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Recruiting Aided by Turnaround

March 28, 1997|TIM KAWAKAMI

Whether J.R. Henderson remains a Bruin or leaves for the NBA, UCLA Coach Steve Lavin says that, with the recruiting process energized by the team's recent run to the Midwest Regional finals, next season's team will be a deeper, more athletic team than its predecessor.

Lavin said that, barring something unforeseen, he has been told by Jelani McCoy and Toby Bailey--and their families--that they are staying at UCLA for another season. And, with two recruits signed, two orally committed and apparently more on the way, Lavin predicts a wave of new talent.

"Momentum-wise with recruiting, it's at an all-time high, at least since I've been here," Lavin said. "The national title [in 1995], people were excited, our fans were excited, because we won one. But, as you saw, it didn't help our recruiting at all. We didn't get any recruits.

"I think this season, there's an interest from around the world, around the country. [The season] kind of captured high school coaches and parents. . . . People watched what this program went through and how we turned basically a terrible situation into an unbelievable situation."

Earl Watson from Kansas City, Kan., was an early signee, and can play either guard spot along with Bailey, Lavin said. Lavin is also hoping to add uncommitted point guard Baron Davis from Santa Monica Crossroads to a backcourt mix that includes orally committed Billy Knight from Westchester High, and Rico Hines, who signed last year from the Maryland area but did not qualify academically.

"Next year, we're going to have more three-point shooters than we ever had," Lavin said. "We're going to be very similar to Arizona next year. We'll be a pressing, trapping, full-court pressure team that shoots threes."

But the biggest benefit from this season, Lavin said, should come with the current high school juniors, whose early signing period begins in November.

Among the top juniors UCLA is believed to be pinpointing are Long Beach Poly forward Rick Anderson, Compton Dominguez forwards Tayshaun Prince and Jason Thomas and Kansas City (Mo.) Pembroke Hills forward JaRon Rush.

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