With a week off, UCLA is going to take this time to recoup, rest, and prepare for the rest of the season that lies ahead. Sure studying for finals is important, but the young Bruin squad better find a way to multitask if they’re going to begin making strides when their season resumes December 15th against Prairie View A&M. This young group has a lot to learn if they plan to compete and eventually cut down the nets in March.
The buzz was high for this year’s squad after recruiting the number 1 ranked class this offseason. Bringing in one of the best high school players in the nation in Shabazz Muhammad could only mean good things were coming for Bruin Nation.
Muhammad came in ranked as the second best high school athlete (according to ESPN100) behind Kentucky center, Nerlens Noel. In his senior year, he led Bishop Gorman to a state championship while scoring over 30 points a game and was awarded the Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year award. After his high school season, Muhammad went on to play in the 2012 McDonald’s All-American game against future teammates Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker. Shabazz scored 21 points while grabbing 6 rebounds against some of the best high school players in the nation and was named the MVP.
It was clear to all who watched that his future looked bright at UCLA.
Kyle Anderson, standout from St. Anthony High School in New Jersey, came in as the fifth ranked player in the nation. He led his team to a state title and was awarded many accolades along the way, including Newark Star-Ledger Player of the Year, as well as one of the six finalists for the 2012 Morgan Wootten Player of the Year, which Muhammad actually won.
Previous winners of this prestigious award include Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, and the King himself, Lebron James. I’d say he’s in some pretty good company.
The next two players of UCLA’s “Fab-Four,” are Jordan Adams and Tony Parker.
Adams played at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, helping lead his team to a 44-0 record during his senior year. The school is known for developing NBA talent, with players in the league including Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo, among many others. Adams is no different. Although coming in as the lowest ranked of the four freshmen at number 41, he has been the most productive thus far averaging almost 18 points a game this season.
Tony Parker, the last one to officially sign with UCLA, is to be the muscle to back up the talented freshman class already in place. The 26th ranked freshman led his high school, Miller Grove, to four straight Georgia state titles while averaging a double double as a senior. He turned down other big name schools like Duke and Ohio State to team up with the dynamic group of freshmen and take the NCAA by storm. At least that was the thought that all of Bruin Nation had at the time of his signing.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Right before the season, the NCAA infractions committee opened a case involving Muhammad, Parker and Anderson to probe for possible violations, which threatened to end the promising season before it even began. It was soon found that the information regarding Parker and Anderson was inaccurate, so they continued playing with the team.
Shabazz remained ineligible until he was reinstated before the Legends Classic tournament in New York.
This, somehow, was the most promising part of the season to date for the Bruins and their fans. They were ranked 13th with a 3-0 record and all signs pointed up when adding the highly touted freshman.
However, reality can sometimes be cruel. They went on to lose the next game against Georgetown and then win narrowly against Georgia the following day.
Since the 3-0 start, UCLA boasts a 3-3 record, including an embarrassing loss at the hands of the Cal Poly Mustangs and just this weekend, a narrow win over Texas, that was far from convincing and could have easily gone the other way.
Overall, the highly advertized freshmen at UCLA have played well below expectations, and many are pointing towards Coach Ben Howland as the problem.
It’s possible that the critics have been haste in their judgment just yet.
In general, maybe the expectations were a bit too high to start. The slow start could be just what this young team needs to bring them together.
Think about it. These are four freshmen that come from different schools, where they were playing alongside kids they’ve previously played with, and knowing only of winning, a lot.
They’ve never played on a team where they weren’t the best player on the court at all times.
They’ve never played in an arena where the entire fan base is dressed in the other teams colors, screaming at the top of their lungs, making sure you know every mistake made, or every shot you miss. The pressure can get to anyone, especially a kid that’s only 19 years old.
It takes some getting used to, let alone chemistry isn’t always easy to come by. Sure, were coming off a season where Kentucky’s John Calipari led his group of exceptional freshman to a national title but this is a different situation. It doesn’t always work like that. The Wildcats also had player of the year Anthony Davis on the roster. Like I said, different year, different situation.
Now, I’m not saying Shabazz may not turn into an elite star, but like the Bruins, he’s got some work to do before he gets to that level. If anything, these first few games are proof of that.
This season, Kentucky is running into similar problems. It’s possible their season may be destined for greatness, but it is too early to tell.
For UCLA, we’ve gotten to see glimpses of the talent that excited most of us in the preseason (like Adam’s three point play to tie the game against Texas on Saturday), but it’s also obvious how young the team truly is. On this week off from basketball, lets take the time to reflect, to learn. Now that everyone seems to doubt the young Bruin team, it may be the perfect time to shock the world and prove that the preseason ranking wasn’t just a hopeful number.