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April 3, 2008More Final Four Recruiting: Memphis | North Carolina | Kansas
Basketball players at UCLA have learned to live without trips to Mexico or spending time on the beach during spring break over the last years. Instead, the team has taken a week to Indianapolis, Atlanta and San Antonio for the last three years. Next year's players might want to scope out Detroit. That is where the 2009 Final Four will be held.
The Bruins are making their third straight trip to the Final Four this season and with the nation's second-best recruiting class coming to town in five months, Ben Howland and company could very well do it all again.
Howland and his staff signed four players in the 2008 class and each ranked among the top 51 prospects in the nation. All four should help out right away and make solid contributions over the course of the next four years.
Rivals.com National Recruiting Analyst Jerry Meyer said the future Bruins, particularly the guards, are similar to the current group of backcourt stars.
"The key for the incoming group of guards will be for each player to discover their role. The present threesome of [Darren] Collison, [Russell] Westbrook and [Josh] Shipp are so effective because they compliment each other's abilities and have great chemistry," Meyer said.
"As individual talents, the 2008 group is as talented or more talented as the present UCLA guards. I imagine they will one day match the nearly 40 points per game that the UCLA guards combined for this year. Whether or not they will mesh together as a cohesive trio remains to be seen."
So does making a trip to Detroit a year from now. But the chances are strong, at least from a recruiting standpoint.
Holiday, the No. 3 ranked player overall in 2008, is the highest ranked incoming player of the class and perhaps most talented backcourt player to fine tune his craft in the Los Angeles area since former Bruin Baron Davis.
The question has been asked before about Holiday - can he have a similar impact on the Bruins that Kevin Love has had this season in terms of raising the level of play from day one and whether or not he can be the Player of the Year in the Pac-10 like Love.
"It's possible but will be much tougher for Holiday. UCLA had a glaring need for a low post offensive presence. Love was ideal for filling that void. If Collison and Westbrook were to leave for the NBA, then there would be a similar void on the perimeter for Holiday," Meyer said. "There is no doubt that Holiday has the substance and intangibles to keep UCLA on the same winning path. And if the opportunity is there to put up the numbers, he does have the talent to garner numerous postseason awards."
Malcolm Lee, a McDonald's All-American like Holiday, sometimes gets lost in Holiday's shadow. However, his impact could be similar to the cohesive unit that Westbrook and Collison have shown over the last two years.
"The key for Lee's success is improving his physical strength. Lee is a playmaker, but in order for him to make and finish plays for UCLA, he will need to get stronger," Meyer said. "I see him working his way into a valuable complimentary role for the Bruins. I don't think he has a chance to be as good as Collison and Westbrook."
Meyer likes the potential of Jerime Anderson, a top 50 prospect from Anaheim, Calif.
"Anderson is the point guard of the future for UCLA, but I don't know that it will happen in his first year," Meyer says. "Three guards ? Collison, Westbrook and Holiday ? are in line ahead of him. Collison and Westbrook will be there one more year at the most, and Holiday, if he hasn't left for the NBA, could easily slide over to the wing to get Anderson on the court."
Love could dip his toe into the NBA Draft waters in the very near future. He could also stay in the comfortable surroundings of UCLA. Either way, he has more help coming in the form of Drew Gordon, who comes to the Pac-10 school from Archbishop Mitty in San Jose, one of the top high school programs in the nation.
Gordon gives the team a blue collar, no-nonsense mindset in the blocks. His style fits into the new brand of basketball that is being played in the Pac-10, says Meyer.
"Gordon has the intensity and mentality to excel for Coach Howland. A prospect with a top notch motor, Gordon is a defensive and rebounding oriented player," Meyer said. "I expect his offensive skills to rapidly improve at UCLA, but it is his defense and rebounding that will get him on the court early in his career."
The Bruins inked a similar class in 2004, anchored by Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo, Josh Shipp and Lorenzo Mata. Shipp and Mata have played in all three Final Fours for the Bruins. Afflalo played in two while Farmar played in one before going pro early.
The program has returned to national prominence and the Bruins are the clear cut powerhouse on the West Coast on the court, in recruiting and, of late, the road to the Final Four. Don't expect a drop off any time soon either.
None of the trips to the Final Four have brought a National Championship home to Westwood, at least not yet. Perhaps the 2008 class could end that streak.