When did UCLA basketball become so ordinary?
The school has a top notch coach in Ben Howland, outstanding recruits each and every year, and a winning tradition that dwarfs 95 percent of the other programs in the NCAA. And, yet, they are struggling to beat mediocre opponents in a weak Pac-10 Conference.
UCLA is the home of the Legend, the Wizard of Westwood, the coach, John Wooden. This is the school that won 10 national titles in 12 years under Wooden from 1964 to 1975, and another under Jim Harrick in 1995. Howland’s teams went to the Final Four three years in a row, from 2006-08.
So why, for goodness sake, can’t the Bruins get back to the top of college basketball’s upper echelon? Just what is their problem? Where has all the talent gone?
Look no further than the glistening hardwoods around the National Basketball Association. There happens to be an offensive juggernaut roaming around the NBA that most people are unaware of. Meet the NBA version of the UCLA Bruins, all 14 of them, who together form the nucleus of some of the league’s most exciting talent.
If you owned a new NBA franchise and had the opportunity to take a 14-man roster that collectively averaged 130 points per game, you’d take it in a heartbeat, wouldn’t you? Considering that the New York Knicks, at 107 points, lead the league in scoring, how could you possibly say no to this group?
As NBA teams jostle for position and look for personnel to beef up their rosters and make a run during the playoffs, perhaps no group of former college greats from the same team can offer up as much value as these UCLA Bruins.
Let’s take a closer look at the NBA’s most dominant former college fantasy team, starting with the least and finishing with a beast.
14. Dan Gadzuric – Golden State Warriors center, 6’11”, 240, 9th year.
14. Ryan Hollins -Cleveland Cavaliers center. 7’0”, 240, 4th year.
Together, these two former UCLA big men offer tremendous insurance in the middle. Gadzuric played all four years for the Bruins and was a reliable big man for UCLA, averaging 10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 122 career games. His 184 blocks rank him second on the all-time UCLA list and his field goal percentage of just under 60 percent is eighth best in team history.
As a pro, Gadzuric has seen limited action but always performed well when given the opportunity. He spent the first eight years of his pro career in Milwaukee before being traded last June to the Warriors. A veteran at 33, Gadzuric is an excellent shot blocker who rarely makes a mistake on the floor.
Like Gadzuric, Hollins is a solid defender and a high percentage scorer when he takes his occasional shot. He’s hitting 56 percent of his attempts this year for the Cavs, playing about 13 minutes per game. He also averages three points and three rebounds for Cleveland, which is in the middle of its LeBron James aftershock season
The young center was a four year starter at UCLA, where he became known for his shot blocking ability—he’s the school’s fourth all-time leader in that category. Hollins is also remembered for his double double against Florida (10 points, 10 boards) in the 2006 NCAA championship game which the Bruins lost.
For this fantasy team of ex-Bruins, Hollins and Gadzuric comprise a formidable backup center.
12. Jason Kapono, Philadelphia 76ers, 6’8”, 215, 8th year, F-G.
He may be the only former Bruin on this team without a tattoo. But who cares when you can shoot like this guy. Kapono was a scoring machine when he played in Westwood (1999-2003) and, along with Earl Watson, was the only true freshman to start every game in a four-year college career. He averaged 16.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists and finished his career ranked only behind Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Don McLean for total points by a Bruin.
Kapono’s numbers this year with the 76ers are almost non-existent—he’s not getting the minutes—but that’s not indicative of the instant offense he’s come to be known for throughout his seven-year career. Kapono’s percentage of 44 percent from beyond the arc is third best in NBA history and he led the league in that category two years running (2006-07 and 2007-08) while with Miami and Toronto.
Kapono played two years with the Miami Heat (2005-06 when they won the championship and 2006-07). In his second year with the team, the Bruin Bomber averaged career-highs of 10.9 points and 2.7 rebounds along with 1.2 assists in 26.4 minutes per game in 2006-07 with the Heat and hit on 51.4 percent of his three-point shots.
Kapono turns 30 next month and will certainly help some team coming off the bench—he can still score. It may just not be in Philadelphia. He has a fat contract ($6 million) and the team may want to ship him as part of a bigger trade involving the much talked about Andre Iguodala.
11. Earl Watson, Utah Jazz, guard, 6”1”, 195, 10th yr
The 31-year-old Watson is the veteran of this fantasy team. He had one of most productive seasons last year with Indiana, where he averaged almost 30 minutes per game and 5.1 assists, to go along with a career high 104 steals.
In fact, Watson has regularly logged between 25-30 minutes per game and handed out 5-7 assists while scoring between 6-12 points per contest. He's a model of consistency and quickness and a young 31.
