UCLA basketball is healthy and needs to stay that way

Ben Howland gingerly descended the steps outside Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday afternoon, the UCLA coach still recovering from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon sustained in June.

“I can’t dunk,” Howland quipped when asked if he was 100%.

That wasn’t a problem for the players in uniform at the team’s media day, a pleasant departure from a year ago, when the Bruins had no fewer than six players sidelined by injuries during some early practices.

With only 10 eligible scholarship players, the Bruins cannot endure a similar spate of injuries if they hope to rebound from a 14-18 season in which numerous key players missed considerable stretches.


“We can’t afford any major problems in terms of any significant injuries,” Howland said. “That would be the one thing I would be most worried about that we have no control over.”

Sophomore forward Brendan Lane, who had surgery on his left ankle in April, said he has been going full speed for more than a month. Lane has also added about 20 pounds to his frame. He’s now 6 feet 9 and 220 pounds.

“I rehabbed all summer and just got in the weight room,” Lane said. “I’ve been working on my shot and doing whatever I can with my ankle. I’m getting back in game shape.”

Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson said he was fully recovered from the surgery he underwent late last season to repair a partially torn retina in his left eye.

Honoring Wooden

Even though John Wooden never attended the annual basketball tipoff luncheon at the Los Angeles Athletic Club that bears his name, the former Bruins coach’s absence was especially palpable Wednesday.

Almost every Southland coach who took the podium paid tribute to Wooden, who died in June at 99.

“We all miss Coach very much,” Howland said.

The Bruins will honor the legend Thursday during a day of activities on campus that will include speeches from former UCLA standout Keith Erickson and Athletic Director Dan Guerrero.

Wooden would have turned 100 on Thursday.


Freshman center Joshua Smith, listed at 6-10 and 305 pounds, said he had lost 50 pounds since arriving on campus in June. Smith shed the weight through three hours a day of conditioning and a drastic change in his eating habits. “It’s just kind of weird going to Taco Bell and being like, OK, this has too many calories, I can’t have that,” Smith said.… Howland said Nelson had improved his perimeter game by taking “tens of thousands” of shots since last season as part of his transition from center to power forward.… Howland said he expected the Bruins to primarily play man-to-man defense again after often utilizing a zone last season.… Kenny Jones, a 6-foot junior guard who played at Playa del Rey St. Bernard High, made the team as a walk-on in tryouts.