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UCLA Hobbled From the Start

Times Staff Writer

Practice hasn’t started yet and already the UCLA men’s basketball team is short on depth.

Third-year Coach Ben Howland, aiming to improve on last season’s third-place Pacific 10 Conference finish and first-round NCAA tournament loss to Texas Tech, said that Alfred Aboya, a 6-foot-8, 242-pound freshman from Yaounde, Cameroon, via Tilton (N.H.) Prep Academy, underwent successful arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Wednesday.

Howland offered what he called the “unfortunate news” about Aboya just before the Southern California Tip-Off luncheon hosted by the Los Angeles Athletic Club, but said after the surgery, “It’s all good news, much better than expected.”

This means the Bruins will have only eight scholarship players available when practice begins Friday. Already missing were sophomore Josh Shipp, who had surgery on his right hip Sept. 28; senior center Michael Fey, who was diagnosed last week with a severe groin pull; and freshman and Cameroon native Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who suffered a sprained right shoulder last week.

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“It’s not ideal,” Howland said, “because we’ll have no substitutions for a while.”

This is Aboya’s second knee surgery in three months -- he had an arthroscopic procedure on his right knee July 11 -- and also the second surgery Aboya has had on his left knee. Howland said this second injury showed up after Aboya collided with senior Ryan Hollins during a workout earlier this week. Eighteen months ago, Aboya suffered a torn left meniscus playing high school soccer.

Aboya is expected to miss four to five weeks. Howland said he hoped Shipp would be back to play his first game against Wagner on Dec. 21 at Pauley Pavilion. The 7-foot Fey will be out two or three weeks and Mbah a Moute is day-to-day, according to Howland.

Also at the lunch:

LAAC founder Duke Llewellyn announced Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim as the sixth winner of the John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching award.

UC Santa Barbara Coach Bob Williams started the day’s running joke, saying that Cal State Fullerton Coach Bob Burton might have, “the best talent, maybe, of anybody up here speaking today.”

While it’s unlikely the Titans, who play in the Big West Conference, would challenge for the Pac-10 title, they did have the best record (21-11) of any Division I team in Southern California last year and made the NIT quarterfinals. Burton lost Ralphy Holmes, the leading scorer and rebounder in the conference, but welcomes back point guard Bobby Brown, who was the third-leading scorer in the Big West, plus three 6-foot-10 junior college transfers in Chris Minardo, Curtis Battles and Manny Montano....

In a vote of coaches and media members, Pepperdine was picked to finish last in the West Coast Conference, but Coach Paul Westphal said he was expecting a lot of his young team. Just not right away. “I like our nucleus a lot, and this team’s going to win a lot of games,” he said. “I just hope some of them are this year.” ...

Although Henry Bibby never appeared at the well-attended luncheon, new USC Coach Tim Floyd showed up. After inheriting a last-place team and four players, Floyd has been busy recruiting. “I’ve been gone 71 of the last 77 days,” he said. “We have five years total of Division I experience on this team.” Floyd has also spent time in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, where he has family and a condominium.


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