guide the way.

“He’s done a great job for us and has really been a pillar of stability and a very good role model in terms of on and off the floor,” coach Ben Howland said. “He is really, really a good person and a good kid. You can’t say enough about that and that ties into why he is a good player. Very focused. He loves the game.”

Jones leads the Bruins in scoring with 13.4 points per game, assists with 4.2 per game and steals with 1.8 per game. But more than his stats, his leadership and constant presence have been a unifying force for the team. He is the only player who started every game this season and was the only player to start every game last season as well.

Jones also leads the team in minutes with 33.4 per game so he always seems to be involved when UCLA needs him most.

“He’s always talking about staying together and playing for each other as a team,” guard Jerime Anderson said. “That’s something that he really believes in and you can see it out on the court. He’s all about his team and he’s willing to fight for us. That’s the attitude that all teammates and all team members should have.”

It’s an attitude that has come in handy this season, when off-court distraction easily could have crumbled the team. Instead, Jones’ steadying influence helped keep the team focused during trying times and even though the win-loss record might not be as good as expected at UCLA, it’s pretty remarkable considering all the Bruins went through this season.

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Bruins still searching after Bay Area losses

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
8:07
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BERKELEY, Calif. -- And so the search continues for the UCLA basketball team.

A team looking for consistency found little of it during a Bay Area trip that featured losses to Stanford and California. A team that opened conference play hoping to find an identity returns home still without one.

A disheartening 85-69 loss to California Saturday at Haas Pavilion completed a Bay Area lost weekend for UCLA, and the two-game trip showcased the many unanswered questions the Bruins still have. This was a litmus test of a trip for UCLA, and the Bruins proved only that they are perfectly neutral.

The Bruins (7-7, 0-2) head home at exactly .500 and without a victory over a team of any major significance. A valiant effort in a 60-59 loss to Stanford followed by a dismal defensive performance Saturday against California showed just how close the Bruins are to turning the proverbial corner while at the same time displaying just how far they have to go before they can call themselves a legitimate conference title contender.

"This is just the beginning of the Pac-12 so we can’t get down," guard Lazeric Jones said. "We still have a lot more games to go. We can’t get down about two games, we just have to bounce back with some wins. Eventually it’ll come around."

History is on UCLA's side -- sort of. The last time the Bruins started 0-2 in conference was 1987-88. They started 0-3 that season, but rallied to finish 12-6 and tied for second place. They also started conference 0-3 in 1981-82 and finished second at 14-4.

But neither of those teams made it to the NCAA tournament, which is always goal number one at UCLA. Walt Hazzard was fired for the offense after the 1987-88 season. Larry Farmer was fired after the 1983-84 season, when UCLA missed the tournament for the second time in three seasons.

It's unlikely that coach Ben Howland would meet that fate, but you have to imagine the credit he built up from three consecutive Final Four appearances will be running low if the Bruins don't get things turned around in a hurry. If UCLA doesn't make the NCAA tournament it would be the second time in three years that has happened.

"It’s tough," Howland said of the 0-2 start.

This is a team that had huge expectations entering this season, starting off ranked No. 17 in the nation and getting picked to win the Pac-12 title, but so far the Bruins have looked little like a team deserving of those accolades.

Their front court was lauded as among the most formidable in the nation with 6-10 twins David and Travis Wear boasting a front line that included a rising star at center in Joshua Smith and an all-conference forward in Reeves Nelson.

The Wear twins have proven wildly inconsistent on the offensive end and are a defensive liability. Smith has failed to live up to expectations because of conditioning issues and an inability to handle double teams in the post. Nelson was kicked off the team because of continuing behavioral issues.

So with the front court failing to live up to expectations, the backcourt has picked up some of the slack. Jones and Tyler Lamb have been the two most reliable payers, but both have been up and down as they try to do too much at times and the team has no true go-to clutch player.

And defensively, the Bruins have been brilliant at times while at others they have been downright dismal. Both of those teams showed up this weekend. Stanford shot only 34.5 percent against UCLA -- the fifth consecutive opponent that had been below 40 percent against UCLA.

But California ended that streak in emphatic fashion by shooting 65.4 against the Bruins, exploiting slow-footed UCLA's inability to stay in front of offensive players, close out on shooters and stay with players cutting toward the basket.

"Time after time after time, they scored too easily," Howland said. "Whether it was man or zone, they were scoring too easily. We were slow."

They are also insecure in who they want to be defensively. Howland prefers the tough man-to-man style that brought him so much success at UCLA, but the current team lacks the speed and athleticism to play that style on a consistent basis. It's much better suited to a zone, but Howland has alternated zone and man defenses, creating even more confusion around UCLA's identity.

"We just want to use whatever is going to work," Jones said. "Coach definitely has the right answers defensively. Sometimes we just have mental lapses. We just have to be tougher mentally."

The good news for UCLA is that there is still plenty of time to bounce back and contend for the conference race. And the other good news is that the Bruins are well-versed in the art of bouncing back. They began the season 1-4, but bounced back to 7-5 before running into Stanford and Cal.

They are down about getting swept in their conference openers, but no one has given up hope.

"I think we’ll be able to bounce back," Lamb said. "We started the season very slow and we bounced back a bit, but I mean with this team I just think it has a lot to do with how we respond. Nobody is happy in there at all so I know we’re going to go back and work on our weak spots."

