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Shipp Aced Home Schooling

UCLA freshman guard credits his grandfather, a former college player, for teaching him the fundamentals of the game at an early age.

December 29, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

It shows in the way Josh Shipp plays the angles, positions himself in just the right place to sneak off with an offensive rebound when you can't even see him because Shipp, at 6 feet 5, is hidden behind 6-10 centers.

Or the way the UCLA freshman squares his shoulders to the basket when he shoots, or the way his bounce passes are crisp and compact and reach his teammates at the right time.

Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo noticed Shipp. Even though UCLA lost to the Spartans last week, Izzo made a point of praising him, saying, "That kid understands the game. He always seemed to be where the ball is. He's a freshman who really gets it."

Shipp credits his grandfather for teaching him the game. "He taught me how to do things right," Shipp says.

Says the grandfather: "Josh really said that?"

James Knight is 76. His hair is spotted with white, but his back is straight and there's a wide smile on his face each time UCLA plays in Pauley Pavilion, where Knight stands in the aisle greeting friends one after another. "Great job Josh is doing," says one. "That Josh, he's doing well," says another.

As the Bruins (6-2) prepare to open Pacific 10 Conference play at Oregon State (8-3) on Friday, Shipp has snuggled into the UCLA starting lineup.

While fellow freshmen Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar earned starting spots in the backcourt from the opener, it wasn't until senior Dijon Thompson injured a hand and sat out against Pepperdine that Coach Ben Howland added a third freshman -- Shipp -- as a starter.

And even though Thompson recovered well enough to sit out only one game and to continue to lead the Bruins in scoring and rebounding, Howland has been impressed enough with Shipp to move Thompson from a wing forward to power forward and 7-foot junior Ryan Hollins to the bench.

"We're a better offensive team with the three freshmen and Thompson," Howland says. "That's playing with basically four guards, but that's how it will be with Michael Fey in the post."

Knight says it is no surprise that Shipp, while not as highly touted as prep All-Americans Farmar and Afflalo, has progressed just as impressively into the Bruin game plan. Howland often compliments Shipp on his basketball sense and his well-grounded fundamental understanding of the game. "I have to say thanks to my grandfather for that," Shipp says.

Knight grew up in Wisconsin. He ran track and played basketball, sometimes sweeping snow off outdoor courts in the winter. At a time when not every school accepted African American athletes, Knight chose to play in college at historically black Kentucky State in a state full of knowledgeable, avid fans who worshiped the college game as it was coached by Adolph Rupp at the University of Kentucky.

"I watched Ralph Beard and Alex Groza playing at UK," Knight says. "The Fabulous Five. They were a joy to watch.

"I always wanted to meet Coach Rupp and Coach [John] Wooden," Knight says. "I have had the honor of shaking Coach Wooden's hand. Coach Rupp would never touch me."

Rupp resisted integrating basketball at the school at a time when the Southeastern Conference was segregated. But Knight's talents were not ignored.

"I was an all-conference player," he says. "I was named the outstanding athlete in the state of Kentucky by the Louisville Courier-Journal."

That honor is still coveted by men and women in the state, and Knight earned the notice for his basketball play as a 6-1 swingman (much like his grandson, Knight played guard and forward) and for his track skill. He was an alternate in the long jump for the 1952 U.S. Olympic team.

It was while training for the Olympic track trials that Knight came to California. "The team came to Long Beach," Knight says. "I loved it. I couldn't go back."

Knight got a law degree and went to work for the Department of Labor. He never quit playing basketball, though. "I coached adult leagues," Knight says. "I took a team of 11-year-olds to the national championships."

He also bought an apartment building as an investment.

"First thing I did," Knight says, "was put a basketball court in the back. It was on the corner of Washington and La Brea. All the neighborhood kids would be out there, but I did it for my grandsons. They were 4, 5 years old, and in the summer we'd be out there at 1 in the morning, playing hoops."

Josh's older brother, Joe, who played at Cal, was the leading scorer last season in the Pac-10 and now is in Huntsville, Ala., playing in the National Basketball Development League.

Josh came to UCLA after starring at Los Angeles Fairfax High and leading the team to its first Division I state title. In the Southern California regional final, Shipp scored 33 points -- a regional record. He averaged 30.4 points last season.

This season, Shipp is scoring 8.3 points a game, averaging 4.3 rebounds (tied with 7-foot Fey for second best on the team) and has a team-high 10 steals.

"What I always like about Josh," Knight says, "is that he has a nose for the ball. He wants to be where the ball is and he knows how to get there. Some would say he was a little small or a little slow, but I would say that doesn't matter. Josh understands the game. So that's how he gets where he's going."

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