Three-star athlete Stephen Johnson commits to UCLA

UCLA has added a speedster to its 2015 class.

Three-star athlete Stephen Johnson committed to the Bruins on Tuesday afternoon during a ESPNU broadcast from The Opening, picking them over Oregon and other several other Pac-12 programs. The San Leandro (Calif.) High product had clocked a 4.37-second 40-yard dash earlier that morning.

Rivals.com ranks him the 33rd-best athlete in the country — as well as the 45th-best prospect in the state — while Scout.com ranks him as the 30th-best cornerback.

Johnson is the eighth verbal commitment in UCLA’s next signing class.

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Myles Jack leads Bruins on early national awards watch lists

Less than two months stand between now and the start of college football, and the rush of preseason watch lists is starting up.

Unsurprisingly, Myles Jack pops up more than once.

UCLA’s do-it-all linebacker and part-time running back landed on watch lists for both the Paul Horning and Bednarik Awards. Jack was one of five finalists for the former last season, given to the most versatile player in the country.

He is joined on the Bednarik watch list for top defensive player by fellow Bruin linebacker Eric Kendricks.

Quarterback Brett Hundley, whom UCLA is marketing as a Heisman candidate, is on the watch list for the Maxwell Award for player of the year.

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UCLA starts training camp in San Bernardino on Aug. 4

As has become tradition under head coach Jim Mora, UCLA will hold its preseason training camp in the isolation and heat of the Inland Empire.

The Bruins will start practicing at Cal State San Bernardino on Aug. 4 at 3 p.m., and continue every day except Sundays through Aug. 16. They will then return to their Westwood campus for another week of practices.

UCLA football training camp schedule

Monday, August 4 – Practice #1, 3:00 p.m.
Tuesday, August 5 – Practice #2, 3:00 p.m.
Wednesday, August 6 – Practice #3, 3:00 p.m.
Thursday, August 7 – Practice #4, 3:00 p.m.
Friday, August 8 – Practice #5, 3:00 p.m.
Saturday, August 9 – Practice #6, 8:30 a.m.
Saturday, August 9 – Practice #7, 7:00 p.m. Continue reading

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Four-star running back T.J. Simmons commits to UCLA

For the first time in years, UCLA could sign multiple running backs to the same recruiting class.

Four-star running back T.J. Simmons announced his commitment to the Bruins on Monday, choosing them over Florida, Ohio State and LSU. Rivals.com ranks him as the 21st-best 2015 prospect at his position.

The 6-foot, 195-pound Lakeland, Fla., native joins 5-foot-10, 216-pound Bolu Olorunfunmi — a three-star recruit — in UCLA’s 2015 class. If both sign letters of intent next February, their arrival will mark the first time since 2010 that the program added two tailbacks at once.

That year, Malcolm Jones and Jordon James became Bruins. The former had a unspectacular UCLA career, while the latter will likely be the team’s lead back this fall.

UCLA technically signed Paul Perkins and Fabian Moreau in 2012, but the latter quickly converted to cornerback and could be an all-conference talent there.

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Colorado State transfer Jon Octeus commits to UCLA

UCLA has added one more option to fill out the largest hole on its roster.

Colorado State point guard Jon Octeus will play his last year of college ball in Los Angeles, according to Scout.com’s Evan Daniels. The graduate transfer will help repair a thin backcourt that loses All-American point guard Kyle Anderson — a constant triple-double threat who was drafted 30th overall last night.

Octeus was third on the Rams in scoring (13.4), rebounding (4.7) and assists (2.3), starting all 32 games. He picked the Bruins over Missouri and Cincinnati.

He is now the only UCLA point guard with significant starting experience. The other candidates at the position are Bryce Alford, who backed up Anderson last season, and former five-star recruit Isaac Hamilton, who sat out the season for breaking his letter of intent to UTEP.

The Bruins struck pay dirt they last time they relied on a one-year transfer point guard. In 2012-13, Larry Drew II shed his maligned reputation at UNC by dishing out 256 assists — a new UCLA single-season record.

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Alford says Anderson, Adams can compensate for lack of athleticism

Of the UCLA trio selected in first round of Thursday’s NBA draft, one was chosen based almost solely on athletic ability. The other two, not so much.

Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams may have to combine their test results to equal Zach LaVine’s 46-inch vertical, but UCLA coach Steve Alford isn’t worried about the criticism of his two sophomores’ athleticism. The 22nd and 30th picks of the draft may be diving into the deep end of the talent pool next season, but Alford is confident they’re in particularly good shape for the NBA above the shoulders.

“I think athleticism is way overrated for the most part,” Alford said. “You can either play or you can’t play and Jordan really understands how to play. You could give me the most athletic guy that we’ve played against collegiately this year and Jordan probably outplayed him because of being smarter and being tougher.”

