UCLA’s basketball program plucked one of the biggest prizes from the recruiting pool Saturday when Shon Tarver ended a week of speculation by announcing he would attend the school this fall.
Tarver, a 6-foot-5 guard from Santa Clara High in Oxnard, is expected to have an immediate impact on the Bruins, who reached the East Regional semifinal in the NCAA tournament last season before losing to Duke.
Although Coach Jim Harrick is returning three guards--starters Gerald Madkins and Darrick Martin and reserve Mitchell Butler--Tarver received assurances by the coaching staff that he will play as a freshman.
“They just told me they need more outside shooting,” Tarver said Saturday.
UCLA has four starters returning from last season’s 22-11 team.
Tarver, a high school All-American and two-time Division IV state player of the year, averaged 31.6 points last season. He also averaged 9.2 rebounds and 4.0 blocked shots. Tarver finished his four-year varsity career with 2,445 points, a 25.0 average.
In Tarver’s two seasons at Santa Clara, the team was 55-1 and won two state championships.
Tarver said he hopes to bring such success to UCLA. But his path to Westwood has been circuitous.
He re-entered the college recruiting game two weeks ago when the school he planned to attend--defending NCAA champion Nevada Las Vegas--was banned from postseason competition by the NCAA for alleged recruiting violations of 13 years ago.
When Tarver announced in May that he would attend UNLV, he did not sign a letter of intent at the suggestion of Las Vegas Coach Jerry Tarkanian. Tarver was fearful of sanctions stemming from alleged recruiting violations of New York prep star Lloyd Daniels. By not signing the letter, he assured himself of the option of leaving without losing a year’s eligibility if the NCAA announced penalties before school started.
At the time, coaches at UCLA and Syracuse told Tarver they would have scholarships available if he changed his mind before the fall semester began.
But Tarver, like others at Las Vegas, did not consider the possibility of penalties from the 13-year-old case.
When the NCAA announced its decision last month, Tarver and his family were surprised.
“We didn’t have any Plan B for that,” said Tarver’s father, John.
Once he decided not to attend UNLV, Tarver narrowed his choices to UCLA and Arizona State. He said he picked the Bruins because he wanted to stay closer to home. He said his father played an important role in the decision.
“Yeah, my dad really wanted me to stay close so he could watch me play,” Tarver said.
John Tarver, a director at Golden State trade college in Oxnard, formerly played in the NFL with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. He has closely monitored his son’s recruitment.
Shon, 17, was excited about Arizona State after a visit last weekend, but those close to the family said his father preferred UCLA.
Tarkanian said he did not expect severe sanctions from the latest allegations, but understands Tarver’s decision to leave.
“We still feel there is not a major violation in the Daniels’ thing,” Tarkanian said. “We told the kids that and we honestly believe it. Both the kids and their parents wanted to come here if it was only going to be a one-year (penalty).”
Tarver refused to address the reasons for leaving UNLV.
“The Vegas thing is over with,” he said Saturday. “It’s not a question for me anymore.”
Tarver was one of two prep All-Americans Tarkanian successfully recruited from Southern California.
The other, 6-8 forward Ed O’Bannon of Artesia High in Lakewood, also decided to leave Las Vegas because of the NCAA penalties. O’Bannon said he will choose between UCLA and USC either Monday or Tuesday.
Tarkanian says he thinks O’Bannon also is headed to UCLA.
“UCLA was never in the picture (in the spring),” Tarkanian said. “It looks like UCLA went from not getting one quality player in California to getting the two best.”
Harrick ended the recruiting season last spring without signing a guard.
“Not in my wildest imagination would I have believed we would be in the position we are in today,” he said. “As a recruiter, you cut your losses after it’s over and go on and think about next year.”
Tarver was concerned about his chances to play at UCLA with the three guards returning. But he originally planned to attend UNLV, where the outstanding backcourt of Anderson Hunt and Greg Anthony was returning. At best, he would have been the Rebels’ No. 3 guard.
At UCLA, he could start some games next season. One scenario moves Tarver into a guard position for Butler, a sophomore. Butler would become a reserve forward.
Martin, a junior, is the team’s point guard. Madkins, also a junior, was the Bruins’ best defensive player last season, but did not shoot as much as expected. Although Madkins started every game last season, he might have to share that role with Tarver.
“If Shon can shoot the outside jumper the way they say he can, he will add a tremendous dimension to our team,” Harrick said.
Tarkanian said with the addition of Tarver and O’Bannon UNLV would have had its strongest team in his 18 years as coach.
“O’Bannon will be a three-time All-American no matter where he goes,” he said. “If UCLA gets both, they could have the best team in the country. They’ll be so talented, it will be unbelievable.”
No doubt UCLA has made a resurgence into the college basketball arena. The Bruins were dormant for much of the 1980s in the post-John Wooden era. Southern California’s best high school players left the area for basketball opportunities from Louisiana State to Syracuse to North Carolina.
But in recent years, such Southland prep stars as Don MacLean (Simi Valley), Darrick Martin (St. Anthony) and Tracy Murray (Glendora) have stayed home to play at Westwood.
Still, the Bruins lacked a shooting guard and inside game last season.
The addition of Tarver, and perhaps O’Bannon, would erase those deficiencies.
Some believe Harrick’s biggest problem next season will be satisfying so many egos. Others believe it will be easier for Harrick now that Trevor Wilson, a volatile, if outstanding, forward, has graduated.
“You cannot win without outstanding players,” Harrick said. “The chemistry problem was way overrated last year. We had a high-spirited group, which I like. I don’t think we’ll have any problems with these kids.”
Tarkanian has another lament at UNLV: He said the loss of Tarver and O’Bannon devastates his program.
But the Rebels will be formidable nonetheless.
Although Las Vegas will not be allowed to defend its NCAA championship, the Rebels have the nucleus of that team returning--Hunt, Anthony, Stacy Augmon and Larry Johnson. Tarkanian has 10 returners in all.
And his newcomers--even without Tarver and O’Bannon--are solid. He will have Elmore Spencer, a 7-footer from Atlanta, Evric Gray, a 6-7 forward from Riverside City College, H Waldman, a freshman guard from Las Vegas and Bobby Joyce, a forward from Riverside CC who played at Santa Ana High. Melvin Love, a 6-10 center from San Bernardino, also could join the team depending on academic eligibility.