The road doesn't get any easier. UCLA plays Arizona, a perennial conference title contender, Thursday at the Honda Center. Also looming is a trip to Oregon State and Oregon Jan. 19-21. The next three weeks have turned into playoff-like games for the Bruins, who will be treading on very thin ice if they lose many more games.

"I think every game from this point is a must-win game,' Lamb said. "It’s going to be very hard but it’s something that has to be done of we want to turn the season around. I’m pretty sure everybody in that locker room wants to turn the season around so we’re going to have to do whatever it takes."

They should start by finding some consistency. And an identity.

Bruins trying to rebound against UC Davis

December, 16, 2011
12/16/11
8:38
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If UCLA is going to rebound from its lackluster start, the Bruins (4-5) have to rebound better and that starts against UC Davis in a non-conference game Saturday at noon at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

David Wear is leading the Bruins in rebounding with only 5.6 per game and the Bruins have had only two players reach double figures in rebounding in a game so far this season. They are getting out-rebounded 33.6-32.9 per game, which isn't particularly impressive for a team that has four players who are 6-10.

Those 6-10 players are David Wear (averaging 5.6 rebounds in 26.8 minutes per game), Travis Wear (5.1 in 27), Joshua Smith (4.9 in 16.8) and Anthony Stover (1.1 rebounds in 7.6 minutes).

"We need more rebounds out of our bigs," coach Ben Howland said. "It’s pretty clear to our team: If you want to play a lot of minutes, get rebounds. Be a good, leading rebounder. We need someone to step up and take that challenge to get eight or nine rebounds a night."

That player last season was Reeves Nelson, who averaged 9.1 rebounds last season and had 16 games of 10 or more. Nelson was dismissed from the team and Howland has yet to find the player who can replace him on the glass.

Howland would even like to see better rebounding out of his guards and small forwards.

"It’s everybody," Howland said. "When we contest shots on the perimeter, instead of rushing back in to help rebound, they’re kind of leaking out. We can’t afford to have anybody leak out early. We don’t have Kevin Love on the boards getting every rebound."

TRAVIS WEAR STILL QUESTIONABLE: Travis Wear, who missed Wednesday's game against Eastern Washington because of a skin infection on his foot, did not practice Thursday or Friday and is questionable for Saturday's game against UC Davis.

"There’s a possibility he’ll play but they didn’t want him to practice today because they felt like exercise that close to coming back off this infection might make it swell back up," Howland said. "Hopefully he’ll be able to play tomorrow. I don’t know that yet."

Howland said Joshua Smith would again start at center with Travis Wear out.

NORMAN POWELL NEEDS TO GET DEFENSIVE: Freshman guard Normal Powell has impressed on offense during his time on the court but Howland would like to see some improvement on the other end of the floor.

Howland said Powell broke down twice in the first half against Eastern Washington and allowed his man to get off a wide open shot.

"What I explained to Norman is, hey, you’re going to miss shots and that’s much less of an issue than defensive breakdowns," Howland said. "He’s still learning these things...I think Norman is going to be a real good player, but there is a learning curve and like most freshman that’s what he’s going through."

NELSON HEADING TO LITHUANIA: Howland said Reeves Nelson has signed a professional contract with Zalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania, though he did not reveal the terms of the contract.

"He’s got a very, very good opportunity to play with an outstanding team," Howland said. "I talked to a friend who said he’s going to a really good team at the highest level of European basketball."

STRUGGLING AGGIES: UCLA's opponent Saturday is probably the weakest team on the Bruins' schedule this season. The Aggies (1-8) have lost five consecutive games and their only victory this season was against Division III UC Santa Cruz.

Two weeks ago, Davis lost to Eastern Washington, 79-59. UCLA defeated Eastern Washington, 60-47, on Wednesday. The Aggies had a late lead against Hawaii in the last game, but couldn't hold on and lost, 74-61. Adding to the troubles is a season-ending knee injury to leading scorer Ryan Sypkens.

Still, Howland said he is concerned about defending the Aggies because of the unusual style of offense they play.

"They really spread you out," Howland said. "They do a lot of dribble handoffs and weaves. A lot of ball screening and slipping of screens. It's a hard team to guard."

Sophomore Josh Ritchart, who had 24 points against UCLA in a 74-67 Bruins' victory last year, is averaging 13.8 points this season.

New-look Bruins zone in for 77-73 victory

December, 11, 2011
12/11/11
12:02
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ANAHEIM--The UCLA basketball team had a new look in terms of both personnel and scheme and took the court at a different arena, but the most important change was that on the scoreboard.

Playing their first game without Reeves Nelson and their first game this season at the Honda Center, UCLA held off a pesky Pennsylvania, 77-73, in a nonconference game Saturday afternoon.

The Bruins (3-5), struggling out of the gate this season, doubled their season victory total against Division I teams by implementing a zone for significant stretches of the game, taking advantage of their significant size advantage and playing efficiently on offense.

Lazeric Jones had 21 points for UCLA, David Wear had 11 points and 12 rebounds and Travis Wear and Joshua Smith each had 12 points in a balanced attack for the Bruins.

