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More UCLA Basketball

UCLA Recruits Star at ProCity League

By Steven Dunst

July 17th





UCLA Recruiting Update: Stars Gather at ProCity League

Baron Davis and Earl Watson stepped onto the UCLA campus an eternity ago amidst hoopla and fanfare. Baron and Earl instantly became the backcourt duo who was supposed to revitalize the Bruins program.

Meet Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar, this year’s version of Baron and Earl, who hope to etch their names into the UCLA history books.

This year’s heralded UCLA recruits (there’s more than just Arron and Jordan) have five-star talent, but more importantly, the poise that wins games. The nationally-ranked foursome is used to winning, and is willing to do what it takes to get the job done, even if all that is at stake is a meaningless summer game in front of a few hundred people against mostly marginal Division-1 players.

Fueled by the star McDonalds All-American backcourt, explosive point man Farmar and sharpshooter Afflalo, the Salvatori’s Bruins used their defensive intensity and deadly long-range shooting to spark an 82-79 come-from-behind victory over Entertainment Tonight in the Nike ProCity League.

Their intensity and clutch performances are a welcome breath of fresh air for a UCLA team who’s marched in recent pre-Ben Howland years to a mantra of talent and potential without results.

The dynamic duo of All-Americans was joined by the heady play of senior Janou Rubin, the freakishly athletic incoming Freshman Lorenzo Matta, and the smooth Josh Shipp, all of whom played a pivotal role in the win.

It was Farmar and the nice shooting touch of Rubin that got the Bruins the initial lead, but Afflalo was the one that dominated in crunch time to deliver the win. Off a Farmar steal, Afflalo drained a pull-up trey to cut the Entertainment Tonight lead to four with three minutes left. After a crossover and strong finish by Rubin cut the lead to two, Afflalo ripped his opponent in the backcourt and nailed another NBA-range three to give the Bruins the lead. He iced the game soon after, calmly sinking four straight free throws, and confidently hit a step-back three with thirty seconds left to put the nail in the coffin. Confident and energized, Afflalo willed the Bruins to victory.

But complementing Afflalo’s heroics was the heady, often spectacular play of Farmar. Farmar is a natural-born leader, extremely vocal throughout the game and looking as comfortable with the ball in his hands and running the show as an obese man is sitting on a couch all day munching on potato chips.

Farmar is the undeniable leader on the court, a pass-first point man in the mold of Pistol Pete Maravich.

“I love how at UCLA I’ll be able to be home with family and friends,“ Farmar said. “I wanted UCLA because of it’s great tradition, the chance I have here to win right away, and because of the great coaching staff.”

Farmar is mature beyond his years, already realizing that even though he is a McDonalds All-American, it doesn’t guarantee a hefty NBA contract, and that it’ll take hard work to become an elite college point guard.

“At UCLA I get to network with other people like nowhere else,” he said. “The great thing about being here is, if worse comes to worse, I still have a degree from UCLA.”

Farmar will compete for the starting job in the upcoming season with senior Cedric Bozeman, a high school McDonalds All-American in his own right, who has yet to prove that he is capable of running the show with his lanky 6’6’’ frame and shoot-first mentality.

Farmar will be given the opportunity to compete for the starting job right away, rightfully so, as on Friday he led the way with nine assists and five steals, displaying true point guard skills, always looking to drive and dish rather than jack up shots.

“I think that I have the total package of toughness, leadership, scoring, and passing, which is why Coach Howland recruited me,” Farmar said. “Most importantly, I hate to lose, and I’ll do whatever it takes to win and help the team, even if that means setting more screens and scoring less than I did at Taft. I know I’ll have to learn to tone down my game a bit coming to UCLA.”

Although he is still recovering from a gimpy ankle, he broke down the defense on numerous occasions and applied put full-court pressure on Pepperdine’s Alex Acker.

He shows great court awareness, making a quick cut to the basket for a lay-up in the first period, and rifling a one-handed baseball pass to Afflalo for a tomahawk dunk off of a steal.

Although his slender build and gimpy ankle prevented him from finishing with authority on occasion, and his jumper was slightly off, he made up for it by being unselfish, driving baseline to draw two defenders and throwing a behind-the-back pass to Rubin for a lay-up in the second quarter.

It looks as though Farmar will have no trouble racking up assists as a Bruin, especially if a lot of his passes are directed to Afflalo, one of the top-rated shooting guards in the land. Afflalo continued to show the public why he is worthy of being Ben Howland‘s first and perhaps most important recruit, lighting up the scoreboard en route to 33 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and two steals and blocks, a stat line reminiscent of Scottie Pippen or Andre Iguodala.

