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Signing Day is almost a year away, but UCLA is already pulling in some big-time 2016 recruits.
Four-star inside linebacker Lokeni Toailoa was one of two players who committed to the Bruins on Monday, bringing their total verbal commitments to six. Three of those are ranked top-15 at their position according to both Rivals.com and Scout.com.
Toailoa is rated the second-best inside linebacker in the country by both recruiting services, and is a star at Rialto Carter High — the alma mater of UCLA defensive tackle Kenny Clark. He picked the Bruins over USC.
“It’s a great fit for me and my family,” Toailoa said. “It’s right down the street. … It wasn’t really the coaches. Football coaches come and go, but I could just see myself as a Bruin.”
Linebacker depth was a need following the departure of Butkus Award winner Eric Butkus, and Toailoa joins four-star prospect Khrys Barnes and five-star defensive end/outside linebacker Breland Brandt as the next members of a growing pipeline.
Also announcing for UCLA on Monday was three-star athlete Demetric Felton. The 5-foot-10, 170-pounder from Temecula Great Oak is a top-50 recruit in California, and is expected to play slot receiver for the Bruins.
Two years after he was fired by UCLA, Ben Howland is set to return to coaching. Multiple reports indicated today that the 57-year-old has reached an agreement with Mississippi State — a program that has not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2009.
ESPN was the first of multiple outlets to report the news today.
The architect of three straight Final Four runs in Westwood, Howland was nevertheless fired after missing the tournament in two of his last five seasons. His name emerged for other job openings last offseason, including Marquette and Oregon State, but nothing worked out.
“I wish I had taken one of the jobs I turned down last spring,” he told USA Today earlier this year. “I miss it so bad.”
“HEART. BREAK. CITY!”
It’s almost been a decade since Gus Johnson yelled out those words on the broadcast of UCLA’s 73-71 comeback win over Gonzaga. On the brink of losing in the Sweet 16, those Bruins somehow stormed back from a 17-point deficit against the Bulldogs and Adam Morrison, the Oscar Robertson Trophy winner. The moment has been enshrined as one of the classics of March Madness.
Morrison returned to school and became a student assistant on Mark Few’s staff in 2013.
I’m guessing he didn’t imagine seeing a rematch in this year’s Sweet 16. No. 11-seed UCLA and second-seeded Gonzaga will tip off Friday at 4:15 p.m. PT in Houston’s NRG Stadium. The Bruins opened as a 9.5-point underdog.
– After one of his worst games this season, Tony Parker put up Kevin Love-type numbers to help UCLA put down UAB.
– UCLA is now heading to its second straight Sweet 16, thanks to a versatile roster — with five starters having topped 25 points this season.