Five observations from the game:

1The Bruins needed this win

It was a difficult week for UCLA as Reeves Nelson, the team's leading returning scorer and rebounder, was dismissed from the team because of conduct issues. It would have been easy for the team to come out flat and unenergetic, but they channeled their emotions into a passable performance on both ends of the floor.

"It was important for us to get a win," coach Ben Howland said. "It was a good feeling to win and again. Any time you have someone that you dismiss from the team, it changes the chemistry."

Despite his occasional outbursts on the court, Nelson is well-liked by many of the UCLA players, so dealing with the emotion of losing him has been difficult.

"Obviously this is a tough time but the fact that my teammates stayed focused and came out and played hard and got a win shows how mentally tough we are," Jones said.

2The Bruins zoned in, and looked good doing it

UCLA played extensive zone for the first time this season and was fairly successful in doing so.

The 2-3 zone seemed to stifle Penn, which wasn't prepared to see it and had a tough time adjusting. They were forced to shoot long range shots, taking 31 of their 58 shots from behind the three-point line. They shot only 39.4 percent in the second half, when UCLA played mostly zone.

Penn's leading scorer for the season, Zack Rosen, scored only eight points on three of 12 shooting, including 0-7 on three pointers. Tyler Bernardini had a career night by setting a career high in three-pointers made (8) and points (29), but the rest of the team shot 37 percent for the game and four of 19 on three-pointers.

"I think it gave the offense something to change it up a little bit, something for them to try and work through and switch up their offense," David Wear said. "I think we could be a really good zone defensive team. We had some breakdowns but we’ve only been working on it for a week now."

Howland is generally against using zone defenses, preferring a tough man-to-man style, but realizes that his roster is filled with big slow-footed players and is resigned t the fact that a zone better suits the team. He said the Bruins will implement more zone as the season goes on, switching back and forth depending on the personnel on the floor.

"It’s not my preference, but I think it’s what’s fitting our team right now," Howland said. "We’re going to need to use it. We’re going to have to be a team that plays both man and zone."

3The Bruins Road show completed its rotation

The Honda Center is the third different home arena UCLA is playing at this season during the makeover of Pauley Pavilion, so completing the circle is kind of a relief for the Bruins, who no longer have to fret about an unfamiliar home floor.

Though it's not exactly uncharted territory. The Bruins have played the annual Wooden Classic at the Honda Center since 1994 and are now 13-4 in the building. It gives Howland good vibes to play at the Honda Center because Wooden used to attend the games there before his death in 2010.

"My first seven years coach was here at every one of the games we played here," Howland said. "Those are always going to be special memories for me and I always think of coach whenever we come here so I enjoy coming here."

Now that they have played at all of their home arenas, the Bruins are finally starting to get used to the road show concept.

"I don’t think we even notice it that much anymore," David Wear said. I think we established at the beginning of the season that this is our team. The people on this team, this is our family and we always have each other’s back no matter who is in the crowd or how many people are in the crowd. Going forward I don’t really see it being a factor at all."

4The Bruins held on down the stretch

This was UCLA's first game this season to end with a single-digit margin of victory. UCLA had a 68-55 lead with 5:52 to play, but Penn closed to 75-70 with 1:55 to go.

The Bruins made several key defensive plays, including a block five rows deep into the crowd by Jerime Anderson, and showed character and resolve to hold off Penn's run. Early this season, the Bruins struggled against mid-major opponents Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee, so to pull off the victory in this game was important.

"It was important for us to win a close game and our guys made some big plays down the stretch," Howland said. "Penn is not an easy team. They’re a very well-coached team they have seniors that are very good players so this was a good win for us and a step in the right direction."

5Norman Powell recovered from his allergy scare

Powell spent Wednesday night in a hospital after eating a shrimp and walnut dish and suffering an allergic reaction. He played only 12 minutes Saturday, but looked plenty healthy while on the floor. He made two of two shots--both three-pointers-- and had two rebounds.

"I’ve got to continue to use Norman Powell more," Howland said. "He played 12 and he played good so we’ve got to keep giving him some minutes."

Powell will be tested this week to figure out the exact cause of his allergic reaction, but first must take a final exam that he missed while in the hospital.

Jones, Smith and backup center Anthony Stover all left the Honda Center with minor injuries. Stover sprained his ankle, Smith tweaked his knee and Jones pulled a groin muscle. UCLA plays again Wednesday, the wounded have some time to recover.

Howland makes tough call on Reeves Nelson

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
4:02
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Ben Howland still has hope for Reeves Nelson.

He still believes in Nelson and wants to help Nelson, but he can no longer do so with Nelson as a member of the UCLA basketball team.

Not if Howland has any hopes of turning around UCLA's lackluster season, anyway.

Nelson has his troubles as well as his talent, but the negatives finally outbalanced the positives and Howland dismissed Nelson from the team Friday, unable to help a player who had a hard time helping himself.

He sulked, pouted and lashed out at teammates and coaches. A strong-minded individual, Nelson rarely feared repercussions. Even after getting suspended earlier this season, his behavior regressed. His presence became a disruptive force in the locker room and with UCLA (2-5) continuing to struggle, Howland had little choice but to remove the capriciousness from the clubhouse.

"In fairness for the team, there’s a point where we have to move forward and do what’s best for the team," Howland said.

