UCLA players go to great lengths to get healthy
UCLA basketball coaches have not yet resorted to burning incense at Pauley Pavilion, but they’re close.
After a rash of injuries caused six players to sit out chunks of the first dozen practices, Coach Ben Howland got another scare this week when forward Drew Gordon fell hard.
Gordon was fine, but even walk-ons called into service, such as Blake Arnet, have gone down because of flu. As guard Michael Roll put it: “It’s been a little tough just getting enough guys for a full practice.”
So the Bruins have relied upon yoga, fast work by trainers and some fervent prayer by the coach to patch the team back together.
Howland said it reminded him of the 2005-06 season, when the likes of Cedric Bozeman, Lorenzo Mata and Josh Shipp were in and out of the lineup.
Of greatest concern this time is point guard Jerime Anderson, who aggravated a groin muscle injury. Anderson has been working with a yoga trainer -- which helped Shipp in the past -- and is returning to practice on a limited basis.
James Keefe, Malcolm Lee and J’mison Morgan are also back in action. Only Roll and freshman Brendan Lane are sitting out, because of ankle sprains.
“I’ll be fine,” Roll said.
His coach can only hope.
Howland and Roll attended Thursday’s Pacific 10 Conference basketball media day, joining other coaches and players from around the conference at a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport.
Though the Bruins find themselves left out of the Associated Press preseason top 25 and picked third in the Pac-10 behind California and Washington, their rivals aren’t overlooking them.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about UCLA,” Cal Coach Mike Montgomery said. “They’ve got plenty of talent.”
Herb Sendek of Arizona State and Ernie Kent of Oregon voiced similar sentiments. They pointed to returning sophomores such as Lee, Gordon and Anderson, now expected to become starters.
“There isn’t a guy on that team who wasn’t heavily recruited,” Sendek said. “There isn’t a guy every other team wouldn’t want.”
With UCLA’s first exhibition game less than a week away -- Wednesday against Concordia -- several freshmen have impressed Howland. To a point.
Forward Reeves Nelson continues to lead the team in rebounding but must improve his defense, especially on the perimeter. Tyler Honeycutt and Mike Moser also have performed well enough to warrant consideration for playing time.
Lane and Anthony Stover have played tough defense but need to develop in other areas.
“There’s going to be a lot of competing within the team for playing time,” Howland said. “That’s where teams get better.”