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Miller leaves Pauley impressed

Times Staff Writer

Reggie Miller, tied with Jason Kapono as UCLA’s third all-time leading scorer, returned to Pauley Pavilion on Saturday for only the second time in 20 years.

Miller visited because he wanted to see freshman center Kevin Love in person, wanted to evaluate Coach Ben Howland’s defense, needed to sit up close and measure the intensity, eyeball the foot speed, breathe in the effort.

Miller left pleased. Sunday he gave a mini-scouting report and offered some suggestions to a couple of the Bruins who clearly have sooner-rather-than-later NBA aspirations.

“I think UCLA is right there with North Carolina and Kansas,” Miller said, dismissing Memphis because of its forced march through the relatively weak Conference USA schedule for the next six weeks. Miller said he found UCLA’s defensive effort in its 81-74 win over Washington State “exciting.”

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He said he didn’t have a true appreciation of the Bruins’ exceptional ability to pressure the ball all over the court or of Love’s outside shooting ability or passing ability until he watched the game.

Of the defense, he said, “What I saw was a team that moves as one. One through eight, they were all on the same page. They all have such clarity about how defense works.”

Of Love, he said, “I knew Love was a good passer and maybe I wouldn’t put him at the Bill Walton level yet,” Miller said. “But that outlet he threw to Josh Shipp in the second half [a pass that resulted in a Shipp tomahawk dunk], wow. You don’t know how good that is until you see it up close.”

Miller said Love collected rebounds “efficiently” and was smart about how he went after the ball. “I know they list him at 6-10,” Miller said. “He’s not 6-10, maybe he’s 6-8, but when he rebounds you think he’s 7 feet tall.” Miller also praised Love’s hands.

He also marveled at Darren Collison’s ability to apply on-ball defensive pressure and at the overall athleticism of Russell Westbrook.

“I haven’t seen him up close,” Miller said. “He’s got the size and athletic ability to be a very good NBA player.”

While there is daily speculation that freshman Love and juniors Collison, Shipp and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are aiming for the NBA as soon as this spring and with Westbrook’s rapidly improving game putting him on that same radar, Miller offered some advice for the most likely NBA early entrants, Love and Collison.

“Work on their outside shooting,” Miller said.

It is a question from many who watch Love -- what position will he play in the NBA? He is probably not tall enough to play center, but is he quick enough to guard power forwards such as Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace?

“He’s got amazing skills,” Miller said. “I see him playing some four [power forward] or even some three [small forward], but he needs to develop a consistent outside shot.”

Love made two three-point baskets in front of Miller. “That’s what he needs to work on,” Miller said.

And it was the same advice for Collison.

“Work on the outside shot,” Miller said. “I know he has a quirky shot motion, but he needs to be more consistent. At his size (6-1, 165) the NBA guys will totally lay off him until he proved he could hit from the outside.”

Miller said Collison is a Jacque Vaughn-type player.

Vaughn, a 6-1 point guard who is 32 and in his 11th NBA season, has never averaged more than 6.6 points a season.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com


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