Waiting for his first basketball recruiting class to take form wasn’t an altogether gut-wrenching process for UCLA Coach Steve Lavin, but potential disaster was always only a phone call away.
There were more than a few nervous moments, and the final piece of the puzzle took time to finish. But now that the work is complete, Lavin said the result was well worth the effort.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people who might be a little surprised by our class,” said Lavin, who spoke to a group of Bruin supporters in San Diego on Tuesday. “And when you look back to early in the season, when we had so many hurdles to overcome, I can understand some of the surprise.
“The year was kind of a season of hurdles for this staff, and we just cleared the final one.”
The Bruins’ class is ranked among the top five nationally by several recruiting evaluators. It was completed Monday when Lavin learned that forward Schea Cotton received a qualifying score on the Scholastic Assessment Test, making him eligible to play as a freshman next season.
Cotton and Baron Davis, a point guard from Santa Monica Crossroads, signed with UCLA during the late-signing period. Davis is generally regarded by coaches and recruiting evaluators as the nation’s No. 1 point guard prospect, and Cotton was listed among the nation’s best 25 players throughout his prep career at Santa Ana Mater Dei and Bellflower St. John Bosco.
The Bruins’ other recruits are point guard Earl Watson of Washington High in Kansas City, Kan., forward Travis Reed of Fontana A.B. Miller and guard Billy Knight of Westchester.
“We were able to keep some of the best players in the Southland home, and that’s something we’re very proud of,” Lavin said. “I think what happened was that after we got past some of the rocky moments, losing to Stanford by 48 [points], dropping out of the top 25, and got into calmer waters, people started to take another look at us.”
On Nov. 6, only two weeks before the season began, Coach Jim Harrick was fired by UCLA for turning in a false expense report and lying about it to school officials.
UCLA lost recruiting battles for many of the Southland’s top players, including Irvine Woodbridge forward Chris Burgess (Duke) and Villa Park center Eric Chenowith (Kansas). Even Cotton had originally signed a letter of intent with Long Beach State.
Lavin credits his assistants, Michael Holton, Jim Saia and Steve Spencer, for the turnaround.
“There was a lot of hard work involved,” Lavin said. “UCLA has such great tradition, and I always said that if we just worked hard as a staff, the package of UCLA would sell itself. But you still have to do the work.”