UCLA fans are getting excited about Bruin basketball; the 2012 season is one of the most anticipated in recent memory with the arrival of the best recruiting class in the nation, led by high school phenoms Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad (neither of which have been cleared to play this season).
First, you’re probably wondering what Howland had to say about oft-maligned but incredibly talented big man, Josh Smith:
Josh has a lot of work to do there. He’s in much better condition — being able to run up and down — than he was a year ago at this time, but he still has a way to go before he’s where we’d ideally like to have him.
This is consistent with the reports that Smith had lost a few pounds and was working out more, but was very far away from the sub-300 pounds that Howland and his staff may have set as a goal for him.
Here’s what Howland had to say about star freshman Shabazz Muhammad:
He’s a great kid. You talk about expectations, he’s got a lot of expectations heaped on his shoulders with all the notoriety that he comes with, having been named MVP in every poll last year for seniors in high school.
Shabazz was widely considered to be the crown jewel of the 2013 recruiting class, and it’s surprising to hear Howland talk about his character as opposed to Shabazz’s talent level.
He also mentioned Shabazz’s toughness in the video:
He’s the kind of kid who gets injured, he tries to play through it. It’s uncommon the way he handles it; he’s trying to man up and play through it.
Of course, this was in reference to Shabazz Muhammad sustaining a high-ankle sprain in the offseason, and Howland said it was “the worst [he] had ever seen.”
The real interesting tidbit was Howland’s intention to use Kyle Anderson as a point guard. While that’s not surprising, it was rather shocking to hear such a role would be limited:
Kyle, when he’s playing at the point, offensively — which he will do some for us while Larry’s not in there — will most likely end up matching with a three. I’m actually asking him to do the most offensively knowing multiple positions and multiple areas.
It’s difficult to tell whether Howland meant Anderson would be the primary point guard for the Bruins or if he’ll be manning the point only when Larry Drew II is not in the game. This is a crucial distinction, considering fans and pundits in the know alike would rather see Anderson manning the point and Drew playing the 1 defensively.
Here’s what Howland had to say about the type of rotation he’s planning to implement:
We’re going to play a lot of people; we’re going to play nine or 10 kids, that’s so we can play fast. The biggest key for us is staying healthy.
With Howland making the switch to a fast-paced offense — something fans have wanted for awhile now, and a move that is tailored to utilize UCLA’s talent — having a 10-man rotation should bode well for the Bruins, especially considering the fact that five highly-touted players will be able to either start immediately or break into the rotation.
Howland has a lot of pressure on him to perform this year in Westwood after a dismal — by UCLA standards — 19-win season and exclusion from the NIT in March. So far, so good.