That doesn't mean Howland has given up on Nelson. Howland is a coach of college kids, after all. Part of his mission is to help young players grow and mature into men. It's difficult for someone in Howland's position to give up on one of his charges, but Nelson's deteriorating attitude problems finally reached the point where Howland had to take the most drastic action of all, yet even while showing Nelson the door, Howland couldn't help but want to do more.

"I’m not going to stop trying to help him," Howland said. "I explained that to him today even though he’s going to be leaving the team and we’re dismissing him from the team, I’m going to continue to try and help him and advise him and communicate with him in the future. This doesn’t end my relationship with Reeves Nelson."

One can only hope Nelson learns from this. His talent is enough to land him a place where he gets paid to play basketball. He was UCLA's leading scorer and rebounder last season and was an all Pac-10 selection.

But his mercurial personality, where his mood often directly affected the play of the team, does not mesh well in the world of team sports. Only time will tell if Nelson has what it takes to correct that problem.

"I really want to help Reeves and I’m really hoping that he in his future can continue to grow into a player that’s able to fit into a team and organization and be able to handle all the things that go with that," Howland said.

"I think that this hopefully for his sake is going to be something that’s going to be a real, have a real drastic effect on understanding that if he doesn’t behave appropriately and fit in and, there’s no reason to believe that this couldn’t happen again. He’s got to make some changes and I discussed that with him and I’m hopeful that by the severity of what just happened with him that he can learn from this and be better for it."

Howland deliberated over this decision. He suspended Nelson early in the season, but it had little effect. He took away playing time, but that didn't seem to help either. A second suspension gave Howland time to think, and Friday morning he summoned Nelson to his office to deliver the bad news.

"If I had been a professional basketball coach, he probably would have been dismissed earlier," Howland said. "But Reeves is a kid who just turned 20 this summer. He started college at 17. This is education. We’re trying to help kids grow and mature.

"I’m one that’s an optimist and wants to hope and believe and try to help kids grow and improve but it just came to a point where that’s too much of a negative and a distraction versus the patience of trying to continue to get him to grow."

No easy answer to Reeves Nelson situation

December, 6, 2011
12/06/11
7:21
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UCLAJayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireUCLA coach Ben Howland has suspended star forward Reeves Nelson for the second time this season.
Reeves Nelson needs help.

And now, Ben Howland does, too.

Howland suspended Nelson after the 6-foot-8 power forward continued a pattern of mercurial behavior that points to underlying issues that may be beyond Nelson’s control.

He lashes out at teammates on the court. He shuts down mentally when things aren’t going his way and refuses to hustle in those stretches. He sits out of team huddles during timeouts and last month got into a verbal altercation with Howland at a team film session.

And Howland has struggled with how to deal with it.

His first instinct as a coach and a mentor is to try and help the kid, so he hasn’t thrown Nelson out on the street just yet. He has tried talking to him, tried taking away playing time, and has now suspended him for the second time this season.

The question is: Will it be enough?

Nelson clearly went unaffected by the suspension earlier this season that lasted all of one game. He came back, had a good couple of practices, but then missed the team plane to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational.

Once he got on the floor, he played well for parts of two games, but his behavior began to regress. Saturday against Texas, Nelson reverted to his old self in the first half by failing to hustle on defense, was benched for the second half and was laughing and joking with teammates and fans during the waning moments of a 69-59 loss.

That led to the current suspension and a lot of head scratching in the Howland camp about how to proceed. On the one hand, Howland is adamant that his job is to try and help a troubled kid, but on the other hand, he’s trying to figure out just how many chances Nelson should get.

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Five observations: Texas 69, UCLA 59

December, 3, 2011
12/03/11
6:04
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The lights went out at the L.A. Sports Arena, and then on UCLA.

The Bruins led Texas by 11 points when an electrical surge caused a 15-minute delay at the arena, but they never regained their spark when the lights returned, losing 69-59 Saturday afternoon. A season-best attendance of 6,177 saw UCLA fall to 2-5.

Five observations from the game:

1The Bruins didn't make defensive adjustments

The following stat is not for the faint of heart: Texas shot nearly 71 percent from the field in the second half, capitalizing on transition opportunities and blown assignments. The Bruins were always a few steps behind and appeared winded late.

The latest collapse had UCLA coach Ben Howland revisiting the possibility of mixing in a zone scheme.

"They did a nice job of running their stuff in the second half," Howland said. "They tore us apart."

How, exactly?

"We started running," said Texas guard J'Covan Brown, who scored a game-high 22 points, "and running with a purpose."

2Reeves Nelson needs to see the floor

The demands grew louder as the minutes flew by in the second half.

"Put in Reeves Nelson," yelled a fan seated near the UCLA bench.

"We want Reeves," screamed another nearby.

Howland said he decided at halftime that he would not play Nelson for the rest of the game due to a mental lapse that led to an easy Texas dunk late in the first half. Nelson played 12 minutes, did not score and committed both of UCLA's first-half turnovers.

"He was out of it and I thought he got fatigued again," Howland said. "He didn't play like he is capable."

And when Nelson meets his capabilities, the Bruins are a different group.

"It's the coach's decision," Lazeric Jones said. "I fully stand behind the coach with whatever decision he makes. I'm sure that Reeves will get everything together. I don't doubt him at all."

