Incoming UCLA Freshman Shabazz Muhammad
It has now been four years since the UCLA Bruins dominated the Pac-12 and contended for a title.
But now, it appears there is a new dawn in Westwood thanks to a star-studded recruiting class.
Everything is going right for the Bruins, arguably the nation's most storied college team. First, coach Ben Howland inked the nation’s No. 3 overall recruit and point-forward Kyle Anderson, according to the Rivals 150.
For an encore, Howland shocked the basketball world and signed the nation’s top overall recruit: small forward Shabazz Muhammad out of Las Vegas. Muhammad draws comparisons to James Harden and Kobe Bryant.
And last but not least, Howland took a curtain call and signed forward/center Tony Parker from Georgia. Parker is regarded as one of the top big men in the country, and has good hands, a big body and solid post skills.
Jordan Adams, a 4-star small forward from Virginia, is the icing on the cake.
In spite of how loaded the Bruins’ recruiting class is, Rivals ranks the Bruins second to Kentucky’s class in their team rankings.
Yet the Bruins are prepared to dominate, and are not only set to outshine Kentucky’s 2012 class, but are also capable of outshining Kentucky’s national championship team.
Anderson guarding Muhammad in the McDonald's All-American Game
The Bruins are big—really big—and size is one of the Bruins’ most important assets.
Shabazz Muhammad is 6’6”, Tony Parker is 6’9,” and Jordan Adams is 6'5", giving the Bruins instant size in the frontcourt.
Most notably, Kyle Anderson is a whopping 6’7”. This is so important because Anderson is a point forward. Some analysts even considered him a point guard!
This gives the Bruins elite size all over the court, which will create a mismatch nightmare for opponents. Keep in mind that it's entirely possible the UCLA freshmen will grow an inch or two.
Do the Bruins have a dominant and legendary post presence like Anthony Davis? Absolutely not.
However, the Bruins more than make up for it with their upperclassmen, highlighted by 6’10” and 330-lb center Josh Smith and the skilled 6’10” Wear brothers.
Kentucky's size overwhelmed opponents last season. Largely thanks to its freshmen class, the Bruins are set to take over the crown as the NCAA's biggest team and most difficult matchup.
The new Pauley Pavillion, set to open this season, will do a whole lot more than pamper season ticket holders with modern amenities and newly cushioned seats.
Pauley will more importantly be as close to professional-caliber as any other college arena in the nation.
What this means is that UCLA’s freshmen will be treated like professionals. Not a self-entitled, spoiled kind of treatment, but rather with high expectations and respect.
In the new Pauley Pavillion, UCLA’s freshman class will mature faster than any other class in the nation. When they are treated like pros, they will start acting like pros.
NCAA fans can expect these young Bruins to mature faster than any other group of young players in the country.
This will translate into wins and ultimately a run at the national title.
Even more professional than Pauley Pavilion is coach Ben Howland’s no-nonsense coaching style.
Discipline is always and will always be a theme for Howland-coached teams. Following last season’s Reeves Nelson debacle, this theme will be more prevalent than ever.
It’s a safe bet to say that the Bruins will work harder than anybody this offseason—a work ethic that will continue into the fall and winter. Howland preaches work ethic, and pairing top-notch talent with hard work equates championships.
Additionally, as good as Kentucky was defensively last season, the Bruins have a great chance to one-up the Wildcats in that department.
Howland is a defensive master and now that he has his biggest team ever, team defense will undoubtedly be among the best in recent memory.
Finally, Howland is a wizard at grooming talent. Recently, he’s sent Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday, Jordan Farmar and Aaron Afflalo, among others, to the NBA.
Only John Calipari even comes close to having a résumé as stellar.
Now, Ben Howland has his best ever recruiting class. He will undoubtedly assure that Muhammad, Anderson, Parker and Adams will more than live up to their individual and collective potentials.
This potential is legendary, and Howland has the tools to cultivate it and create a legendary team.
Indiana Hoosier star Cody Zeller
The Bruins have their work cut out for them this season, playing a very difficult non-conference schedule.
Notable matchups include San Diego St., Texas, Missouri and Georgetown. If the Bruins beat Georgetown in Brooklyn on November 19, they will likely play top-ranked Indiana the following day.
The Pac-12 will also be more competitive this year, bolstering the Bruins' strength of schedule.
A small stain on Kentucky’s dominant season was that they played in the SEC, one of college basketball’s weaker major conferences.
In fact, while the Wildcats played a few tough non-conference games, a majority of its games were against teams like Georgia, LSU, Arkansas, Auburn and Ole Miss. Wins over these teams would be impressive in football, but basketball? Not so much.
This said, if the Bruins can pull off a two-loss season just like the Wildcats, their season is much more impressive and memorable.
A two-loss season is always tough, even for the best. But the Bruins have the talent, coaching and attitude to get it done.
The Bruins have had their fair share of controversy and attitude problems in the past.
Reeves Nelson was kicked off the team for a number of behavioral issues, and a report emerged in which Howland reportedly let his team party too hard off the court.
Only a year later, the team's issues are water under the bridge.
The UCLA freshmen all exude soft-spokenness, humility and a team-oriented attitude. Howland has done a great job recruiting not only some of the best players in the country, but also some of the most humble.
Shabazz Muhammad, who most expect will be the team's on-court leader, conveys unselfishness in his Q&A posted on this page. Anderson and the rest convey similar positive attitudes and all reports indicate that the UCLA freshmen are bad attitude-free.
Yet more importantly, these Bruins display just the right amount of confidence and skills to dominate on the court.
As Teddy Roosevelt once said, "speak softly and carry a big stick." The Bruins carry a bat.