NCB On The Trail: UCLA Bruins

UCLA announces two ESPN 100 signings

November, 13, 2014
Nov 13
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Second-year UCLA head coach Steve Alford announced the signing of two ESPN 100 guards on Thursday.

Suiting up for the Bruins in 2015-16 will be ESPN 100 shooting guard Prince Ali (No. 46 overall) and ESPN 100 point guard Aaron Holiday (No. 85).

"Prince is an extremely talented player who has established himself as one of the premier backcourt players in the country," Alford told the school's website. "He's a big, athletic guard who has tremendous versatility and comes to our program with a strong understanding of a winning culture.

"Aaron is a very talented player who we know will really help our backcourt next season. He is a quick, tough guard who possesses the ability to be both an efficient scorer and a lockdown defender."

Holiday is the younger brother of former Bruin and current New Orleans Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday.
UCLA may already have a pair of ESPN 100 commitments on the books in the class of 2015, but the next two weeks will go a long way toward determining the ultimate strength of the class.

For Steve Alford to return the program to the level that UCLA was once known for, and still expects to be, the second-year head coach needs five-star recruits who can come in and be difference makers from Day 1. He also needs to make a habit of getting them on an annual basis.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Ingram
Kelly Kline/Under ArmourLanding Brandon Ingram would go a long way to solidify UCLA's 2015 recruiting class.
Kevon Looney was that type of guy last year. 2016 commit Lonzo Ball is similarly impressive.
Shooting guard Prince Ali (Pembroke Pines, Florida/The Sagemont) School), ranked No. 44 in the ESPN 100, has committed to UCLA over finalists Louisville, Michigan, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Nebraska. Ali had committed to Connecticut last December before decommitting in May, which opened the door for a number of high-major programs to pursue him. That's exactly what happened.

Let's check out what the Bruins are getting in Ali:


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After a long and detailed conversation about the nation’s best prospects, Ivan Rabb holds on to his No. 1 spot as we launch the new ESPN 100 for the Class of 2015.

Why he is No. 1: Many factors go into being tabbed the nation’s top prospect such as strong performance, consistent production and potential. At 6-foot-11 and 210 pounds, Rabb has all the physical markers to impact a game. Rabb has mobility and an enormous wing span (7-4). He utilizes those features along with speed and lateral quickness to protect the basket, outrun opponents and score the ball. It’s his efficiency that is impressive, as the majority of shots come inside the paint. After 16 games in the Elite Youth Basketball League, he had made more than 60 percent of his field-goal attempts, per GameChanger stats service.


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Minneapolis Nike EYBL recap 

May, 25, 2014
May 25
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The fourth session of the Nike EYBL gave teams one more opportunity to add league wins and earn the right to participate in the Peach Jam that will crown a champion in July.

Check out some of the many terrific prospect performances we witnessed this weekend at the EYBL:


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ESPN 60 guard Allonzo Trier made Nike EYBL history last weekend, becoming the first player to ever record 30 or more points in each game of a single session.

While the feat has never been accomplished before on the Nike circuit, ironically, Adidas had someone accomplish the very same thing on the same weekend when fellow ESPN 60 guard Jalen Adams finished with 30 or more points in all four of his games.

While Trier and Adams are similar in that they are two of the nation's best scoring guards in the 2015 class, they’re unique in the way they look to attack the defense.


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Scouting the country each year I’ll not only see players’ skills, athletic ability and basketball IQ, but I’ll also witness their character along the way. This year’s class might not have any NBA superstars at the moment, but it will have difference-makers for the college game, both in the short term as well as those who will make a difference in time because of their character traits combined with their talent.

As we wrap up the Class of 2014, here are my five final thoughts:

1. The land of the giants

[+] EnlargeJahlil Okafor
AP Photo/The Sun News/Charles SlateDuke center signee Jahlil Okafor finishes the season as the nation's top prospect.
When you look at the top of a class it's so rare to have three post players sitting in the top three spots. Jahlil Okafor, who held the top spot for much of the season, finishes the season as the nation’s top prospect. The center from Chicago is a dominating presence in the paint. A Duke signee, Okafor led his high school team to a 4A state championship and was named the McDonalds Morgan Wooten player of the year.

He is special because he scores down low in the paint with his back to the basket. His combination of size, touch and fluid footwork is too much for one defender and when he doesn’t score, he attracts a double-team, which gives his team an advantage. He operates with patience and poise and when he reads the double-team he will accurately pass out to the open man. Defensively he guards the post and is improving at ball-screen defense as he is a barrier to the rim for his team.

Myles Turner, the nation’s No. 2 prospect, challenged hard for the No. 1 position and shows a big upside. Turner, who is uncommitted, is an elite shot-blocker and scores baskets with a soft touch and range. Cliff Alexander is going to be an absolute difference-maker for Kansas with his ability to rebound, finish and block shots, and he does it in an aggressive manner. Trey Lyles is one of the most skilled post players in this group and his future teammate at Kentucky Karl Towns Jr. has franchise skill-to-size ratio. Thomas Welsh is a fundamentally sound big who will anchor the middle at UCLA.


