UCLA finished its roaring recruiting season with a flourish Tuesday, announcing the conditional signing of 6-foot-11 center Dan Gadzuric, considered a probable lottery pick in the NBA draft had he chosen that route.
Gadzuric's impending arrival, in the wake of the signings of two other McDonald's All-Americans--JaRon Rush and Ray Young--and the conditional signing of big man Jerome Moiso, lifts the Bruin recruiting class of 1998 to the elite level, according to several recruiting analysts.
Gadzuric, who came to the U.S. from Den Haag, Holland, when he was 17 and has attended Governor Dummer Academy, in Byfield, Mass., for the last three years, has not yet met NCAA eligibility requirements. But he apparently has only to keep his current grade-point average steady to be eligible to play next season.
Moiso, according to sources, must score at least 50 points higher on the SAT to be eligible next season. UCLA extends conditional scholarships to players who have not yet met NCAA requirements.
"Clearly he's an incredible talent," said Steve Metz, Gadzuric's coach at Governor Dummer, where Gadzuric averaged 21 points, seven rebounds and seven blocks last winter and was generally considered the top prep center in the nation. "He's very graceful and athletic for a 6-11, 250-pound post player.
"And he's only been playing the game for five years, so, clearly as he now moves to the next level and practices every day against quality big men, he'll go off the scale, and a year from now we probably won't even recognize him."
The addition of Gadzuric, assuming Moiso qualifies, to a group that also includes forward Matt Barnes from Fair Oaks Del Campo, means that this year's recruiting class will be UCLA's best and deepest at least since the 1994 collection of Toby Bailey, J.R. Henderson, omm'A Givens and Kris Johnson.
It possibly rivals that famous incoming group of 1975, a class that included Roy Hamilton, David Greenwood and Brad Holland.
Coach Steve Lavin has already penciled in Gadzuric as his starting center, and said Tuesday that the additions of the 6-9 Moiso and Gadzuric give the Bruins the front-line depth they have lacked for two years.
"He's just such a strong, big physical presence," Lavin said of Gadzuric. "He and Jerome couldn't have come at a better time. Look at our conference: Washington has all of their big men returning, Stanford. . . .
"This recruiting class, on top of last year's recruiting class, gives us a solid nucleus and foundation for our future. . . . This year's class really filled a need in terms of front-line size and depth, something that obviously hurt us the previous two seasons."
Last season, UCLA signed five highly regarded players, among them guard Baron Davis, who is currently recovering from knee surgery.
"Potentially, with Baron Davis, this could be a Fab Four, plus one, the super soph," said recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons, who says the Bruin class challenges Arizona's for the best in the nation.
"This group could really win the Pac-10 and go to the Final Four, right away. They have that potential."
Both Metz and Gibbons said that Gadzuric has to refine his post play and develop offensive moves, but agreed that he immediately will be a rebounding presence.
"He's just a dominating power guy, an in-your-face kind of strong, overpowering 6-11 athlete," Gibbons said. "He's more proficient as a shot-blocker and a rebounder and a slam-dunker. He's sort of a poor man's Shaquille O'Neal, in a sense, but not as big."
The only possible question surrounding this whole class is the same one that surrounded Davis before he tore up his left knee last March: How long will Gadzuric, Moiso, Rush and the other high-profile recruits pass up the chance to go to the NBA?
Gadzuric and Moiso, who is from France and attends the Milford Academy in Connecticut, are both 20. Rush, from Pembroke Hill in Kansas City, has already said he plans on a two-year UCLA stay.
"I'd say it just depends on how he develops," Metz said of Gadzuric. "If a year from now, they said he could go 1-2-3 and they're throwing $10-15 million at him, I don't know if it's possible any young person could resist that."
Said Lavin, "I don't think his goal is just to come here, play well and go to the NBA. But he's someone who's always going to have that option after every season to evaluate his position."
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UCLA at a Glance
\o7 Scholarship players, position, height and status for 1998-99 men's basketball season:\f7
Player Pos. Ht. SENIOR Brandon Loyd G 5-10 JUNIORS Kevin Daley F 6-6 *Sean Farnham F 6-6 SOPHOMORES Baron Davis G 6-1 Rico Hines G-F 6-3 Billy Knight F 6-4 Travis Reed F 6-6 Earl Watson G 6-0 FRESHMEN Matt Barnes F 6-8 Dan Gadzuric C 6-11 Jerome Moiso F-C 6-9 JaRon Rush F 6-6 Ray Young G 6-4 **Ryan Bailey G 6-1
* Was on scholarship for 1997-98 season, but could be withdrawn for '98-99.
** Red-shirt transfer last season; UCLA has not decided whether to offer scholarship for '98-99.