Travis Wear discusses state of UCLA’s frontcourt

Even someone who didn’t watch a single UCLA basketball game last season can gain some sense of Travis Wear’s playing style. Just take a look at the stats.

Despite standing at 6-foot-10, 230 pounds, Wear attempted 70 percent of his shots on 2-point jumpers. No other Bruin took above 54 percent. While he averaged a respectable 42 percent on those shots, one of his goals this offseason is to gain strength to better play down low.

Head coach Steve Alford hasn’t explicitly told Wear he’ll play center, but the rising senior doesn’t see much of an alternative.

“Obviously, you look at the bigs, you have me, Dave (Wear), Tony (Parker) — we’re all going to be guarding fours and fives,” he said. “Somebody’s going to play the five at some point. It’s gonna happen.”

How much Travis Wear actually does shift his game inside likely depends on the development of Parker, the team’s lone true big man at 6-foot-9, 270 pounds. After a freshman year that saw him go from a touted recruit to a constant benchwarmer, he mulled a transfer but committed to staying at UCLA under the new coaching staff.

So far, his performance has been positive. The addition of full-time strength coach Wes Long is helping him trim down. Assistant Ed Schilling stresses ballhandling at the beginning of each workout, ensuring that every player — no matter what size — builds those same skills.

“It’s a fresh start for him,” Wear said. “He’s working hard. He’s really doing everything he has to, doing 100 percent in the workouts, doing extra conditioning with Wes so he can get in better shape. From everything I’ve seen so far, he’s looking good.”

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Norman Powell talks about decision to stay at UCLA

Since April, shooting guard Norman Powell has indicated multiple times that he thought about transferring to San Diego State had UCLA not fired Ben Howland.

On Wednesday, Powell said he likely would have stayed no matter who replaced the former coach.

“I’m not going to say too much about how I felt about Howland,” Powell added. “He’s a great coach and I learned a lot. I’ve gotten better since I came here as a freshman. He did a great job helping me with my defense, making my shot better. But I definitely wanted to see a change.”

He had heard about Steve Alford from Glen Worley, a coach at San Diego’s Lincoln High who once played for Alford at Iowa. However, Powell said his conversation with Worley had no bearing on his decision to stay or transfer.

The rising junior said the main difference between Alford and Howland was that the former felt “more in tune” with the players. He also quelled any lingering fears fans may have about big man Tony Parker not returning to UCLA: “He’s staying. He’s staying. Tony’s staying.”

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Bryce Alford invited to USA U19 training camp

Like his father, Bryce Alford might have a chance to represent his country.

After excelling at Albuquerque’s La Cueva High, the son of UCLA head coach and former Olympian Steve Alford will head to Colorado Springs next month for a chance to join the USA U19 World Championship team. He might not make the final roster, but accepting the invitation already puts him in good company; the 24-man list only features four players without college experience, and includes established stars such as Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart.

The camp will be held at the U.S. Olympic Center from June 14-19, with finalists announced on the morning of June 16. The finalized 12-man roster will compete in the Czech Republic starting June 27.

Alford — New Mexico’s high school single-season scoring leader (1,050 points) and reigning Gatorade Player of the Year — could get minutes as UCLA’s point guard, and has already impressed forward Travis Wear. Bryce and his older brother Kory, a slated walk-on, visited the school for a day and played in a few games with the team.

“He can shoot the ball,” Wear said of the younger Alford. “He’s actually pretty explosive for a point guard. I saw him on the fast break go up, cock one back and dunk it, which caught me by surprise a little bit.”

He and fellow incoming freshman Zach LaVine — UCLA’s highest-rated 2013 commit — were both named PARADE All-Americans.

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Six Bruins listed among SI’s all-time college athletes

Sports Illustrated tried to name the best college athletes of all time, ranging from names like Bennie Oosterbaan and Red Grange to Brittney Griner and Tim Tebow. No surprise that the school with the most NCAA championships made a strong appearance. UCLA led with six selections on the 50-person listing.