At UCLA, Watson ranks first on the team’s career steals list (235) and is the second player in school history to record 600 assists and 200 steals (Tyus Edney). He started and played in 129 games, breaking the team’s record for career starts (127) previously held by Don MacLean (1989-92).
It’s obvious that Utah picked up Watson in order to have insurance for super point guard Deron Williams. But it’s a shame the former Bruin standout is only getting 14 minutes per contest because he can still play the game and dish out assists with regularity.
Watson gives other teams fits with his defensive pressure and quick hands. He'll help the Jazz come playoff time.
10. Jordan Farmar, New Jersey Nets, Guard, 6’2”, 180, 5th year
He’s won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, is in his fifth year (now with New Jersey) and is still just 24 years old. Jordan Farmar is liviing the good life in the NBA.
A product of L.A. where he led Taft High School to its first ever Los Angeles City title, Farmar was a McDonald’s All-American in 2003-04 and became a starter his freshman year at UCLA. He played two seasons under Ben Howland and was the team’s leading scorer in their championship game against Florida with 18 points.
Farmar was the Lakers No. 1 pick when he came out early in 2006 and quickly found a home playing at home in front of 19,000 adoring fans at Staples Center. His only problem was getting enough minutes on a star-laden team that had Derek Fischer at point guard and Kobe Bryant at the other spot.
In his first year as a Net, Farmar is averaging just under 10 points and 4.3 assists per game while playing almost 25 minutes, far above what he logged with the Lakers. He’s lightning quick and efficient at the free throw line, hitting on 8 of every 10 attempts.
On this fantasy team of Bruins, Farmar goes back to being a backup, but one who will log substantial minutes. This roster is rich with quick, good shooting, great defending guards.
9. Arron Afflalo – Denver Nuggets, Guard. 6'5", 215, 4th year
The former Bruins captain has found a home in the Rockies—he’s averaging a career best 12.6 points per game on 51 percent shooting this year, 2.2 assists and almost four rebounds. Always a great shooter from three-point range, Afflalo is connecting on 42 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Afflalo led UCLA to the national championship game against Florida in 2005-06 as a sophomore and again to the Final Four as a junior. He led the team in scoring (15.8) as a sophomore and again the next year (16.9).
As a junior Afflalo earned consensus First Team All-America honors, was a member of the Wooden All-America team and was named Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year. He scored 20 or more points 12 times that year.
Detroit made Afflalo their No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft and he spent his first two seasons with the Pistons. His minutes on the court averaged 12.9 and 16.7 those two years and when he was traded to the Nuggets in 2009, Afflalo finally got the opportunity he needed to shine. His scoring and percentages have increased each year and he is taking advantage of his starter’s role in Denver.
Afflalo is a big guard who will pass (2.3 assists) and rebound (3.9) and be versatile as a small forward if the situation calls for it. For the Fab 14 Fantasy Team, he'll provide energy points off the bench.
8. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute - Milwaukee Bucks, Forward. 6'8", 230, 3rd year.
A tireless worker who took up the game late as a teenager in Florida, Mbah a Moute has been on the floor an average of 25 minutes per game since being drafted in the second round by Milwaukee in 2008. He’s chipping in with 5.5 points and five rebounds per contest and is a fan favorite for his passion on the glass.
Mbah a Moute was part of the UCLA team that went to the Final Four three straight years. He was a rebounding machine for the Bruins who reached double figures in scoring with consistency.
Against Memphis in a 2008 Final Four battle, Mbah a Moute scored 12 points to go along with 13 rebounds in a 78-63 loss to Derrick Rose and the Tigers.
His freshman season saw him score a season-high 17 points and grab eight rebounds to go along with six assists in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and then match his season-high of 17 points against LSU in a Final Four victory. He shared the team lead with 10 rebounds in the national championship game against Florida that UCLA lost 73-57.
Mbah a Moute is strong, passionate and full of energy, a trademark of these former UCLA players. He’ll play significant minutes at the power forward position for the Fab 14.
7. Trevor Ariza, New Orleans Hornets, Forward, 6’8” 210, 7th year
It’s hard to believe that Trevor Ariza has six seasons under his belt in the NBA. Still only 25, the hard-driving forward left UCLA after his freshman year to pursue a career in the NBA.
Fans at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood were just getting used to his stellar play (11.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and a team-high 1.7 steals in 2003-04) when he decided to leave. Ariza earned All-Pac 10 Freshman Team honors in that lone year at UCLA.
The Knicks drafted Ariza with the 43rd pick in 2004 and he got on-the-job training on a bad New York team, getting to play in 80 games, averaging 17 minutes and six points.
