The freshman class that could turn around UCLA's fortunes on the basketball court was unveiled at the team's media day Thursday, revealing a group of young players who said they were ready for the chore.
Guards Jordan Farmar, Josh Shipp, Arron Afflalo and center Lorenzo Mata are considered by many publications to be the best recruiting class in the Pacific 10 Conference and one of the best in the nation. That group probably will be the key to the Bruins improving on last season's 11-17 record, which gave UCLA back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1940-42.
"We know there are high expectations," Mata said. "We're here to help rebuild this program. We not only want to have a better record than last season, we want to win the Pac-10 Conference and get into the NCAA [tournament]."
Whether all of that can be accomplished in one season is to be seen. But the quartet certainly does not lack confidence.
"This is a great recruiting class," Afflalo said. "But we also have great senior leadership. We have all the pieces to do something this year."
Coach Ben Howland, meanwhile, takes a more conservative approach.
"I think it is really hard to expect freshmen to come in and be ready to go," Howland said. "There is a learning curve. I am very excited about our freshman class and they will have an opportunity to contribute. They will be counted on to do so."
Still, the infusion of young talent will push others. Howland said that no one was guaranteed a starting spot. That has already had an impact.
"You already can see in the pickup games how competitive this is going to be," senior forward Dijon Thompson said.
Said Afflalo: "If you can't push your teammates in practice, how are you going to push another team in a game?"
Ryan Hollins, a 7-0 forward, has recovered from knee surgery and has been cleared to practice with the team when workouts begin Saturday.
Hollins, who started 16 of 28 games last season, underwent surgery on his right knee July 20. The injury kept him sidelined this summer.
"More than anybody on our team, he needed that playing time in the summer, just because he hasn't had a lot of ex- perience," Howland said. "He was one of those late bloomers to come out of high school."
Jim Calhoun, who guided Connecticut to the NCAA championship last season, will receive the 2005 John R. Wooden "Legends of Coaching" award, the Los Angeles Athletic Club announced.
Calhoun, who will be honored April 9 at the presentation of the Wooden Award recognizing the men's and women's national players of the year, joins previous "Legends" winners Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Lute Olson, Denny Crum, Roy Williams and Mike Montgomery.
Times staff writer Robyn Norwood contributed to this report.