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UCLA BASKETBALL

Players Defend the Past, Present

November 26, 2003|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

Bruin practices are closed, so players have been peppered with questions about workouts under Coach Ben Howland.

Are they improved? Demanding? Crisp? Well-organized?

The implication, of course, is that practices under former coach Steve Lavin were none of the above. And that bothers some Bruins.

"A lot of people are trying to discredit Coach Lavin, saying that the reason we lost was bad practices," said Brian Morrison, a junior guard. "That wasn't the case. Coach Howland has definitely made a big difference, but we are a year more mature, and that has a lot to do with it too."

There is an increased emphasis on defense, however. On that everyone agrees.

"Defense and rebounding, every ballgame and every practice," forward Dijon Thompson said. "That's how to make Coach Howland happy: Defend and rebound."

*

Point guard Cedric Bozeman's sprained ankle should be close to 100% by the opener Saturday against Vermont.

Bozeman suffered the injury Nov. 17 and it bothered him all last week. But the team did not practice Monday, and by Tuesday afternoon he said it felt good.

Howland hopes so because he is becoming a strong advocate of Bozeman.

"He was here at 7:30 [Tuesday] morning to get treatment," Howland said. "That impressed me. A lot of kids don't want to get up early.

"He does whatever he's asked to do. I think he's going to have a really great year. It will be a fun thing to watch him improve and grow throughout the year."

*

Howland pulled aside walk-on guard Janou Rubin on the fifth day of practice, stuck out his hand and said, "Congratulations, I'm going to put you on scholarship."

The gesture is more than a reward for a player who works hard in practice. Rubin, a good outside shooter and credible defender, will be in the rotation.

"I had been hoping for it for years," he said. "When [Howland] gave it to me, it was a relief. Now I can be out there trying to help us get a win instead of just trying to be a vocal leader."

Rubin showed glimpses of ability last season, making all three of his three-point attempts in 10 minutes during the Bruins' first meeting with Arizona, and making two of three shots in the rematch.

*

Howland has said repeatedly that this is his dream job, but don't expect him to be teary-eyed before tip-off Saturday.

"I don't look at it like it's all starting a couple of days from now," he said. "We've had two exhibitions, and I've been here since April. This one counts, that's all."

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