To the credit of Adams, chosen 22nd by the Memphis Grizzlies, the 6-foot-5 guard was more than just a scorer at UCLA. He set a school record with 95 steals last season, an impressive statistic for someone projected as a potential defensive liability in the NBA.

Alford echoed some of his sentiments about Adams when referencing Anderson, who was selected 30th by the San Antonio Spurs. The third college basketball player in the last 30 years to average at least 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists in a season, the 6-foot-9 Anderson made a compelling case for Alford’s argument that he is a truly unique player with more than athleticism to lean on at the next level.

“As good a basketball IQ as I’ve coached,” Alford said of Anderson. “Sometimes a lot of people get wrapped up in athleticism and being able to jump over the backboard but do you know how to play the game?”

“I told him (Friday) morning, you don’t change who you are but you’ve got to take advantage of going to a franchise, an organization that really gets it from the bottom all the way to the top. So listen. Listen to people. You’ve always been coachable. Make sure you stay that way.”

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Alford: LaVine took advantage of UCLA brand, system to raise draft stock

In Steve Alford’s estimation, it wasn’t just Zach LaVine’s freakish athleticism that vaulted the freshman into the elite lottery portion of Thursday night’s NBA draft.

Wearing the UCLA letters across his chest for his lone collegiate season had plenty to do with LaVine becoming the 13th overall selection by the Minnesota Timberwolves, not to mention the fast-paced offensive approach employed by UCLA’s first-year coach.

“(LaVine) came in and he used the brand and this system,” Alford said. “I’ve always said it’s a very, very powerful brand and I think our style of play getting up and down the floor allows somebody like that to flourish and he had a tremendous freshman year.”

Though LaVine played just 37 college basketball games before achieving such lofty status, Alford didn’t know he had a lottery pick on his hands when the freshman reported to Westwood last summer.

“I don’t think you ever think that,” Alford said. “The NBA is a whole different level and mind set. We saw him this summer and he had incredible athleticism.

“To say we saw him being a lottery pick last summer, no.”

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Post-NBA draft transcript from Zach LaVine, Minnesota coach Flip Saunders

Below are quotes from Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders and 13th overall draft pick Zach LaVine in their session with reporters, as transcribed by the team.

# # #

*ZACH LaVINE QUOTES*

Emotions that went through your mind when you were picked?
You know man, I’ve waited my whole life for this moment. It was just a rush of emotion that came through me, and I’m on cloud 9 still man, I’m ready, I put my head down and prayed to God, thank God, I just hugged my mom and I couldn’t believe this is happening. You think about this since you’re a little kid, and you just can’t believe it’s actually happening. I’m just ready to get to Minnesota and do my best.

Good impression the Wolves were high on you at No. 13?
You know, I know I had a really good workout with them. I talked to coach Flip Saunders and we had a great meeting. And then you know, I knew they were around my draft range so I was hoping for the best. When my name was called man, it was a jolt of energy through my body. It was amazing.

Did the Wolves promise they’d draft you?
No, you see it on Twitter, it was on Twitter a lot, and you know I didn’t want to confirm or anything like that or believe it until my agent or someone you know really close to me, the GM or owner told me. But you know, I knew it was a good thing no matter what, so I’m just ecstatic that it actually did come true.

Aware Twitter storm that you thought you were upset coming to Minnesota?
No man, I’m completely ecstatic. I couldn’t be more happy. I’m a very emotional person, so I might’ve uttered something completely wrong but I put my head down, thanked God, kissed my mom, kissed my dad, couldn’t believe this was happening to me right now. I’m going into Minnesota full-fledged ready to become a Timberwolf. Continue reading

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Kyle Anderson sneaks into first round, picked 30th overall by San Antonio Spurs

Kyle Anderson had, by almost any measure, a superlative college basketball career.

The 6-foot-9 point guard was the most important player on a UCLA team that reached its first Sweet Sixteen since 2008, registering the school’s third-ever triple double along the way. He was a third-team AP All-American, and a finalist for the Wooden, Oscar Robertson and Bob Cousy awards. He earned Pac-12 Tournament MVP, and even flushed in one of the most memorable dunks of the weekend.

But on Thursday night, five Pac-12 players saw their names flash up earlier — the wait finally ending when the San Antonio Spurs picked Anderson 30th overall to end the first round.

Before that, he watched Arizona’s Aaron Gordon go fourth overall; former UCLA teammates Zach LaVine and Jordan Adams go 13th and 22nd; and Washington’s C.J. Wilcox and Stanford’s Josh Huestis going 28th and 29th. Continue reading

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