Post-practice update

* UCLA’s energy seemed a little down on Saturday afternoon, even after starting with a spirited head’s-up session that featured some slam from Malcolm Jones and some swerve from Jordon James. The thudding wasn’t too vicious, there was a little sloppiness, and the play just wasn’t sharp. The coaching staff got a little salty, and clearly, someone needed to rise to the occasion.
Enter Jerry Johnson.
The little-used, oft-injured, much-maligned, almost-forgotten redshirt senior wide receiver reintroduced himself to the UCLA faithful by climbing an imaginary ladder again and again and again.
During one-on-one drills with defensive backs into the end zone facing the crowd, Johnson brought the fans to their feet by getting his off the ground. On one pass to the corner, Johnson jumped what “felt like 20 feet” and snagged the pass with one hand, corralling it in for one of his many touchdowns in the drill.
New wide receivers coach Eric Yarber had some nice things to say about him, and I’ll post that interview shortly.

* With Devin Lucien coming along nicely and Shaq Evans a force when focused – he had some inconsistency issues Saturday – and Ricky Marvray, Darius Bell and Joseph Fauria in the fold, the Bruins are further along at receiver than previously thought.

* Six practices in, there doesn’t appear to have been much separation in the quarterback competition. Saturday, though, was a step forward for the group, as there was a general uptick in accuracy. Richard Brehaut and Brett Hundley stood out, as did Jerry Neuheisel, who’s having a really nice spring.

* The UCLA offensive line continues to have issues as guys work back into form, but it got a big boost with return of Wade Yandall today. Yandall has done some work in red jersey but returned to practice in full for the first time since late last season after suffering his fourth concussion in two years. Too soon to tell how he’ll acclimate himself into the order of things, but he did get some reps with the first-team offense.

* His return didn’t help much at the center position, as there were multiple muffs by Jake Brendel and Tre Hale as Greg Capella remains out. Definitely a cause for concern at the moment for the coaching staff.

* Malcolm Jones had another good practice, particularly in the opening head’s-up drill, when he absolutely smashed a defender (whose number I didn’t catch). James, meanwhile, juked his man on two separate “winning” runs.

* Joseph Fauria (hamstring), Greg Capella (calf), Johnathan Franklin (knee), Andrew Abbott (knee), Ricky Marvray (back), Darius Bell (quad), Jerry Rice (shoulder) and John Young missed practice.

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UCLA FOOTBALL NOTES

Hey Bruins fans this is Vinny Bonsignore I was out at UCLA practice today. Lot of good things going on out here, you can definitely sense a new level of excitement and a new level of focus under the new staff.

Crazy to think some of these kids are learning their fourth new offense and defense, but that is the reality this spring.

It’s probably a good thing most of these guys are used to the process of absorbing new systems, but you have to think they are ready to just settle in on a definite plan on both sides of the ball rather than continually changing things.

Nothing new on the quarterback battle, with Coach Jim L. Mora basically saying everyone is advancing, everyone is improving and everyone is beginning to settle in. And that includes T.J. Fafaul, T.J. Millweard and Jerry Neuheisel, the three newcomers who seem to be keeping pace thus far.

That said, it’s pretty obvious Kevin Prince, Richard Brehaut and Brett Hundley are the primary players in this battle.

Brehaut told me today he loves the new offense being installed, which for him is actually an old offense as he ran it in high school. He says it is an offense that best suits his skill set and he is excited to be going back to a system he is comfortable with.

Also, Mora had some really good things to say about freshman cornerback Marcus Rios, who had a great practice today.

Here are some notes from today:

No doubt the Bruins are making wholesale changes going from Rick Neuheisel to Mora Jr. And if you count back a few years they are essentially installing their fourth new offense and defense over the last five seasons.

“You get used to it, just learning on the fly,” Brehaut said.

Now imagine being Mora Jr., who has essentially only known the NFL during his 20-plus-year career and professional football’s 24/7 devotion to the game.

It’s a whole new ballgame in college, where rules and school commitments limit the time he can spend with his players and slow down the pace in which he can install his offenses and defense.

It’s an adjustment Mora is working through.

“There’s a learning curve in this whole thing for me as well kids,” Mora admits. “The level I came from, there was no school no study table no tutoring.”