Ariza was involved in a couple of trades, moving from New York to Orlando in 2006 and acquired by the Los Angeles Lakers in November 2007. He flourished with the Lakers in 2008-09, playing in all 82 regular season games and making a name for himself on defense in the playoffs. Ariza averaged nine points, four rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.67 steals.
In the playoffs, Ariza stepped up his numbers with the Lakers: Starting all 23 games, he averaged 11.3 points (49 percent), 4.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.57 steals, and led the team with 40 three-point field goals made (48 percent). He had two memorable steals of inbounds passes against Denver in the playoffs that helped secure victories.
Following the championship run and win over Orlando, Ariza signed with Houston as a free agent. He had his best year with the Rockets, averaging over 15 points, 5.6 rebounds, four assists and 1.75 steals in 72 games. Last summer he was traded once again, this time to New Orleans.
Ariza is a bonafide banger of the boards and master of hustle points. He averages almost 11 points and two steals per game for the Hornets and would be first off the bench on this Fab 14 Fantasy team.
6. Jrue Holiday – Philadelphia 76ers, Guard. 6’4”, 180, 2nd year.
Talk about potential—this kid has it all and then some. Like Ariza, Jrue Holiday left UCLA after just one season. The difference is that Holiday became a star in a hurry.
Playing alongside star point guard Darren Collison at UCLA, Holiday felt that one year in Westwood was enough and he turned pro after a freshman season that included 35 starts and averages of 8.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.6 steals in 27.1 minutes per game. Here was another potential All-American who might take the Bruins to the Promised Land, only to wave goodbye after just one campaign.
The 76ers made Holiday their No. 1 pick—the team suffered through a 55-loss season and the return of veteran Allen Iverson. But Holiday was bright spot, averaging eight points on 44-percent shooting in just over 24 minutes per game.
Now in his second season with the team and a new coach in Doug Collins, the lightning quick Holiday is playing over 35 minutes per game on a team that’s on the bubble to make the playoffs. He averages 14.6 points on 44-percent shooting and hands out 6.6 assists. The maturity level of this 20-year-old basketball prodigy is outstanding.
"After one year in college, then coming across country and being on your own at 20 shows what kind of character he has," veteran teammate Elton Brand told Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News. "He doesn't get in trouble, he doesn't go out. I know he's not old enough to go out, but he doesn't try to go out. He stays in his room, watches basketball tape and he's focused. For being so young, he's tremendously focused."
There’s an abundance of tremendous guards on this squad, but Holiday will get first unit minutes for this Fab 14 Fantasy team because he’s explosive, a tremendous passer and mature beyond his very young years.
5. Darren Collison – Indiana Pacers, Point Guard. 6’0”, 160, 2nd year.
The son of world class track-and-field athletes, Collison has been a star since his sophomore year at UCLA. As a senior, he won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award, given to the nation’s best player 6'0" or under, and was an honorable mention AP All-American. He averaged 14.4 points, 4.7 assists and 1.6 steals in 31.5 minutes over 35 games and left school as UCLA’s fourth best three-point shooter.
Collison was drafted by the New Orleans Hornets as a backup for one of the league’s top point guards, Chris Paul. He made the most of his opportunities—when Paul was injured, Collison scored 18.8 points, 9.1 assists (most among rookies in starts), and 3.5 rebounds in 40.3 minutes per game. He had 44 games with 10 or more points, 16 games of 20 or more and two games over 30, and made the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
Collison was traded in the offseason to the Pacers in a four team swap that also included forward James Posey. He’s come into his own this year as Indiana’s lead guard, averaging 14 points in 30 minutes, with 4.7 assists and three rebounds per game. He is shooting 46 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point range.
There seems to be a pattern here: UCLA is churning out sensational guards by the bushel.
Collison will fight for minutes on this fantasy team but see plenty of action. He'll have a long, productive career in the NBA.
4. Baron Davis, Los Angeles Clippers, Guard – 6’3” 215 Point, 11th yr
One of the league’s premier passing guards for the last decade, Baron Davis simply cannot be overlooked on this Fab 14 Fantasy team.
Though playing for the erratic Clippers, Davis still commands a lot of respect as a facilitator and jump shooter who is not afraid to attack the paint. He’s averaging 11.3 ppg this year, having recently gone 9-for-19 against the Miami Heat in a big win at home. His career averages: 16.5 points and 7.3 assists.
Although slowed somewhat by injuries, Davis is still someone you could build a team around. A career 41-percent shooter from the floor, Davis will help a team more with his knowledge of the court and ability to find the open man.
Davis played two seasons at UCLA, where he averaged 13.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.46 steals in 59 games and was a Third Team AP All-American as a sophomore.
