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UCLA Message on Point

Bozeman has been a starter for three years, but he hasn't lived up to the hype and he's not guaranteed a spot ahead of freshman Farmar.

October 15, 2004|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

Flash back to three years ago.

Cedric Bozeman was a highly touted UCLA freshman, a McDonald's All-American who was supposed to be Baron Davis, Tyus Edney and Earl Watson rolled into one -- a player Steve Lavin and Jason Kapono called a Magic Johnson-type point guard.

Now Bozeman is a three-year starter who never became any of that, and he probably is about to lose his job to freshman Jordan Farmar, a McDonald's All-American who led Woodland Hills Taft to the City Section title and was compared to UCLA great Gail Goodrich along the way.

Bozeman, veteran of one NCAA tournament Sweet 16, one coaching change and two losing seasons, isn't in a dither over Farmar's arrival.

"I look at it as a great addition to the team," he said. "I mean, it's only going to make us better and make me better. You've got to love that. All we want to do is win."

Bozeman said he has been impressed with Farmar as the players prepare for the first official day of practice Saturday.

"He's very good. A very smart player, ahead of his time," Bozeman said. "Like I said, he can only help us."

As for those comparisons -- Bozeman to Johnson and Farmar to Goodrich -- Bozeman can only shake his head.

"No matter what, you're going to get the hype, coming out as a top high school player," he said. "You're not asking for it a lot of times, but you're going to get it. You have to be smart and stay focused and not get too caught up in it."

Bozeman started every game at the point for UCLA last season, and 17 games in each of his first two seasons, both shortened by injuries.

Whether he'll start even the first game of his senior season is unclear.

Coach Ben Howland has said since early last season that Farmar had a chance to take over the job, and now the time has come.

"Ced's going to play more than one position.... He's still going to be an integral part, regardless of whether it's at the '1' or either wing," Howland said.

Some might say the starting spot should be Bozeman's until Farmar takes it away, but Howland won't.

"Nobody has a starting spot right now," he said. "It's not like we're coming off a 20-win season."

The record was 11-17, and it is one reason -- along with a naturally laid-back personality -- that Bozeman seems willing to subjugate his ego as Farmar joins the team.

"I don't really look at it as me fighting with another person," said Bozeman, who led the conference in assists last season at 5.5 a game. "I look at it as two people pushing each other and helping push the team to get over the hump and have a complete season this year.

"If I get caught up in a one-on-one situation, that's not benefiting my teammates, that's being selfish."

Bozeman's size and defensive versatility will help him earn minutes at either wing when Farmar is at the point, though the idea of him at shooting guard might seem unnatural because shooting has been one of his shortcomings.

Bozeman shot 22% from three-point range and 55% from the free-throw line last season, and missed some agonizing "gimmes" inside. Howland said he believed Bozeman's work over the summer has improved his shot.

Shooting is one of Farmar's strengths, and unlike Bozeman -- a 6-foot-6 player who doesn't seem to have a natural position -- Farmar, who is 6-2, is a true point guard.

"He's a good athlete, shoots the ball well, and I like his competitiveness and intelligence," Howland said of Farmar. "The thing I think is really special is, he led a team to the City championship that hadn't won it before.

"He's got a chance to be a very, very good player here."

Like Bozeman, Farmar said the competition would be good for the team.

"When there's somebody right on your tail, it gives you something to strive for," Farmar said. "He has a starting spot right now. He's started for three years. I'm going to battle, trying to get that spot, and he's going to battle, trying to keep it, and that's just going to make us both better."

A better season for the Bruins is what Bozeman is after.

"I'm 21 years old, I don't have time for all the stress," Bozeman said. "I just want to be happy. That's the main thing. If I see everybody else happy, I'm going to be happy. Going through disappointments, the last two seasons being losing seasons, that would be tough on anybody. Getting these new recruits coming in and the seniors coming back, it's a great nucleus."

The Bruins lost T.J. Cummings from last year's team as well as Trevor Ariza, who made a surprising jump to the NBA after one season and was a second-round pick of the New York Knicks. Ryan Walcott, a backup guard with little prospect of playing this season, recently transferred to Grand Canyon in Phoenix.

Probably the most crucial factor for UCLA was leading scorer Dijon Thompson's decision to return for his senior year after exploring the NBA draft.

"That's my ace right there," Bozeman said. "Having him back for another year is really big.

"I think all four freshmen coming in [Farmar, Arron Afflalo, Josh Shipp and Lorenzo Mata] will have a big impact. It makes us deeper as a team. And they're not afraid, I mean, they're very confident, and confidence is key."

Farmar has plenty, though it seems to stop short of cockiness.

"I'm a leader, so I want to be on the floor," Farmar said. "But if it's not best for the team for me to start, then coming off the bench isn't a problem.

"I know my time will come, so if it's the first game of the season, if it's halfway through the season, or not till next year, it doesn't matter, as long as we're on the right track. I feel I'm a starter in college basketball at some time. It's just a matter of time."

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