Norman Powell came to UCLA with an idea common to many athletic, high-scoring high school basketball players.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound freshman from San Diego, considered one of the top recruits from the West Coast last year, said, “In high school, everybody’s about offense. You look in articles, the people mentioned dropped 30 points or shot 80% from the field.
“You never read, ‘This person had six steals and four blocks and his guy scored two points.’ And you figure if you’re athletic enough, you can stay in front of your guy and guard him.”
That perception changed at UCLA.
After his first practice, Powell said, “Darn, I have to play defense. I was a little out of control, didn’t move my feet, didn’t get low, didn’t get in front of my man, and it was annoying.”
But Powell said Thursday he now feels ready to guard anyone in the country. “I’m ready,” he said. “I’ll lock down the other team’s best player.”
His next chance will come Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Sports Arena when Texas (4-2) arrives to play the Bruins (2-4).
When Arron Afflalo, who played for the Bruins from 2004-05 to 2006-07, came to UCLA, he spoke eloquently at his first news conference about how he wanted to be first and foremost a defensive force, and that during his career he wanted to be the guy who stopped the other team’s best player.
“No one ever told me about that,” Powell said. “I like that.”
As a freshman, Afflalo was two inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than Powell, but the game plan worked. Afflalo played in three Final Fours.
After playing only two minutes in UCLA’s 72-56 loss to Kansas on Nov. 22 in Maui, Powell was in for 23 minutes in the Bruins’ 79-63 loss to Michigan and for 20 in Tuesday’s 62-39 win over Pepperdine.
Powell had a season-high 10 points and made two of his four three-point shots against Pepperdine.
“He gives us good ballhandling,” UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. “And he also gives us better quickness. We have two seniors in the backcourt with some experience [Jerime Anderson and Lazeric Jones] and now Powell is ready too. It’s a positive.”
An MRI exam on junior guard De’End Parker’s right knee showed no damage other than the tendinitis that had already been diagnosed. Parker played in UCLA’s first two games but none since. Howland has no timetable for his return.
Travis Wear, who had both his front teeth knocked out Tuesday against Pepperdine, was willing to smile Thursday. His own teeth have been anchored back in, though he will need further dental work after the season.
Howland said Reeves Nelson would continue coming off the bench instead of starting. Since serving a suspension before the Maui trip last month for behavior issues, Nelson hasn’t started.