3UCLA is capable of fast starts

The Bruins sank their first six shots and jumped out to a 17-6 lead, earning a pair of standing ovations from the tormented fans. They were aggressive in transition and marksmen from the perimeter, with Jones, Tyler Lamb and Jerime Anderson hitting jumpers.

But with UCLA leading 30-19 and 3:59 remaining in the first half, the floor was engulfed by darkness.

"We had a chance to regroup," Texas guard Mych Kabongo admitted. "Thank God for the lights going out."

4Physical presence needed inside

With Nelson benched and center Joshua Smith continuing to deal with conditioning issues, interior players David Wear and Travis Wear will have to shoulder a heavier load.

Of the 25 possible defensive rebounds, UCLA pulled down only 13.

Nelson and Smith each played 12 minutes and each had three boards. Travis Wear had four in 30 minutes.

5Lazeric Jones might be UCLA's best chance at scoring

It could have been uglier for UCLA if not for a handful of Jones jump shots.

The senior point guard kept the Bruins within striking distance by hitting a 3-pointer to pull them within four with just over eight minutes remaining, and sank another less than a minute later to cut the deficit to three. But the Longhorns got three quick buckets to pull away and send fans to the exits with two minutes left.

Jones scored a season-high 21 points.

Five observations: UCLA 62, Pepperdine 39

November, 28, 2011
11/28/11
11:39
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Tyler LambStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesTyler Lamb dunks during UCLA's first-half dominance against Pepperdine on Monday night.

UCLA was successful in its return to the mainland, earning its first victory over a Division I opponent Monday night with a 62-39 drubbing of Pepperdine.

But by no means were the Bruins crisp, especially to start. They managed only five points in the first 7 minutes 46 seconds of play before going on a 20-2 run midway through the first half to pull away. The Bruins, fresh off an uninspiring trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational, got their first victory at the L.A. Sports Arena and improved to 2-4 overall.

Five observations from the game:

1Perimeter defense was in sync

Suffocating pressure from starting guards Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson played a major role in Pepperdine's first-half funk. The Waves went scoreless for over five minutes and managed just one basket in a rough stretch that lasted nearly nine minutes.

UCLA gave up only 11 points in the first half, the fewest since holding Florida International to 13 in 2008.

"Our team defense wasn't even close [at the beginning of the season] to what it is now," coach Ben Howland said.

Remember, the Bruins lost their best perimeter defender when Malcolm Lee left for the NBA last spring, and they don't have another player that will fill his shoes this year. Instead, UCLA will have to be good as a unit. Jones, who had a career-high six steals, attributed the change to better communication.

"I continued to hear people talk behind me," Jones said.

2The Wear twins meshed well as a tandem

Sophomore forward Travis Wear took an inadvertent elbow that knocked out his two front teeth -- causing him to speak with a noticeable lisp during the postgame news conference -- but that didn't stop him from pegging it as his best game as a Bruin. Travis Wear had eight points, a career-high 10 rebounds and three blocks, and, before he left the court to get his mouth examined, spent a considerable amount of his minutes alongside brother David Wear, who added 10 points and a career-high seven boards.

Howland seems intent on having both on the floor at the same time, and their collective performance Monday probably won't make him stray from that strategy.

"I think we're on the right path to being a really good team," Travis Wear said.

3The Bruins excelled without Joshua Smith and Reeves Nelson

A total of 22 minutes from Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith is an alarming statistic to take from this one. The two projected frontcourt starters were afterthoughts, really.

Nelson, who hasn't made a start since the season opener, played only two minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. Smith, again plagued by the whistle, played only four minutes in the first half. The duo combined for six points and six fouls.

"They'll play better," Howland said, "I'm confident, as we move forward."

4Norman Powell has potential to wow

Former UCLA guard Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook thrived in fast-break opportunities during their time in Westwood, usually capping their runs with dazzling moves near the rim.

Freshman Norman Powell might be UCLA's next can't-blink-when-he-has-the-ball player. He had a flashy dunk late in the first half that drew a surprisingly loud response from the 3,885 in attendance. Powell also added a pair of 3-pointers and notched a career-high with 10 points.

5Lazeric Jones bounced back

Jones appeared to regain his shooting touch, scoring a team-high 14 points Monday following his 0-for-5 performance in the Maui finale against Michigan. The Bruins will need similar efforts from him the rest of the season, and Jones knows it.

"I feel like sometimes you've got to get a win to know how to win," Jones said. "To see us go out there and play hard, it showed us what we need to do to win."

Five observations: Michigan 79, UCLA 63

November, 23, 2011
11/23/11
8:19
PM PT

UCLA had some trouble in paradise once again Wednesday, continuing what has been a worst-case scenario start to the season with a 79-63 loss to Michigan in the third-place game of the Maui Invitational.

The Bruins, as has been their standard operating procedure in three games in Hawaii, came out in the second half and made a run to cut a 38-31 halftime deficit to 46-41, but Michigan got hot from beyond the arc and sealed the game with five three-pointers in the final 11:35 of the game.

The Bruins fell to 1-4 for the first time since 1987 and leave the Hawaiian islands still without a victory against a Division I team. They defeated Division II Chaminade in the first round of the tournament.