Here, with the understanding that school comes first Mora understand less is sometimes more when it comes to the volume of information he throws at his players.

And five practices into his first spring he is trying to pace himself.

“You have to measure yourself and be judicious in what you install and when you install it,” Mora said. “As coaches we all kind of want to be the next guru, the smartest guy to come up with the latest and greatest. But sometimes you do your players a real disservice if you do that. You’ve got to pace it.”

MAKING STRIDES

By all rights true freshman cornerback Marcus Rios should be in high school preparing for graduation.

Instead, as an early enrollee his is going through his first spring as a Division-1 college player.

But five practices in, he is already making a move.

“I thought today was by far his best day,” Mora said. “He flashed, he made some plays….today he made a breakthrough and I hope he feels good about it because he deserves it.”

And it’s a far cry from where Rios was just a few days ago when Mora described his as a deer in the headlights,

“But if you can imagine he should be preparing for his senior prom,” Mora said. “And I think the last two or three days he’s made an adjustment.”

INJURY UPDATE
Darius bell (WR/quad) Cassius Marsh (DE/ slight ankle) Johnathan Franklin (RB/bruised knee) and Jerry Rice (WR/collarbone) were all held out of practice.

@DailyNewsVinny
vincent.bonsignore@dailynews.com

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More Howland presser quotes

Ben Howland comparing UCLA to the 2007-08 team:
” I like our talent level. Right now, as we move into next year. But we want to continue to add to this team. And we’d like to add at least one more, and try to improve our depth. But I like our team. It’s hard for me to (compare it to the Final Four teams). I was watching Russell Westbrook tonight in a tough loss to Clippers, and he was pretty special. We’ve had some really good players. But I really like this group and we’re going to have a nice blend of, I think, some really solid veterans that are really working hard to improve right now, along with a great influx of freshmen that are among the best entering college this coming year in the country.”

On former Bruins in the NBA:
“That’s a big selling point. You look at our players and how they’re doing in the NBA. It’s one thing to get there, it’s another thing to perform. And I can’t take credit. I was glad that I’ve had a part in it. You look at what Kevin has accomplished and what Russell has accomplished, and what Darren, and Arron Afflalo and Trevor, and Farmar, and Jrue Holiday, all these kids. It’s really special. Mbah a Moute, couldn’t be prouder of, Ryan Hollins. All these kids. It’s been incredible. That sells itself, because it’s real. I’d love to take credit, but I’ve been really fortunate. It comes down to the kids who we’ve been able to attract and coach. The thing that is great about Shabazz is that he is a great kid and he’s got a great family. He’s really really the total package, an outstanding student-athlete.”

On Muhammad as a defender:
BH: “Potentially he’s a monster. He’s just so long and strong, and has good quickness and great strength and explosiveness. That’s one of the things that his dad and he and I have talked about a lot. One of the reasons our players have gone from this level at UCLA and gone to the NBA and done so well is that…the difference between the NBA and college is that there’s less help-side defense in the pros because of the rules. You have rules that don’t allow as much team defense in many respects because of the NBA three second rule for defense, and being above the foul line, etc. And our players have really performed well at that end of the floor, and that really matters at the next level.”

On new expectations:
BH: “Well, it’s exciting to have those kinds of expectations that you’re putting out there right now. But they’re real. We don’t want to get ahead ourselves right here. You’ve got to earn everything that you get. There’s nothing that going to substitute hard work, being disciplined, sacrificing for one another, and most important, playing as a team. That’s one thing that I love about Kyle Anderson. Here’s a kid who’s such an unselfish player. All these kids are all about winning. And I’d love to be talking about one more of them in the near future. But it’s about winning and making your team win. Kyle Anderson’s team, since last year, is 65-0. Shabazz has won three state championships. Jordan Adams went for a quick 44-0 this year, and I think was 41-2, or 42-2 a year ago. That’s exciting stuff.”

On Joshua Smith returning:
“Yeah, he is. And he’s really working hard right now, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the first ten days of this new quarter.”

On conflicting emotions during the season, with the knowledge that Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams were signed and Muhammad was a possibility:
“When I’m in the middle of my season, you always have one eye on the future. After the season ended, obviously the hope for the future becomes bigger in terms of everything. And to have it come to fruition today. Again, this was a three year process that has gone on. And I just love Shabazz’s family. He’s got a wonderful family. Fay and Ron are incredible people. It’s really special to have these wonderful families as part of the Bruin family.”