Lew Alcindor — Plenty of stats to back him up, but forcing the NCAA to outlaw dunking is still the best evidence of his dominance.
Lisa Fernandez — Four-time All-American, three-time national player of the year, two titles. Career 0.22 ERA, .382 batting average. Currently a UCLA assistant coach.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee — Two-time champion in heptathlon, and Olympic silver medalist while still a student. Four-year basketball starter.
Jackie Robinson — First UCLA athlete since Cap Haralson to letter in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, track. More importantly, broke baseball’s color barrier.
Bill Walton — Three-time Naismith Player of the Year. Puts the color in commentary.
Natalie Williams — Four-time All-American in volleyball. Two-time All-American in basketball. First woman to earn both honors in the same year.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the athletes were ranked, rather than listed alphabetically.

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Jake Brendel named to Rimington watch list

Sophomore Jake Brendel made the 44-man watch list for the Rimington Trophy, awarded each year to the top center in college football. Last season, the Sporting News named Brendel a first-team Freshman All-American.

The Rimington is decided by All-American selections; whoever receives the most first-team votes on the FWAA, AFCA, Walter Camp and Sporting News teams wins.

Here are the rest of the nominees from the Pac-12: Gus Handler (Colorado), Kody Koebensky (ASU), Isaac Seumalo (Oregon State), Hroniss Grasu (Oregon). The latter two are the most likely candidates for All-Pac-12 first team.

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Eddie Vanderdoes could decommit from Notre Dame

On Monday night, multiple UCLA and Notre Dame recruiting sites reported rumors that five-star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes may be parting ways with the Irish.

From the Sacramento Bee’s Joe Davidson, who emceed the Placer High star’s signing day ceremony:

Speculation about Vanderdoes ranged from character concerns to an academic fall out. Vanderdoes’ coaches continued to rave about his upstanding character on Monday, and his father Eddie Vanderdoes on Monday night texted of his son, “One thing I can tell you is grades or eligibility is not and has never been an issue.”

Placer football coach Joey Montoya affirmed Vanderdoes’ academic eligibility, and praised his character as well. Regardless of reason, he seems set to leave the Irish before even arriving in South Bend.

Should Notre Dame release him from his letter of intent, the blue-chipper could very well be headed to UCLA. Although he also had USC and Washington hats on the table, Vanderdoes’ other major finalist was Alabama, a destination the Irish may wish to block. (Correction: Schools cannot block destinations once they release a player from a letter of intent. All or nothing.)

Given that Vanderdoes was the biggest recruit UCLA missed on, securing him would be a major coup for a defensive line that was banged up through spring practice. Though he’s primarily a 4-3 tackle, the 6-foot-3, 310-pound prospect could also play as a 3-4 end.

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Early return for Owa Odighizuwa ‘conceivable’

Originally expected to miss all of fall after undergoing hip surgery, defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa could return in time for UCLA’s season opener.

The rising senior had missed spring practice after offseason surgery to repair damage in his left hip. Last Tuesday, he had surgery to repair what was feared to be a tear in his right hip, but the operation revealed only fraying. Head coach Jim Mora said Odighizuwa could return in as soon as two or three months.

“I think it’s conceivable that he could be ready for the start of the year,” Mora said. “I think what’s important is that we make sure he’s 100 percent before we ask him to go back out there. We’ve got to move slowly and efficiently.” Continue reading

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UCLA to play home-and-home series with Alabama

UCLA’s preseason schedule continues to fill up, with the latest development being a home-and-home series with Alabama (per CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein). The Crimson Tide, who finished 23-13 last season and lost to Maryland in the NIT quarterfinals, will play at Pauley Pavilion this upcoming fall.

This follows news earlier this month of both a late-December date with Duke at Madison Square Garden, as well as a spot in the Las Vegas Invitational on Thanksgiving weekend.

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Shabazz Muhammad not helping stock at NBA draft combine

One of the first questions asked of Shabazz Muhammad at the NBA draft combine this week was, unsurprisingly, about his age. The former No. 1 recruit’s one-and-done season at UCLA had begun with a suspension and ended with a bizarre report that his father, Ron Holmes, made his son one year younger.

After confirming again that he is 20 years old, Muhammad hinted that the blame lay solely with his father.

“I’m gonna talk for myself now,” he said. “I was a guy who used to just play basketball and let some of my guys talk for me, family members. Right now, I’m more mature as a person.”

Muhammad may also be the only lottery pick who is participating in the NBA draft combine workouts. Top prospects typically opt out since they don’t have much to gain, and arrive instead for interviews. The reigning Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year said he chose to participate because he always wants to complete. “I’m not running from anybody,” he told ESPN’s Andy Katz. Continue reading

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