LOS ANGELES (AP) — After stumbling through its worst season in seven years, UCLA didn’t lose any players to the NBA draft. It just wasn’t good enough.
As a result, the Bruins bring back an experienced core even without a senior on the roster. And they’re hoping for a return to respectability after going 14-18 and missing the NCAA tournament.
“It was hard for the players, difficult for the coaches and very difficult for our fans,” said coach Ben Howland, who begins his eighth year. “That’s in the rearview mirror and we’re moving forward.”
The lineup for the possible turnaround revolves around guard Malcolm Lee and sophomore forwards Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson.
“Everybody is playing with a chip on their shoulder,” Lee said. “Everybody’s got a redemption mindset. I just want to win, earn a Pac-10 title and make it back to the (NCAA) tournament.”
Lee, one of three returning juniors with considerable experience, will move to shooting guard after splitting time last season with Jerime Anderson at the point.
Anderson, another experienced junior, is expected to be challenged for the starting point guard job by Lazeric “Zeke” Jones, a junior college transfer from Chicago. Anderson lost his starting job late last season because of erratic play.
Honeycutt and Nelson lost time to injuries last season, but both came on strong at the end. Honeycutt averaged 7.2 points and 6.5 rebounds while earning All-Pac-10 freshman honors. Nelson averaged 11.1 points and 5.7 rebounds, providing an effective low-post presence.
Freshman Tyler Lamb figures to be a key backcourt contributor. The guard committed to the Bruins two years ago.
UCLA’s frontcourt also should get some help from freshmen centers Joshua Smith and Anthony Stover, who redshirted last season.
The biggest question about Smith, a McDonald’s All-American out of Washington state, is his conditioning. Standing 6-foot-10, he’s listed at 305 pounds. A knee injury his senior year in high school kept him off the court and he put on weight.
“They have gotten me to lose some weight,” he said. “I realized that the first time I got to play with them that the game is much faster and if I lose some weight I will be able to get up and down the court faster.”
Smith worked out three times a day starting at 7 a.m. during the summer, impressing Howland with his dedication.
“He is going to be a real force down on the low block,” Howland said.
The Bruins were picked to finish third in the Pac-10 and weren’t in the preseason Top 25 for the second year in a row.
They open the season next Friday at home against Cal State Northridge. Three days later, they host the first two rounds of the NIT Season Tip-Off, with Nevada, Pacific and Pepperdine coming to Pauley Pavilion.
They’ll visit No. 7 Kansas on Dec. 2 and play No. 24 BYU in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim on Dec. 18.
The Bruins will play at Pauley this season during an ongoing renovation project. Trees and concrete have been removed outside and the arena is surrounded by fencing. They will vacate the building next season while the inside is updated.
The players said they’re dedicating the season to John Wooden, who died in June at 99. He coached the Bruins to a record 10 national championships before retiring in 1975.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)