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Grades Sideline UCLA's Cummings

The senior forward will miss at least the first three games of the regular season, including Kentucky matchup, because of academic shortcomings.

August 08, 2003|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

If new UCLA Coach Ben Howland didn't know it going in, he knows it now: The classroom, not the basketball court, is the starting point for returning the UCLA program to prominence.

Senior forward T.J. Cummings has been declared ineligible for the fall quarter and will miss at least the first three regular-season games, against Vermont, UC Riverside and Kentucky. Cummings can return by making sufficient academic progress in summer school and during the fall.

Cummings, the Bruins' third-leading rebounder and scorer last season, is the second top frontcourt player to be disciplined because of poor grades. Forward Andre Patterson, who led the Pacific 10 Conference in field goal percentage last season as a sophomore, left UCLA after the winter quarter.

Patterson took a recruiting trip to Tennessee this week and said Thursday night he planned to transfer there. He has not attended summer school and has virtually no chance of returning to UCLA.

The losses of Patterson and Cummings severely deplete a frontcourt that had been considered the Bruins' strength. Sophomore center Ryan Hollins, who made 15 starts, and sophomore Michael Fey, who played sparingly, are the only holdovers at center and power forward from a team that went 10-19. Incoming freshman Trevor Ariza is expected to play a strong role.

Dijon Thompson, the leading scorer among returnees, can play small forward but is expected to move to shooting guard. Other returnees who played significant roles last season are point guards Cedric Bozeman and Ryan Walcott.

Players besides Patterson and Cummings have been on academic thin ice, sources said, although it appears the rest of the roster is eligible for the fall.

"We expect our players to excel both in the classroom and on the basketball court," Howland said in a statement.

Howland, in his first season after coaching Pittsburgh the last four seasons, said in June that he looked forward to working with Cummings and also hoped Patterson would regain eligibility and return.

The 6-foot-9, 215-pound Cummings, the most experienced UCLA player with 94 appearances and 24 starts, contemplated declaring for the NBA draft after last season, when he averaged 10.3 points and 4.9 rebounds. He started 16 games in 2002-03.

He decided to return when it became clear he would not be a first-round pick and probably would not be drafted at all. Cummings' father, Terry, played 18 NBA seasons.

A weakness of Cummings is not finding open teammates when he has the ball. He has only 51 career assists, an average of 0.6 a game. A cornerstone of Howland's philosophy is unselfishness, and the coach said he was making an impression on Cummings during the off-season.

Cummings, who could not be reached for comment, will be allowed to practice with the team during the fall. After exams are completed Dec. 12, his status will be reevaluated. He could return for a Dec. 13 game against Loyola Marymount.

"T.J. knows what he has do in the classroom to be eligible to play on the court," Howland said. "As a staff and team, we will support T.J."

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