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McDonald's Game players to watch 

April, 2, 2014
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The basketball world will be watching the 37th annual McDonald’s All-American Game on Wednesday night (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET) from the United Center in Chicago.

The 24 players selected to participate have already received the greatest honor in high school basketball, but with practices having started, they’re quickly realizing that this week is as much about things to come as it is a celebration of their careers to date.

The game isn’t just a chance for these players to excite their future fan bases, but also to perform, in many cases for the first time in their career, in front of NBA scouts and front office personnel expected from all 30 teams. It all but ensures a competitive few days of action as the players are always anxious to make a good impression.

That type of environment is also ideal for our ESPN RecruitingNation staff as we take one of our final looks at the top players in the country before ultimately putting the Class of 2014 player rankings to bed. With that in mind, we asked our team of evaluators which player they were most interested in observing this week:


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Recruit and return: UCLA 

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
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In order to return to the NCAA tournament, a team needs contributions from both returning players and incoming recruits. Here's a look at UCLA and its chances of dancing again in 2015.

Quick references:

2013-14 roster
2014 recruiting

Possible 2014-15 starting five:

PG Bryce Alford
CG Isaac Hamilton
SG Norman Powell
PF Tony Parker
C Thomas Welsh


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CIF Southern Section review 

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
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The last couple of weeks were spent venturing all over Southern California for the CIF Southern Section Championships, casting my eyes upon some of the better prospects around the region. At the end of the day it became quite clear, yet again, Arizona signee Stanley Johnson (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) is too much to handle at this level.


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There is a budding dynasty in prep school basketball, and it goes by the name Brewster Academy.

Winners of three of the last six New England prep titles and two of the last four national championships coming into the year, this season was supposed to be a "down” year for Brewster (Wolfeboro, N.H.). However, it turned into perhaps the Bobcats' most successful season in program history.

While this might not be the most individually talented team in Brewster history, it is probably the most cohesive collective unit. The Bobcats approached this season's National Prep Championship -- which they won on Wednesday -- as if they were on a mission. They competed for 40 minutes each time out, defended and shared the ball incredibly well. In fact, they had at least four players finish in double figures in all three of their wins.


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Southern Cal recap: Standout players 

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
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LOS ANGELES -- During the last couple of weeks, there have been a plethora of one-day showcases, including stops at the Cavalier Classic, Southern California Shootout and the MLK Shootout.

A year ago, names like Stanford signee Michael Humphrey (Phoenix/Sunnyslope) and Boise State signee Chandler Hutchison (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo) were virtual unknowns. However, with their development, they're now national names and terrific prospects going forward.

Most versatile (post player)
Michael Humphrey (Phoenix/Sunnyslope)
2015, PF, 6-foot-9, 210 pounds
Status: Signed with Stanford

The Cardinal will be losing quite a bit of their frontline, but they'll have some reinforcements with Reid Travis (Minneapolis/De La Salle) and Humphrey. Strength is a concern at this stage, but Humphrey's bounce, lateral quickness, ball skills and touch are impressive.


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Forty-six Division I schools came into the season with a new basketball coach. The vast majority of those changes were met with optimism and enthusiasm.

But with conference play now revving up, many first year coaches are dealing with the harsh reality that rebuilding isn’t going to happen overnight. And in those types of situations, sometimes your first year recruiting class can be more important than your win-loss record.

A coach’s first recruiting class is absolutely critical to his long-term success. It’s about more than just filling out next year’s roster. It’s about setting the tone for the way in which the staff and program will be viewed by prospects, high school coaches, and AAU coaches moving forward. And this time of year, when the product on the floor isn’t always something a coach can sell, making an initial splash on the recruiting trail is often times all it takes to develop the type of positive momentum to build on.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how seven first-year coaches are doing on the trail:

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Scout's take: Lonzo Ball to UCLA 

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
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UCLA is hot both on the court and in recruiting.

After a huge crosstown win against USC on Sunday, the Bruins landed ESPN 25 prospect Lonzo Ball (Chino Hills, Calif./Chino Hills High School.)

Why he committed:
When Steve Alford and his staff took the UCLA job, they immediately begin recruiting Ball, and now it's paid off. Ball was recently on an unofficial to UCLA when the Bruins pounded USC, and it only took a few days after that win for him to commit to the Bruins. Once Ball witnessed the up-tempo atmosphere of Alford’s offense, he felt that he would be a perfect fit in that system.


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UCLA under new coach Steve Alford has landed the nation’s No. 11 recruiting class. A big part of that class -- no pun intended -- is 7-footer Thomas Welsh, who has made improvement from last spring.

After Jahlil Okafor and Myles Turner, Welsh is in the conversation for next-best low-post player in the class.

Let’s take an in depth look at his game:


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