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Bruins Make Some Gains

As Howland prepares for his first season in Westwood, returning players add weight and Cummings tries to regain eligibility.

October 17, 2003|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

Exactly how long it might take new UCLA Coach Ben Howland to remake the Bruins in the mold he has in mind is hard to say.

Whether this band of slender, offensive-oriented players can learn to take high-percentage shots and play dogged, physical defense and rebound isn't clear.

But the work begins in earnest Saturday on the first day of basketball practice as allowed by NCAA rules.

"Ten a.m., I'm ready to go," point guard Cedric Bozeman said. "I mean, the intensity has picked up, big time."

Bozeman said he is "100%" recovered from March shoulder surgery. And like several other Bruins, he has worked in the weight room to grow stronger, gaining back the 10 or 12 pounds or so he lost after the surgery and then some to reach 206 after playing at 6 feet 6 and 197 pounds last season.

Dijon Thompson, the Bruins' leading returning scorer, said he has gained about 10 pounds to 6 feet 7 and 205, and he understands he needs to be stronger.

Forward T.J. Cummings looks slightly more rugged as well, carrying five extra pounds on his 6-foot-9 frame at 225, though the effect might be exaggerated by his new closely shorn hair.

Cummings' major concern is regaining his academic eligibility. He will sit out at least the first three regular-season games -- including the Dec. 6 game against Kentucky at the Arrowhead Pond.

Cummings said he needs about a "C" average in the four classes he is taking to be ruled eligible after the fall quarter concludes Dec. 12.

"I'm very confident," Cummings said. "I have tutors in every one of my classes and I've been getting there early to get to know my professors and [teaching assistants]. I'm not just trying to pass. I'm trying to pass with flying colors."

If Cummings, the Bruins' second-leading returning scorer, fails to regain his eligibility, it will be a serious blow.

"It would be tough," Howland said. "Then it would be four of the top six gone from last year."

The Bruins went 10-19 in Steve Lavin's final season as coach and have lost Jason Kapono, Ray Young and Andre Patterson from that team and have only Thompson, potentially Cummings, Bozeman and slender but athletic 7-footer Ryan Hollins back from among the top seven.

They can draw clues about what's ahead from Howland's Pittsburgh teams.

"They played really well on the defensive end and on offense they were very poised," Cummings said.

Bozeman agreed.

"I've seen them play. They play very well as a team and share the ball," he said.

Those have been some of the themes of the new coaches.

"We started off with defensive stuff" in individual workouts, Thompson said. "The main emphasis is on rebounding and playing tough."

Though Howland prefers man-to-man defense, he said the Bruins might be forced to play zone at times this season. And though his teams are known for disciplined halfcourt offense, expect them to run when they can.

"I'm big on easy baskets," he said.

UCLA is preparing for exhibitions Nov. 12 and 18 -- no longer an afterthought after they lost two last season -- and opens the season Nov. 29 against Vermont in Pauley Pavilion.

"We'll definitely be a better defensive team. It will be a point of emphasis every practice, every possession, every game," Howland said. "We'll be a better rebounding team too.

"They won 10 games. It was not a fun thing to be part of. They're going to be willing to practice to get ready to win and be unselfish."

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Stanford's Mike Montgomery will receive the John Wooden "Legends of Coaching" award April 10 at the Wooden Award ceremony at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Montgomery is the school's winningest coach, having gone 363-165 with three Pacific 10 Conference titles and one Final Four appearance in 17 seasons.

Previous winners of the award are Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Lute Olson, Denny Crum and Roy Williams.

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Times staff writer Eric Stephens contributed to this report.

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