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Some quick Howland teleconference tidbits

UCLA head coach Ben Howland, almost laughing, in response to how he’s doing:
Ben Howland: “I couldn’t be better. So needless to say, I’m very happy right now.”

On Shabazz Muhammad’s potential impact?
BH: “I think he’s going to have a tremendous impact. He’s a special special talent, and has so many attributes that help our team. No. 1, he’s physically strong enough right now to be an impact player right away, because he’s 220 pounds, 6-foot-6, and long. And is a great scorer. Shooter, scorer. And he’s an outstanding foul shooter. I think he’s a very good rebounder, and he’s a winner. He won three straight championships, and he was the unanimous most valuable player from every national player of the year award this year. The last one to do that, if I’m not mistaken, was Kevin Love. And this is our third national player of the year, Jrue Holiday being the other, and obviously you look at the impact those players had, Kevin and Jrue, and they were huge. And Shabazz undoubtedly is going to have a very impactful season as a freshman.”

On finding out Muhammad’s decision:
BH: “No, you know what, we’ve been recruiting Shabazz and Ron Holmes and Fay Muhammad three years now. And so this was a long process. We felt good about it for quite a long time. When you go back to their roots, you know, Ron and Fay are both Southern Californians and their families are here. Fay is arguably one of the top 3 women athletes in the history of Southern California. She was a starting point guard of a Final Four Long Beach State team, and she just missed the Olympic team both as a basketball player and as a sprinter for our track team. She is an unbelievable athlete. Her brother played in the NFL, you know, played for Fresno State and then played in the NFL for a number of years. And she’s just a great athlete. And Ron was an outstanding guard at USC, and was a very good basketball player. His son, Shabazz, is a product of the two of them and Ron’s tutelage, being a former Division I player and has been one of the main driving forces as to why this kid is where he is right now.”

On selling Muhammad on the idea of resurrecting UCLA:
BH: “Absolutely. We have not been where we wanted to be the last few years, and we want to be champions. And we’ve been, in my tenure here, to the Final Four, and we want to get back there again. And it was fun to watch Kyle Anderson and Shabazz on TV together tonight. I was sitting there going “Wow.” It’s amazing to have two of those kids. And then you add Jordan Adams. And we’re hoping, and praying, and working hard to add at least one more recruit here before this recruiting period is over.”

On Kyle Anderson’s recruitment of Muhammad:
“No question it was huge. And I’ll be honest with you, I think that Shabazz’s interest in UCLA initially encouraged Kyle when Kyle signed. But you can see how close they are. These guys connect on the floor. I mean, it’s a close friendship. In other words, what’s great for me is the kids recruiting each other. That’s the best kind of recruiting in the world. In fact, I’ll tell you what, after Shabazz’s announcement, he called, and I got to be on the phone with him right after, and he put Kyle on the phone, and the first thing I said to Kyle was, “Not only are you a great player, you are a great recruiter.” It was so fun. Those are obviously two of the best players in the country, and you know, the timing of going back into new Pauley, and I feel we have a really good nucleus that returns next year. I’m excited. I’m very excited about that. I think that our players, since we’ve returned for the spring quarter, have done a great job. Tonight, having Shabazz, the No. 1 player in the country, commit to us, and sign his letter of intent, was absolutely just a spectacular day for our team and our program, and all Bruins fans.”

On what it took to land Muhammad and Anderson:
BH: “Opportunity. These kids are looking at UCLA as a great opportunity to come and help us rise right back to the top where we expect to be. They’ve been on this campus multiple times. That campus and the university sells itself. It’s such a great special place. The education is second-to-none. The quality of the people that are in our program that will be working with them, you know, the professors, the support staff, and the academic support, everybody is just tremendous, and all did a great job in helping to recruit this young man. I really believe that having the new Pauley coming on line, and having what is essentially a brand new facility that we’ll be moving into this coming fall, is a huge factor for these kids.”

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Lane headed closer to the beach

From Pepperdine:

MALIBU, Calif. – On the first day of the spring signing period the Pepperdine men’s basketball team landed a talented and experienced big man, as head coach Marty Wilson announced that UCLA transfer Brendan Lane has signed a grant-in-aid and will join the Waves next season.

