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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT

Exit Wounds

UCLA: Watson's departure and possible jumps to NBA by Kapono and Gadzuric could leave Bruins thin on top talent.

March 24, 2001|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHILADELPHIA — Earl Watson is gone. Jason Kapono is probably on his way out. And junior center Dan Gadzuric could be joining them.

Will Gadzuric stick around for another season of UCLA basketball or turn pro? That's one of the biggest questions in the wake of the Bruins' 76-63 loss to Duke in an East Regional semifinal.

"I think Dan might test the [NBA] market, kind of like Jason did last year, and see where he's at," UCLA assistant coach Jim Saia said Friday. "If it's good for him to go, kind of like if he can be a lottery pick, he might decide to do that. If he won't, then he'll probably come back to school."

Saia, who recruited Gadzuric and knows him as well as anyone else on the team, said there is a 50-50 chance Gadzuric will be in a Bruin uniform next season.

Gadzuric, a native of Holland who started playing basketball in his early teens, indicated Friday that his odds of staying are even better. He came on strong at the end of the season, collecting double-doubles in five of six games before the loss to Duke.

"I like the school and I'm still planning to come back," he said. "[But] I'm still going to test the waters. My decision right now is to come back to school."

Even if Gadzuric returns, the Bruins will have a different look next season. Watson won't be around, having finished his career as the only UCLA player to start every varsity game for four seasons. He leaves as the school's all-time leader in steals with 235, ranks fourth in assists with 607 and had his best season of the four in 2000-01 by making tremendous strides in all areas of his game.

The team also loses its other senior point guards, Ryan Bailey and Jason Flowers.

Expected to run the point next season is freshman-to-be Cedric Bozeman, a star recruit from Santa Ana Mater Dei High who has yet to achieve a test score that meets the NCAA's minimum requirement for eligibility. In the same situation is Michael Fey, a 6-foot-11 center from Olympia, Wash. Each has at least two more chances to retake his SAT or ACT exams.

Other Bruin recruits who should get a lot of playing time as freshmen are forward Andre Patterson and swingman Dijon Thompson.

Spencer Gloger, who transferred from Princeton in the fall and sat out this season, is a good shooter who tied the Ivy League record with 10 three-point baskets in a game and set a single-game Princeton record for freshmen with 34 points. He was an all-Orange County selection by The Times during his senior year at Santa Margarita.

Kapono, a sophomore who led the Bruins with a 17-point scoring average during the regular season, is leaning strongly toward going pro, according to those who know him well. He added his name to the NBA draft pool last spring, then removed it after talking to experts about where he might be selected.

Two days before the Duke game, Coach Steve Lavin said Kapono's decision will come down to instant cash versus clout on campus.

"He made progress from last year," Lavin said. "And he could be successful if he chooses to go to the NBA. . . . The real dilemma is, do you want to come back and break every school record, or do you want to set yourself up financially right away?"

If Kapono leaves, the team's best long-range threat will be guard Billy Knight, a senior to be. He cemented himself into the starting lineup with a 22-point performance in a Feb. 3 victory at Stanford, and emerged as one of the team's more reliable weapons on offense in the second half of the season.

Knight showed his toughness late in the game Thursday when he took a hard charge by 6-foot-9, 270-pound Duke center Carlos Boozer--who outweighs him by 60 pounds--then absorbed a foot to the face by Gadzuric, who couldn't stop his momentum and accidentally stepped on him.

It took Knight several moments to climb to his feet, and he later said he briefly blacked out. He didn't feel right until Friday morning.

"When it happened," he said, "I just saw green."

Kapono and Gadzuric are seeing the same thing. Only it's a different kind of green, one that could end their college careers.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Reviewing the UCLA Roster

2000-2001 TEAM

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