Names Won’t Change, but Games Must
Lavin, Lavin, Lavin.
That’s all we heard.
Discussion of the UCLA coach dominated newsprint and airwaves all season. Was he getting fired? When was he getting fired? What did he say now about getting fired?
Yet Steve Lavin is about to disappear from the local sports landscape. He will be dismissed, presumably Monday, then ... poof!
Don’t believe it? How often have you seen a photo of Bob Toledo the last three months?
However, most of the names associated with UCLA and its 10-19 season won’t go away. Every player besides forward Jason Kapono and guard Ray Young returns.
It’s a crazy quilt of talent, with weaknesses at guard, a wealth of athletes at the wing and raw material at center.
The only seniors will be center-forward T.J. Cummings and guard Jon Crispin, who shoot well but have other deficiencies.
Cummings is contemplating declaring for the NBA draft in order to attend workouts, but scouts say he’s a longshot to make a pro team. If his grades are decent, he’ll be back, bringing a relentlessly positive attitude and 10 to 12 points a game. Certainly, a new coach will need more from him than the 19 assists he had this season.
Crispin, a transfer from Penn State, was a disappointment. He played with little confidence, his ballhandling was poor and he rarely was open to launch the three-point shot that is supposed to be his specialty.
Sophomores Dijon Thompson and Andre Patterson and freshman center Ryan Hollins give the Bruins three returning starters with outstanding athleticism. Working with this trio should excite the new coach.
Thompson, considered the Bruins’ best NBA prospect, often was the team’s top scoring threat. However, he was clearly unhappy. He refused to speak to reporters for nearly two months and had a habit of making his displeasure with Lavin’s coaching obvious during games, rolling his eyes and whispering wisecracks to teammates.
Thompson’s best friend is Cedric Bozeman, another sophomore whose attitude suffered once the team began losing. Although his defense and ballhandling are solid, Bozeman’s inability to shoot or distribute the ball effectively makes him a liability at point guard. He also has been injured in both seasons and will have surgery in nine days on his right shoulder. Is it a coincidence UCLA is 12-3 in games Bozeman has missed?
The new coach can be expected to make turning around the attitudes of Thompson and Bozeman a priority because they are essential to the team’s fortunes.
Patterson, a power forward, and Hollins are exuberant players with terrific potential who need to spend the off-season in the weight room and on the court honing medium-range jump shots. Both are good rebounders and shot blockers, giving UCLA a strong inside presence. But their slight builds and lack of shooting range have kept them from becoming all-around threats.
Otherwise, the question marks are more pronounced.
Sophomore Ryan Walcott is an overachiever who ate up a lot of minutes at point guard, but he is a poor outside shooter and his ballhandling became a liability late in the season.
Freshman center Michael Fey appeared intimidated and content to ride the bench. Yet he is a 7-footer with a decent shooting touch, so a new coach undoubtedly will challenge him to fight for playing time.
Sophomore forward Josiah Johnson played well early, making timely shots and hustling on defense. But when Lavin pared down his rotation late in the season, Johnson sat. He could become a contributor off the bench again.
Forward Marcedes Lewis, a promising football player, and redshirt forward Matt McKinney, an excellent volleyball player, must examine their commitment to basketball in the face of a new coach’s demands. Transfer guard Brian Morrison is unproven, as are incoming freshmen Trevor Ariza and Sean Phaler.
Lavin often commented that he enjoyed this team, despite the losing. But the pleasure will be someone else’s next season.