While Ducks practiced against Ducks and Sun Devils squared off against Sun Devils and the Cardinal tried to clip the Cardinal, the UCLA basketball team spent the offseason training against Knicks and Lakers and Celtics.
Heading into what is sure to be a difficult season with Pauley Pavilion under renovation, the Bruins feel a bit better having fine-tuned against Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and a host of other NBA players in Los Angeles during a lockout that drags on.
“When you work out with those guys, you see how serious they are about it,” junior forward Reeves Nelson said at the team’s media day on Wednesday. “Once they come in this gym, that’s all they cared about. They mentally helped us a lot because they tell us how to do a certain thing that you wouldn’t get from a guy who’s just a D-1 athlete. You get it from someone who has been in the league 12, 13 years.”
With sky-high expectations, UCLA hopes that second-hand knowledge will sink in.
Though they lost two key perimeter players in shooting guard Malcolm Lee and small forward Tyler Honeycutt, the Bruins are thinking big because, well, they are big.
UCLA returns leading scorer and rebounder in Nelson (13.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg) as well as mammoth center Joshua Smith (10.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg), plus valuable reserves Anthony Stover and Brendan Lane and North Carolina transfers David and Travis Wear.
That 489 inches has UCLA looking all the way to the top.
“I feel like if we don’t win (conference), it’s a let-down,” Smith said. “Last year, we had our expectations about winning, people didn’t think we could. We saw the magazines that had us fourth, third, fifth … we finished second, basically a game from winning it. … We feel this year if we don’t win it, it’s a let-down.”
In a league that is always filled with quick, diminutive point guards and typically up-tempo play, the Bruins are hoping to force their will on the opposition, not the other way around.
Senior point guard Lazeric Jones returns to lead the charge, bolstered by the return of the function of his left wrist, which severely hampered him after he suffered a sprain in early-February. Jones is joined in the UCLA backcourt by senior point guard Jerime Anderson, who is suspended for two games (one exhibition) after being arrested on charges of theft, sophomore shooting guard Tyler Lamb and newcomers De’End Parker and Norman Powell.
“Rather than looking at it as we’re going to have to guard smaller people that are quicker,” Nelson said, “they’re going to have to guard big people who can do just as much as the small people can do.”
Coming off a big turnaround season – the Bruins advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament a year after finishing 14-18 – UCLA just hopes it is able to withstand the grind of playing the entire schedule on the road.
“It’s something that is actually going to feed this team,” Stover said. “Not having a home court, always having to be the away team – the road show is what we’re named now – it’s really feeding our team. It’s given us a little hunger, a little more strength, because we’re going to have to fight every game.”