UCLA to see who’s eyeing exit

Times Staff Writer

The problem with insisting that nothing short of a national title is worth advertising is the day after.

UCLA fell short of winning a record 12th NCAA men’s basketball title again this year, and now comes the next-most important scorekeeping -- whether the Bruins lose one, two or three players off this team that was the third in a row to win at least 30 games and advance to the Final Four before losing.

Players have until April 27 to declare their draft intentions. If they choose not to immediately hire an agent, they can test themselves for NBA teams and decide by June 16 to retain their college eligibility. That’s what California’s Ryan Anderson, so far, is doing.


Another star Pacific 10 Conference freshman, Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless, has announced his NBA intentions as well as hired an agent, so he can’t retain NCAA eligibility.

In private, UCLA coaches have been resigned all season to losing freshman center Kevin Love and junior point guard Darren Collison.

Before this season began, they also thought it was possible junior Josh Shipp and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute might at least declare for the NBA draft, attend some camps and have their status evaluated but not hire an agent. And since the season developed and sophomore guard Russell Westbrook demonstrated that he is the most athletically talented one-on-one player UCLA has, his draft stock has risen.

However, Shipp’s shot has abandoned him for most of the second half of the season, throwing his exit into doubt.

Mbah a Moute’s progress with acquiring a reliable jump shot, which he would need to play small forward in the NBA, was hindered by the time he missed recovering from a concussion and then a sprained left ankle. So he may not declare and be evaluated.

“I want to be back and win a title,” Mbah a Moute said Saturday.

Backup forward Alfred Aboya -- who is from Cameroon like Mbah a Moute and will earn his undergraduate degree this summer -- said he wouldn’t say for certain he would return for a senior season.

“Right now I’m so disappointed,” Aboya said, “that I just need to digest this loss and see what life has to offer.”

With a class of four incoming freshmen, UCLA would be one over the NCAA limit of 13 scholarships next season if at least one Bruin doesn’t leave early for the NBA or graduate.

Love and his family have made it clear since he was a high school star at Lake Oswego (Ore.) High that Love would have gone straight from high school to the NBA if rules allowed. Although his averages of 17.6 points and 10.6 rebounds a game were impressive for a freshman, several NBA scouts have privately questioned what spot Love would play at the next level.

His 12-point, nine-rebound performance against Memphis, in which he was bumped away from the basket by 6-9, 265-pound Joey Dorsey and knocked to the ground on a Chris Douglas-Roberts dunk, gave visual confirmation to one scout in attendance at the Alamodome that Love would benefit from a second college season.

“He needs to get stronger and in better shape,” the scout said. “I would say he’s not a lottery pick right now.”

“A lot goes into that decision,” said Love, who was often outmuscled for rebounds by Dorsey, a senior. “I have no idea what I’m going to do. As of right now I’m a UCLA Bruin and I will be in class Monday. I’ve got to step back, go home, talk to a few people, talk to my family.”

Like Love, Collison also may have hurt his draft status. As a 6-foot, 160-pound point guard who had a knee injury this season, there was a wait-and-see attitude about his performance.

And Collison didn’t sparkle in the NCAA tournament. He fouled out of two of the last three games after not doing so all season and was handled roughly by two point guards -- Memphis freshman Derrick Rose and lesser-known Tyrone Brazelton of Western Kentucky.

Collison took full blame for the 78-63 loss to Memphis in the semifinals Saturday, and said it wasn’t the right time to make a decision about next season.

“It’s too soon,” Collison said. “I haven’t given any thought to the future yet.”

UCLA has already signed a four-man incoming freshman class that has three guards, including national player of the year Jrue Holiday of North Hollywood Campbell Hall High and Anaheim Canyon High’s Jerime Anderson, who is a point guard.

The class also includes 6-4 combo guard Malcolm Lee of Riverside North and 6-8 forward Drew Gordon of San Jose Archbishop Mitty.

Howland would like Westbrook to return for his junior season and spend it learning the point guard spot and improving his mid-range jump shot, something scouts have said could take Westbrook from being a first-round pick to a lottery pick, a jump that would be worth millions of dollars in guaranteed money.

With backup center Lorenzo Mata-Real graduating and Love probably heading to the draft, the Bruins will be thin at center. Aboya and sophomore James Keefe would be candidates for more inside playing time.