By reaching the Final Four and then the NCAA championship game before losing to Florida last season UCLA improved its chances with elite basketball recruits.
Top prospects want to go where the action is. They want to be associated with winners. Success often brings on more success.
Ben Howland knew that. At the moment in April when Bruin fans were celebrating last season’s success, the Bruin coach was talking about how it would help recruiting.
Apparently he was right.
Last week UCLA landed a big one. Kevin Love, a 6-foot-9 high school star in Oregon, announced he has chosen UCLA over North Carolina.
Love will be a high school senior this season. He’s rated the No. 1 big man nationally in the recruiting class.
He’s the son of Stan Love, who played at Inglewood High and later for the Lakers.
Kevin Love doesn’t back down from a challenge. He knows comparisons will be made to past Bruin centers and said he wants to continue the tradition of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton in Westwood.
Howland was so moved by Love’s announcement he was in tears.
Love won’t be here for the coming season but UCLA will have plenty of talent and much will be expected of the team despite Jordan Farmar’s defection to the NBA.
The other principal players return, including Arron Affolo, Luc Richard, Mibah Moute, Darren Collison, Michael Roll and Lorenzo Mata. Josh Shipp, who was out last season with a hip injury, comes back.
And there are some new recruits.
James Keefe is a 6-8 forward from Orange County. Marko Spica is a 6-9 center from Belgrade and Russell Westbrook is a late-blooming 6-foot-3 guard from Leuzinger High in the South Bay.
“James plays hard and intelligently,” said Howland. “Marko is a skilled post player. Russell is a proven offensive player.”
None of the three are expected to be immediate starters but they’ll add depth to an already-competitive roster.
Westbrook wasn’t considered an outstanding prospect at the start of last season. But he grew a few inches, scored 51 points in a game and began attracting attention. With Farmar and Affalo both considering a move to the NBA, UCLA signed Westbrook. Then Affalo decided to stay.
UCLA will open its season with two exhibition games, then will play Brigham Young Nov. 15, all in Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins will be tested the next week in the Maui Invitational, then will come home for Pauley games against Long Beach State, UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton and will oppose Texas A&M Dec. 6 in the Wooden Classic at the Pond in Anaheim.
The first meeting with USC will be in the Trojans’ new Galen Center Jan. 13. USC will be at UCLA Feb. 7.
Wit the arrival of August comes the start of football practice, but for UCLA fans it’s always basketball season.