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October 7, 2009
This season, UCLA coaches might say the one word they haven't had much use for over the past few seasons: "rebuilding." Of course, rebuilding for UCLA might mean a third- or fourth-place finish in the Pac-10 and a low NCAA tournament seed, but it's a changing of the guard nonetheless. Three seniors - Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya - are gone, as is one-and-done freshman Jrue Holiday. Collison, Shipp and Aboya were part of three consecutive Final Four teams before a second-round loss to Villanova last season. UCLA will start the rebuilding process with one returning starter, two more senior part-timers, a few sophomores who have been buried on the depth chart and a horde of freshman forwards. After coaching a guard-heavy team in 2008-09, Ben Howland suddenly has a glut of forwards on his roster.
Nikola Dragovic will have to pick up the scoring load for UCLA this season.
Most of UCLA's experience is in the frontcourt. Nikola Dragovic is the only returning starter; he's also the leading returning scorer (9.4 ppg) and rebounder (4.3 rpg). He could start at power forward or move to the wing, depending on how the rest of the lineup shakes out. Sophomore Drew Gordon was a top-50 prospect out of high school and will get a chance to start after averaging 11 minutes per game last season. Sophomore center J'mison Morgan was a five-star prospect, but he needs to improve his conditioning before making an impact. The Bruins signed five players 6 feet 7 or taller, and Tyler Honeycutt and Mike Moser look to be the most prepared to play immediately.
UCLA won't be able to afford injuries to its guards. The Bruins have only four guards they feel comfortable sending out on a nightly basis. The pressure will be on sophomore Jerime Anderson to take over for Collison at the point. Anderson was limited to 8.6 minutes per game last season and must give up some of his shoot-first instincts. Like Anderson, shooting guard Malcolm Lee will have to get used to a sharp increase in minutes. Senior Michael Roll is the most experienced member of the backcourt. He led the Pac-10 in 3-point shooting (51.5 percent) but lacks a well-rounded game. Mustafa Abdul-Hamid will be the fourth guard, but he's played in only 24 games in three seasons.
UCLA is in transition, but the Bruins have too much talent and too good a coach to take a steep tumble down the Pac-10 standings; it helps that the league will be down this season. UCLA is one of the few teams in the conference that has its strength up front. That could be a major advantage, provided the guards don't get overwhelmed.
Preseason rankings were compiled by basketball writers David Fox, Mike Huguenin, Jason King and Steve Megargee.