Five observations from the game:

1UCLA's defensive woes continued

Ben Howland teams rarely allow opponents to shoot 50 percent for a game, but that's what UCLA opponents are shooting this season.

Michigan became the second team to shoot better than 60 percent against the Bruins this season by making 29-of-47 shots from the field. It brought UCLA's field goal percentage defense for the season to 50.1 percent.

The Bruins were too slow to stay in front of dribblers, too slow to switch on screens and too late in providing help defense because they were too slow. The result was a bevy of wide open, uncontested shots that Michigan players had no trouble making from all over the floor and easy layups.

Howland, a stickler for defense, hinted earlier this season that he might switch to a zone, but showed it only briefly in Hawaii. The personnel is better suited for a zone and with only two games in the next 16 days, the Bruins will have plenty of time to practice it.

2UCLA couldn't capitalize on its size advantage

The Bruins played six players who are 6-8 or taller while Michigan played only two players that tall for significant minutes, yet the Wolverines out-rebounded UCLA, 32-24, and tied the Bruins on points in the paint, 34-34.

Nobody on UCLA had more than five rebounds and one of the two players who had five was 6-1 point guard Lazeric Jones. The other was 6-10 center Joshua Smith. Twins David and Travis Wear, 6-10 forwards, had two rebounds each.

Travis Wear and Smith were able to make an impact on offense with Wear scoring a team-leading 16 points and Smith adding 12, but David Wear, Anthony Stover and Reeves Nelson were pretty much non-factors on offense. Nelson had six points while Stover and Wear had zero.

3The backcourt bailout didn't arrive

The last two nights, UCLA's guard play has helped the Bruins overcome deficiencies in the supposedly superior front court, but on Wednesday the cavalry couldn't get going.

Jerime Anderson, UCLA's most consistent player so far this season, was solid again with 12 points on four of nine shooting, but Tyler Lamb and Lazeric Jones were a combined one for 11 from the field. Jones scored eight points--all from the free throw line--and Lamb finished with three.

4Foul trouble again hurt Joshua Smith

Smith played only 19 minutes against Michigan despite coming off of the bench in an effort to keep him out of the foul trouble that limited him to only eight minutes the night before. He played only seven minutes in the first half, yet picked up two fouls and got a third foul 19 seconds into the second half.

He was an effective scorer when in the game, able to muscle his way around the post and finished with 12 points on six of nine shooting with two assists. But he was called for at least two fouls on the offensive end and had six turnovers total -- four in the second half.

5Lazeric Jones played too many minutes

Simply put, Jones is hurting the team more than he is helping it at this point. He had another woeful shooting night, going 0-5 from the field, and had only three assists in 32 minutes.

Jones this season is now shooting 24.4 percent from the field (12 of 49) and he is four of 31 (12.9 percent) against Division I opponents. Anderson is fully capable of manning the point guard spot and freshman Norman Powell has shown enough in limited time to warrant some more minutes at the third guard spot.

Powell was in the game for 20 minutes Wednesday, but his teammates seemed to make an effort to not give him the ball. He's shown some good athletic moves and while he's also making freshman mistakes, he's not hurting the team the way Jones is during this early-season shooting slump.

Five observations: Kansas 72, UCLA 56

November, 22, 2011
11/22/11
10:39
PM PT
For the second day in a row, UCLA slow-footed its way through the first half of a Maui Invitational game and for the second day in a row, the Bruins rallied in the second half.

Unfortunately for the Bruins, they weren't playing a Division II opponent for the second day in a row, the second-half rally wasn't enough and UCLA lost to Kansas, 72-56, Tuesday in a semifinal.

UCLA trailed, 43-26, at halftime, but stepped up the defensive intensity while Tyler Lamb and Jerime Anderson got hot from the outside and shot UCLA to within five points at 61-56 with 4:33 to play, but the comeback fell short as UCLA simply ran out of gas and Kansas finished the game with an 11-0 run.

The Bruins (1-3) will play Michigan in the third-place game Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. Pacific.

Five observations from the game:

1This was a dismal effort by UCLA's front court

UCLA's strength is supposed to be it's interior players with three 6-foot-10 players and another at 6-8, but the Bruins had little inside presence against Kansas. Joshua Smith, David Wear and Travis Wear had nights to forget, combining for seven points on 2-for-11 shooting.

Smith had one point and one rebound before fouling out in only 13 minutes. Travis Wear had four points and two rebounds and David Wear had two points and four rebounds. That's seven combined rebounds for three players who are 6-10.

In comparison, guards Lamb, Anderson and Lazeric Jones also combined for seven rebounds. It's no surprise UCLA was out-rebounded, 34-21.

Even steady rebounding machine Reeves Nelson had only five boards and although he scored 12 points, nine of those came via three-point shots for the 6-8 power forward. The Bruins had little inside presence with only 14 points in the paint.

2The guards got UCLA back in it

For the second consecutive game, UCLA's guards, not the vaunted front court, paced the UCLA offense. Lamb had 15 points and Anderson had 14 -- 10 in the second half. The duo combined for three 3-points baskets as UCLA, which trailed by 20 early in the second half, cut the Kansas lead to 57-52 with 7:59 to play.