His strong build, silky smooth NBA-range three-point shot, and deceptively quick first step give him an offensive arsenal that will be hard-pressed to match in the Pac-10.

Afflalo knows that playing for UCLA will bring an entirely new level or intensity on the court than he’s used to. He will get big minutes right away, possibly even the starting job at the two-guard position.

“I’m going to have to work on everything this summer,” he said with a chuckle, as his eyes suddenly become opened wide, showing that he realizes he has a monumental task ahead of him. It is rare, in the same year as eight high schoolers went in the first round of the NBA draft, for a McDonalds All-American to be so incredibly modest.

“I’ll need to improve my defense and rebounding, because Howland really wants me to hit the boards,” he said.

Afflalo credits Howland and the UCLA tradition as the reasons that he signed with UCLA.

“I immediately found a close relationship with Howland,” he said. “Under the old coaching staff [led by head coach Steve Lavin], I probably wouldn’t have committed. And UCLA has a basketball tradition like none other.”

Although not an exceptional athlete, Afflalo is a creative finisher due to his strong upper body which shields and even overpowers defenders. He is also a team player, rarely forcing shots, exemplified in the second quarter of Friday’s game as he gave his defender a head-fake and drove hard to the basket, dishing it off to Matta for an emphatic dunk at the last minute instead of trying to finish himself.

Afflalo is one of the most consistent and hard-working defenders around, never taking a play off and always playing aggressively, rarely getting beat.

On offense, he loves to try to work his way for open jumpers, which he knocks down with frightening consistency. He is much more comfortable pulling up than driving to the basket, although when he does drive he is usually very effective, overpowering opponents and displaying very fluid ball handing skills. He has all the tools needed to succeed, adept at driving, shooting, posting up, or making the right read and giving the ball up when his shot isn’t there. Afflalo is the kind of player who will make everyone around him better, as he is willing to do all the little things in addition to filling up the box score with a barrage of points, rebounds, and steals.

He also loves working in the post, constantly fighting for position when he has a smaller man on him, getting low to fight for position and finishing with a turnaround jumper or drop-step.

Afflalo has high hopes for next year, not shying away from burdening himself with high expectations.

“I see all of us [the incoming Freshmen] contributing next year and having a major impact. We have a real chance to win with this new coaching staff. Howland brings the winning mentality.”

While Farmar and Afflalo were clearly the stars of the game, Matta’s intensity and defense could be just what the doctor ordered for a mainly offensive-minded Bruin squad.

Matta displayed minimal, if any, offensive moves, showing no ability to score outside of three feet. He is a gangly post man who lives in the paint, always going for block shots and trying to position himself for put-back dunks.

“I bring energy and defense, I don’t look to score,“ Matta said. “Once I get in shape, I will focus on rebounding and blocking shots.“

Although not aggressive at all on offense, his intensity rises on the defensive end. He is extremely raw, even on that end, always jumping when given a shot-fake and desperately trying to block shots, even when the right thing to do would be to stand straight up and just contest the shots.

But it is hard to deny his immense athleticism, and with a little coaching and an added 20-25 pounds, he could develop into a Ben-Wallace type in the college ranks, grabbing ten boards and swatting three shots a game.

“I’m going to focus on improving my strength,” Matta said. “Coaches say that if I gain 20-25 pounds I can start by mid-season.”

Matta picked UCLA because “we have one of the best recruiting classes in the nation, and the best point guard around [in Farmar],” he said. “I really think that we’re going to be able to win, and it’ll be a lot of fun playing with these guys, especially since they seem like they want to all stay for four years.”

The final UCLA incoming-Freshman graced with a scholarship is Shipp, an electrifying shooter who can light up the scoreboard at any time. Standing at 6’5’’ and weighing a solid 200 pounds, Shipp has the prototypical college shooting guard body. Ranked the 11th best shooting guard in the nation by, Shipp possesses a smooth stroke from anywhere on the floor, and a 3.2 GPA at Fairfax to boot.

At West LA College, Shipp was not very impressive, struggling as a ball handler driving to the basket, forcing a number of turnovers. He looked much more comfortable pulling up for a jumper or camping out and waiting to shoot the three, although at Fairfax he regularly slashed to the basket and elevated for big dunks. I will have more on Shipp later as I watch him a few more times.

Farmar spoke about the prospects of the upcoming season with his usually confident demeanor, which doesn’t come across as cocky or brash because of how honest and forthright he is. He always has a slight grin on his face and expressive, beaming eyes, as if he’s looking past everything in the gym and vividly seeing the future.

“We have one of the top 3 recruiting classes in the country,” Farmar said. “We have a great combo of toughness and skill that isn’t found many places. We will be very successful next season. I think we’ll go deep into the tourney and compete for a national championship.”




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