Jrue Holiday

Aaron Holiday, younger brother of Jrue Holiday, commits to UCLA

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UCLA picked up a huge commitment in the junior class on Sunday when guard Aaron Holiday, the younger brother of former Bruin and NBA star Jrue Holiday, committed to head coach Steve Alford during an unofficial visit.

The news of the commitment was first reported on Monday by Eric Sondheimer of the Los Angeles Times

Holiday is regarded as the No. 40 prospect in Rivals’ 2015 national rankings and the 6-foot-1 guard from Campbell Hall High School in North Hollywood, California is the first commitment for UCLA in the 2015 class.

Alford watched Holiday go for 43 points on Friday night in the CIF Playoffs and Holiday’s unofficial visit to UCLA on Sunday was yet another time that he had taken in campus on an unofficial visit.

With Holiday, UCLA gets an athletic guard that can play both backcourt spots and put points on the board in a hurry.

After facing initial questions about his ability to recruit in Southern California, Alford has picked up commitments from 2014 center Thomas Welsh, a Los Angeles native and McDonald’s All-American, as well as Holiday and 2016 guard Lonzo Ball a native of Chino Hills.

Howland clarifies UCLA point guard picture

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The UCLA Bruins have had many problems over the past couple-three years, many of them materializing off-court. One problem that has persisted on-court is the lack of a strong point guard presence. Not since the days of Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison has the ball really seemed to be in good hands the majority of the time.

You’ll forgive us if we still consider that to be a major problem for this year’s highly-touted version of the Bruins. UNC refugee Larry Drew II gets the nominal job of primary ballhandler this season, after going down in flames in that role in Chapel Hill. Ben Howland has already acknowledged that Drew is not his one and only as lead guard, however, now that freshman Kyle Anderson has been cleared to play by the NCAA. If anything, Howland looks forward to putting both players on the floor at the same time, according to the Charlotte Observer.

One is a freshman, the other a fifth-year senior. One hails from the East (New Jersey), the other the West (Los Angeles). One stands 6-foot-9, the other is 6-2.

But both are point guards, and coach Ben Howland said Thursday they’ll often be in the same lineup.

“I’ve always loved having two point guards on the floor,” Howland said at the Pac-12 Conference’s men’s basketball media day.

Howland noted that he employed that tactic when Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison, Jrue Holiday and Russell Westbrook wore Bruins blue.

Playing Anderson and Drew in tandem – for stretches at least – helps solve the riddle of which maestro will conduct UCLA’s potentially potent offense. They both will.

The distinction matters primarily when the team is on offense – either player may bring the ball up the floor, a tactic that was employed to great effect during the Bruins’ tour of China this summer. Defensively, Anderson is expected to guard opposing small forwards, a task to which his lanky frame is more naturally suited. Point guards will be assigned to Drew and his true backup at the point, 6’3″ Norman Powell.

There’s little doubt that this UCLA team is intriguing. It could be a good sort of intrigue if all of these diverse parts coalesce into a team. It could be a bad connotation of the word if cameraderie once again eludes a Howland-coached squad of Bruins.

How do other hauls compare to Kentucky’s recent classes?


Some things never change.

Kentucky landed 2012’s top prospect in Nerlens Noel Wednesday night, a move that’ll almost certainly give the Wildcats the top-rated recruiting class in college basketball. Consider coach John Calipari four-for-four while in Lexington.

(He’s not done yet, either. Power forward Anthony Bennett, another 5-star player, is considering Kentucky, as are 5-star forwards Amile Jefferson and Devonta Pollard. Bennett is the best bet for the Wildcats, though.)

That’s a run unlike any other in college hoops history and gives the Wildcats four of the top recruiting classes the game’s seen since 2002.

Per Drew Cannon, who’s done work analyzing prospects for Scout.com and Basketball Prospectus, only North Carolina’s 2006 class and Duke’s 2002 class can compare to any of the last four groups Kentucky’s gathered. He places all of the ‘Cats classes ahead of 2007 Ohio State – the Greg Oden-led group that reached the title game – and ’06 Texas, which boasted Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin, Damion James and Dexter Pittman (!).