He was drafted in 1999 by the Charlotte Hornets and was starting by his second season, averaging 13.8 points and 7.3 assists. Three times during his career, Davis has averaged over 20 points per game. He's also played in two All-Star contests.
Davis had 20 assists in a game twice in his career and five steals last month in a game at Denver. Steve Lavin (pictured above) is still in college (St. John's) but Davis is a seasoned NBA star.
3. Matt Barnes - Los Angeles Lakers, Forward. 6’7”, 226, 8th year
Some may question placing Matt Barnes this high up on the fantasy depth chart. But based on his play for the Lakers this season, you have to consider him a starting forward for the Fab 14.
Barnes has played on eight teams in his eight years in the NBA but that doesn’t begin to define his talents as one of the hardest working forwards in the league. With the Lakers this year, Barnes was averaging 7.4 points in just under 21 minutes before injuring his knee in early January in a game against the Hornets. He is sidelined for about two months following knee surgery.
Barnes is known for his ability to move without the ball. As Phil Jackson of the Lakers told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times when asked what the team would miss most while he rehabilitated his knee: “His activity. He creates a lot of easy shots. We don’t have to run anything special for him. He runs himself into baskets.”
During his four years at UCLA, Barnes and his teammates participated in four NCAA tournaments, including three straight Sweet 16 appearances his final three years. As a senior, Barnes averaged 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and a team-high 3.5 assists while shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc.
Barnes was originally drafted in 2002 by the Clippers. He’s worked hard to stay in the NBA and was having his best season when he went down this month.
If he works as hard off the court in rehab as he does on the court during games, Barnes will come back strong in time for the playoffs. He’s a gamer.
2. Kevin Love – Minnesota Timberwolves, Center. 6’10”, 260, 3rd year
Wouldn’t Ben Howland love to have this player still in the fold at UCLA? Playing in Minneapolis for a young, inexperienced team, Love is redefining what it means to have “work ethic” in the NBA.
Even though he is just his third season, it’s obvious that Love is one of the league’s bright young stars and deserves a spot on this year’s All-Star team.
Check out these eye popping numbers for the third-year pro: 21.3 points, 15.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 37 minutes per game. Love hits on 46 percent of his shots from the floor, including 44 percent from three-point range.
Love is No. 1 in the league in rebounds, double doubles with 34, efficiency rating at 28.77, and rebounds per 48 minutes with 20.
In a November game at home against the Knicks, Love scored 31 points and had 31 rebounds—the first 30/30 game since Houston's Moses Malone did it back in 1982.
In that game, Love had 15 rebounds in the third quarter alone as the Timberwolves rallied from a 21-point deficit to win by nine. It was a game of a lifetime for Love, who will only get better.
Love played just one year for Howland at UCLA—and most Bruin followers suspected he might leave early. As a true freshman in 2007-08, America’s No. 1 player out of high school did not disappoint—he averaged 17.5 points on 56 percent shooting, 10.6 rebounds and two assists per game.
Love is rounding into the best shape of his life and that bodes well for a long, productive career in the league. Although he does not possess great leaping ability, Love has that uncanny ability to position himself where he needs to be in order to grab rebounds like you or I would grab M&Ms.
He’s your starting center on this prolific Fab 14 Fantasy Team.
1. Russell Westbrook- Oklahoma City Thunder, Point Guard. 6’3”, 187, 3rd year
He may wear No. 0 on the court, but he’s No. 1 on our list of the Fantasy Fab 14. Russell Westbrook has arrived and, after just two full seasons in the league, has emerged as one of the top five points guards in the game.
You could see the athleticism when he played at UCLA under Coach Howland. In his sophomore year (his last as a Bruin), Westbrook played the most minutes by a Bruin since 1979 when minutes began being tracked. He averaged 12.7 ppg, 4.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
Westbrook’s timing for the NBA could not have been better. He was the fourth overall pick in the draft so the Thunder knew what they had when they selected him. Since stepping onto the NBA hardwood in 2008, Westbrook has been a study in quickness, brilliant ball handling, outstanding passing, penetration to the basket and overall shooting. He lists Earvin "Magic" Johnson as his favorite player—though smaller, you can certainly see similarities in their respective games.
Westbrook made the NBA All-Rookie Team in 2008 and last year recorded 24 double doubles, including four games with 30 or more points, and a season high 16 assists in a game against the Timberwolves.
This year, Westbrook is even better. He’s averaging 22.5 points, 5 rebounds and is No. 7 in the league with 8.4 assists per contest. He ranks third with 81 steals and fourth in steals per game (1.93).
He recently lit up Kobe Bryant and the Lakers for 32 points and 12 assists in a losing cause, giving us all a preview of what's to come.
What’s more: He’s only 22.