With the addition of the Wear twins, the UCLA Bruins might have one of the deepest and most talented frontcourts in the country. However, the early departures of Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee for the NBA leave questions in their backcourt and about how good they can be this season.
The Bruins return their starting frontcourt of Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith. Nelson seems like the type of player who you love having on your team but hate playing against, and, to be honest, he looks like a serial killer. Nelson has a reckless abandon on the court and plays extremely hard on both ends of the floor. He is very physical, a threat on the glass, and plenty talented enough on the offensive end to make defenses account for him. Nelson is a great complement to the mammoth Smith who is very skilled on the block and just tapping into his true potential.
North Carolina transfers David and Travis Wear become eligible after sitting out last season. The twins are in the Nelson mode with their activity on both ends of the floor. They are also capable of stepping out on the perimeter and knocking down jump shots. The Wears will cut into the playing time of last year's reserves Brendan Lane and Anthony Stover, who could end up transferring due to a lack of minutes.
Lazeric Jones started all 34 games at the point last season and will be the go-to guard. He is more of a scoring point guard who gets a little shot happy at times. Jerime Anderson received a slap on the wrist by being suspended for the first two games of the season after pleading guilty to stealing a laptop computer. He will serve as the backup point guard but can also play alongside Jones in the same backcourt since Anderson is more of a distributor.
Tyler Lamb had a rather disappointing freshman campaign as he did not make the immediate impact that many thought he would. He will have to emerge as a reliable wing player and perimeter scorer. Freshman Norman Powell suffered a concussion during workouts in late September but should be good to go for the start of the season. He will likely see decent minutes off the bench while Khalid McCaskill figures to be the odd man out of the rotation.
Junior college transfer De'End Parker should be an impact addition for the Bruins. He is a gifted scorer who can play multiple positions including point guard. Parker will need to step in right away for UCLA to reach their potential.
The future is also very bright for the Bruins. With only two seniors on the roster, UNC transfer Larry Drew sitting out this season, and commitments from 2012 standouts Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, the Bruins could be close to returning to their glory years.
I am not sure that happens quite yet though. Before Honeycutt and Lee declared for the NBA Draft, I thought UCLA had the potential to be a top-10 team in the country. They are certainly capable of causing problems for teams due to their depth and talent inside, but the uncertainty in their backcourt holds them back in my rankings.
Player to Watch: Joshua Smith, C
Smith has the potential to be a dominant big man due to the way he throws his body around on the block and soft touch around the rim. Smith really showed flashes at times during his freshman campaign but his conditioning and propensity for getting into foul trouble too often limited his time and effectiveness on the floor. If he can improve both of those areas, he will be a force down low and possibly declare for the NBA Draft next summer.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/21 vs. Chaminade (Maui Invitational)
11/22 vs. Kansas/Georgetown (Maui Invitational)
11/24 vs. Duke/Tennessee/Memphis/Michigan (Maui Invitational)