Wilson expects to announce two more signings later this week.

Lane is graduating from UCLA this spring after playing for the Bruins the past three seasons. He will be eligible immediately and will have one season of competition at Pepperdine while he pursues a master’s degree.

“Brendan brings size, skill, athleticism and experience in many areas that will be invaluable to our basketball program,” Wilson said. “His ability to score the ball from inside and out, as well as being a very good rebounder, will allow him to be a great asset for us. We will expect him to come in and impact our team immediately.”

A 6-foot-9 forward, Lane appeared in 79 games, starting eight, and averaged 2.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 11.4 minutes the past three seasons at UCLA. He shot 50% or better from the field all three years.

“I felt like I had a good connection with Pepperdine’s coaches and I like the direction the program is going,” Lane said. “It’s hard to beat the academics there. It’s a great opportunity for me. I want to get the most out of my final year of basketball, and do whatever I can to help the team.”

When Lane announced his decision to play his final season elsewhere, UCLA Coach Ben Howland told ESPN.com: “Brendan has been absolutely fantastic in terms of the type of kid he is. He’s someone I will always have great appreciation and affection for.”

Following is a capsule biography on Lane:

A three-year member of the UCLA basketball team … Will graduate from UCLA this spring with a degree in economics … Will have one year of eligibility remaining to play at Pepperdine and will pursue a master’s degree … Appeared in 19 games as a 2011-12 junior, averaging 1.6 points and 1.8 rebounds … Had season highs of eight points and six rebounds vs. Chaminade … Played in 33 of 34 games and started five as a 2010-11 sophomore … Averaged personal bests of 3.0 points, 3.1 rebounds and 0.8 blocked shots … Scored a season-high eight points in the NCAA Tournament vs. Michigan State … As a 2009-10 freshman, posted 2.4 points and 1.5 rebounds in 27 games (three starts) … Scored a career-high 11 points at Washington as a freshman … Saw action against Pepperdine in each of the last three seasons (the Waves visited Pauley Pavilion twice and the two schools played in the Sports Arena last season) … Two of his career highs were set against Pepperdine in 2010 (three assists and two three-pointers made) … Shot 52.4% from the field in his three seasons … Earned postseason awards from UCLA in 2012 as the Elvin C. “Ducky” Drake Memorial Award for Competitive Spirit, Inspiration and Unselfish Contributions, and in 2011 for the UCLA Faculty Athletic Representative Award/Academic Achievement and Team Contribution … Was the Division 2 State Player of the Year at Rocklin (Calif.) High School in 2009 and was named the Sacramento Bee’s Area Player of the Year … Rated as one of the nation’s top 75 recruits by Rivals.com (#49), ESPN (#69) and Scout.com (#73) … The last player to transfer from UCLA to Pepperdine was omm’A Givens, who played one season for the Waves in 1998.

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Kevin Love and Shabazz Muhammad: Who means more?

Then: 2007, UCLA in the midst of one of the top runs in recent basketball history, everything is roses for Ben Howland.
Now, 2012, UCLA in the midst of one of its worst stretches in program history, roses, not so much.
Does the fact that Shabazz Muhammad (and Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams) come in as would-be saviors for a program outside of the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years push him over the top?
Or does Love still conquer all?

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Muhammad picks UCLA

For an announcement considered among the country’s best secrets, Shabazz Muhammad’s decision to choose UCLA caused much consternation for the Bruin faithful.

With John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski fiercely on the hunt, the days leading up to signing day were anything but peaceful for those hoping Muhammad would end up in Westwood.

He will.

The nation’s No. 2-rated player announced his decision to play for Ben Howland’s Bruins on Wednesday night live on ESPNU, and his announcement pushes UCLA to No. 2 in the recruiting rankings, a spot behind Arizona.

Muhammad said he picked the Bruins because he “it’s a challenge,” citing the team’s struggles the past two years, struggles that were found both on and off the court. Muhammad’s arrival, however, goes a long way to help both.

In addition to being considered a high-motor, team-first winner, Muhammad is considered one of the elite scorers in the country, and he’s listed at No. 2 on Chad Ford’s Big Board for 2013.

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