On Monday, Lamb, Anderson and Jones led the Bruins with 15, 18, and 19 points, respectively in a victory over Chaminade.

(Read full post)

Five observations: UCLA 92, Chaminade 60

November, 21, 2011
11/21/11
9:43
PM PT
After two and a half games of lackluster play, UCLA finally broke out of its early-season doldrums with a dominant second-half performance in a 92-60 victory over Chaminade on Monday in the Maui Invitational.

The Bruins were coming off losses to mid-majors Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee and appeared headed for more of the same early on against Division II Chaminade, but finally began to look like the team that began the season ranked No. 17 in the nation and selected to win the Pac-12 conference.

UCLA's lead was only 40-38 in a back-and-forth first half that made it seem as if the Bruins might never break out of the funk that had beset the team this season, but they finally found an offensive groove with four players in double figures scoring and hunkered down on defense, limiting Chaminade to 20 percent shooting in the second half.

Five observations:

1The Bruins can breathe a sigh of relief

Sure, it's only a victory against a Division II school, but UCLA needed any kind of victory at this point. And the level of play in the second half is what you would expect for a top-tier team against an inferior opponent. UCLA outscored Chaminade, 52-22, in the second half, and that type of play should help restore some confidence the Bruins had lost, no matter who the opponent.

Yes, the Bruins are supposed to win games against Chaminade by 32 points, but at least they did what they are supposed to do. The last two games they didn't and started 0-2 for the first time since 2002-03. By winning Monday, they avoided their first 0-3 start since 1940-41.

2Reeves Nelson gave the team an emotional lift

Nelson, suspended for a game last week because of conduct issues and again for the first half because of a violation of team rules, entered the game with 16:37 to play and UCLA clinging to a 48-43 lead. By the time he went back to the bench for a rest, UCLA had a 63-48 lead.

Nelson scored only one point during that run and he finished with only one point, but he energized the team when he came on the floor by being very vocal. He had a blocked shot and an assist during the run and was a force on the board for the entire time he played. He had five rebounds in 11 minutes.

His attitude can fluctuate, but clearly Nelson is a major asset to the team when the "good" Nelson shows up.

3The guards shot their way out of their slump

Lazeric Jones and Tyler Lamb struggled badly from the field in the first two games, combining to make only eight of 38 shots, but they were two of the three leading scorers Monday. Jones led the team with 19 and Lamb had 15. Jerime Anderson, the third guard, was second with 18 points.

Combined, they made 20 of 37 shots (54 percent) and Anderson made four of six 3-point attempts, ending a dismal start for the Bruins from long range. UCLA made nine of 25 3-point attempts for the game, but connected on six of 11 in the second half. Entering the game they had made only six of 35 3-pointers and they made only three of 14 in the first half before finding their strokes.

4Joshua Smith dominated when he played

There is no doubt that Smith, the 6-foot-10, 305-pound center, is as dominant a post player as there is in the country and he showed it once again with 12 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots, but the key stat for Smith is 22 minutes.

Smith appeared clearly winded at times and had to ask out of the game when he was unable to continue because of conditioning issues. He was able to finish better around the basket, making five of six shot attempts including two dunks, but that took a lot out of him.

His defense suffered and he picked up a couple of needless reaching fouls, though he did also draw a charge. If Smith could stay on the floor for 30 minutes and play at a high level on both ends for 30 minutes, he could turn into an All-American.

5UCLA's defense seemed more in sync

After two games of dismal defensive performances, UCLA finally figured out how to stop an opponent. Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee combined to shoot 57.4 percent against UCLA and a mind-boggling 76.9 percent on three pointers, but Chaminade had only 29.8 percent for the game and 22.2 percent on 3-pointers.

The return of center Anthony Stover from a shoulder injury intensified the defensive energy and the Bruins finally were able to use their height advantage. UCLA had 12 blocked shots Monday night, double the number of blocks they had in the first two games combined.

They still have a ways to go as a defensive team, especially in helping off of screens and defending penetrating dribblers, but Monday was a step in the right direction, especially the second half.

UCLA to begin Sports Arena portion of Bruins road show

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
9:27
AM PT
For the UCLA men's basketball team, the Los Angeles Sports Arena is now officially a home away from home.

The Bruins open their season there Friday night against Loyola Marymount in the first of 14 home games to be played at the downtown Los Angeles arena that the Bruins will use for a majority of their home games while Pauley Pavilion undergoes a $136-million renovation.

UCLA will also play four home games at the Honda Center in Anaheim, creating a nomadic existence for the Bruins that they will have to overcome in order to play up to the potential of their top-20 preseason ranking.

"It’s going to be more of a challenge," coach Ben Howland said. "We’ve got to have fun with this. We’re on the road show. Hopefully we’ll be come tougher mentally because we’re on the road essentially as opposed to being on campus and that’s going to make us tougher."

The obvious drawback is not playing on campus, but the Sports Arena, located adjacent to USC, is helping to soften that blow. UCLA has worked with arena officials to give USC's former home venue more of a UCLA feel. They've added blue uplighting on the outside and painted the inside Bruin Blue.

UCLA's championship banners are hanging from the rafters and interior signage is in the UCLA color scheme. The floor used for play will has the same logos as the one in Pauley and a new scoreboard is adorned with the UCLA signature.