Here’s his rundown of the top 16 classes since 2002, a combination of highly rated prospects and number of guys in said class:

That makes 2012 the closest hoarding of elite talent at a select group of schools since 2006. And those were some good groups in ’06.

All of the above classes include at least one 5-star guy, most have at least two or three. Some, like ’05 Kansas, feature four 5-star guys. And many were extremely successful. At least four (’11 Kentucky, ’06 UNC, ’05 Kansas, ’06 Duke) provided the backbone for national title teams.

The only question I have: Where will Kentucky’s 2013 class fall on this list?

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Could Reeves Nelson’s suspension bode ill for Ben Howland?

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UCLA junior forward Reeves Nelson has been suspended again by head coach Ben Howland. (This runs contrary to an earlier report from Tracey Pierson of BruinsReportOnline.com that Nelson was kicked off the team.)

This is the latest chapter in what has been a tumultuous 2011 season so far for Nelson and the Bruins.

Here’s a timeline of the happenings in Westwood:

Nov. 14: Howland announces that Nelson has been suspended, “indefinitely for unspecified behavior issues.” That comes three days after UCLA drops their opener to Loyola Marymount and Josh Smith takes to Twitter to call LMU “bums.” Nelson went for 13 points and 8 rebounds in that game.

Nov. 16: Two days in, the indefinite suspension is lifted, after Howland and Nelson find common ground. Nelson says he will keep his behavior in line, Howland reinstates him. While Nelson is out, UCLA gets dismantled by Middle Tennessee, 86-66.

Nov. 20: After reports surfaced that lateness played a role in Howland handing down the suspension, Nelson is late for the team bus to LAX and misses the plane to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. Because he had to take a later flight, he missed a team banquet. “He understands it doesn’t look good,” Bruins Coach Ben Howland said, at the time.

Nov. 21: Nelson plays 11 minutes and tallies one point in a UCLA win over Division II Chaminade.

Dec. 3: UCLA falls to 2-5 on the season, after a 10-point loss to Texas, 69-59. Nelson plays 12 minutes, going 0/1 from the field and scoring zero points. At this point, the Bruins have one win over a Division I team: Pepperdine. In that win (technically a road game), 17 miles away from UCLA’s campus, 34 students showed up to support the Bruins.

Dec. 6: News breaks that Nelson’s “disappointing behavior” has earned him another suspension.

NBC Sports speculated, two weeks ago, about the lasting effects of the Bruins’ rough start, including where it could place them in the race for highly-coveted recruit Shabazz Muhammad.

Nelson came into the season as the Bruins best returning option, then transformed into the team’s seventh leading scorer.

Fortunately for Howland’s team, the upcoming stretch of games could ease the pain of a 2-5 record.

After a matchup with scrappy Penn at home, UCLA hosts Eastern Washinton, UC Irvine, and UC Davis, three teams with a combined record of 6-16.

But, as it was before, the bigger question is the perception of UCLA as a program, when it comes to blue-chip recruits.

The Bruins hold signatures for the Class of 2012 from St. Anthony (N.J.) product Kyle Anderson, a top five player in the country, and Jordan Adams, a top 50 swingman from Georgia.

Howland has been criticized in the past for his handling of high-level talent at UCLA, including an incident when now-76ers point guard Jrue Holiday informed Howland of his decision to head to the NBA Draft via a UCLA beat writer.

In an environment that is increasingly “what have you done for me lately?” Howland’s three straight Final Fours in the mid-2000s and six NCAA appearances in eight seasons at the helm seem to be a more-than-solid record to live by.

But, consider the program.

Under Steve Lavin, the Bruins made six straight NCAA tournaments, including four Sweet Sixteens and an Elite Eight. After a 10-19 season, Lavin got the boot.

Would a 10-19 season do the same for Howland?

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_