In all, the school has spent about $200,000 to make the Bruins and their fans feel at home.

"You will be pleasantly surprised at what you see," said Ken Weiner, UCLA's senior associate athletic director for business relations. "It is now a Bruin facility. We’re doing everything we can to make this our home."

The question is: Will it feel like home for the Bruins? UCLA played a scrimmage there two weeks ago, and it wasn't received very well by the players. But the transformation of the building wasn't complete at the time. Now the locker room is painted in UCLA blue, there is new furniture in there and also a flat screen television.

"I think the Sports Arena is going to be fine," Howland said. "I think they’ve really gone out of their way to make it our home arena during the season."

But will the fans follow? Students, normally able to walk from their dorms to Pauley Pavilion, now must fight L.A. traffic to get to games. The school is providing free buses for students and is also offering free bus rides from Jackie Robinson Stadium for fans who don't want to fight traffic.

Still, the season begins with a strange feel and it might take some time for the team to settle in and feel at home.

"I would assume it will probably take a few games," forward Reeves Nelson said. "But we’ve known since last season ended that we were going to have to do that so we’re just going to have to make that adjustment and hopefully get used to it as fast as possible."

Because the Bruins are playing all their games away from campus, they are calling this season "The Bruin Road Show." The players are taking on a mentality that every game is a road game and that they will have to be mentally tougher this season than in any other season.

"We just have to approach every game like a road game, which we kind of thrive on," point guard Lazeric Jones said. "We're all going to be going through this together so it's going to help develop our camaraderie and make us stronger."

Playing off campus brings some logistical issues, especially for weeknight games when players are in class. They will hold an afternoon shoot-around on campus followed by a team meal, then board a bus for the game. For weekend games, the team will stay in a hotel, which is something they did even when games were at Pauley.

The hassle will all be worth it next year, when the Bruins move back into an upgraded Pauley Pavilion, Howland said.

"It’s going to be spectacular," Howland said. "This is the sacrifice you have to make to get into a brand new facility on campus, state of the art, one of the nicest facilities in the country. It’s totally worth the inconvenience that we’re going through this year of having to be off campus."

Five observations: UCLA 80, CSUSB 72

November, 6, 2011
11/06/11
7:10
PM PT
ONTARIO -- UCLA got a little bit of a scare from Division II Cal State San Bernardino in an exhibition game Sunday at Citizen's Business Bank Arena, but the Bruins took control at the end and held on for am 80-72 victory.

Center Joshua Smith had 26 points and seven rebounds and forward Reeves Nelson added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Bruins, who used their significant size advantage to dominate the paint.

Still, the Coyotes took a 60-58 lead with 7:33 to play by frustrating UCLA with a zone defense, but the Bruins finally figured it out and clamped down defensively. They forced eight San Bernardino turnovers in the final 7:33.

"It was a tough win," said guard Tyler Lamb, an Ontario native who gave out 17 tickets to family and friends. "I think it was tougher than it should have been, but first game, get the rust out, get the jitters out. I think we got sped up at times, but that happens in games."

The Bruins, ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press preseason top 25 and No. 20 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, open the regular season Friday against Loyola Marymount at the Sports Arena. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.

Five observations from the exhibition:

1 Joshua Smith was the focal point of the offense
Smith, the 6-foot-10 sophomore center, took a bit of a backseat last season, and did not start the game as coach Ben Howland continued the strategy he used last season in bringing Smith off the bench to avoid early foul trouble, but was clearly is the go-to guy when he got in.

His 12 shot attempts and 18 free throws were the most of anyone on the team.

UCLA has plenty of size with Smith, Nelson, Travis Wear and David Wear and Howland made it clear that he intends to play inside out this season and that starts with Smith, who is listed at 305 pounds and is a load for any defender.

"We have to get it in to Josh and Reeves and Travis and Dave," Howland said. "We’ve got to take advantage of the obvious strength we have inside by getting it in whether it’s man or zone."

Smith still showed a tendency to be a little soft around the basket, however, missing or getting fouled on a couple of short-range shots that could have been dunks.

"I kind of got mad at myself looking at my field goals because a lot of them are just tip-ins," said Smith, who was six for 12 from the field. "Just a little more and I could have gotten 'and ones' instead of two free throws."

2UCLA's free-throw shooting was spot-on

The Bruins made 33 of 41 (80.5%) of their free throws, which is a crucial stat if the Bruins are going to keep going inside because big men inside tend to draw fouls.

Smith made 14 of 18 free throws, a vast improvement over the 61.3 percent he shot last season and he credited a change in technique he discovered by talking to his high school coach and Howland over the summer.

"A lot of times with my free throws, I fall back before the balls go in and that’s just something I was trying to work on," Smith said. "So I got to the line 18 times and I was just trying to finish."

The high percentage of made free throws was a welcome relief to Howland, who has had several teams in the past that were not that great from the line. Last year's team shot 67 percent.

"In the two scrimmages combined [Joshua] is shooting a high percentage," Howland said. "Which is great because he’s going to get fouled. Reeves is going to get fouled. Think about how many times we’ve sat here and talked about our free-throw shooting at the beginning of the year as a team. This is a team that can shoot free throws and shoot them well."

(Read full post)

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.

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