Here's one thing that was different for Ryan Wright when he arrived at UCLA from Loyola Catholic High in Mississauga, Canada:
"At UCLA we watch a lot of film of practice," Wright said. "I had been on teams that watched film before. But never of practice."
Wright, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound sophomore forward, was more highly ranked than UCLA's other three sophomores by high school recruiting services two years ago. Darren Collison, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Alfred Aboya were less highly regarded but, it turns out, better coached in the basketball fundamentals.
"Basically," Wright said, "coaches in Canadian high school are the math teacher or the English teacher. Whoever wants to volunteer. A lot more things are emphasized here."
When the No. 1-ranked Bruins play UC Riverside today at Pauley Pavilion, Wright won't be a starter or even the top sub. Even so, Coach Ben Howland considers himself "highly pleased" with Wright's progress so far.
It doesn't look that way from statistics. Wright is averaging 7.4 minutes a game, down from 9.8 minutes last season. His 2.2 points are down from 2.4 and 1.8 rebounds are up a bit from 1.5.
But assistant coach Scott Garson, who coaches UCLA's big men, said no one should be deceived. "He has come along tremendously from where he was a year ago," Garson said.
"Ryan's a great academic student, a very smart kid and a thinker. Part of that is that he maybe thought too much last year. His progress is excellent."
Garson places great stress on the first syllable of "EX-cellent," in the same cadence as Howland spoke of Wright's contribution in UCLA's win over Kentucky at the Maui Invitational.
In that game, a 73-68 UCLA win in an atmosphere of intensity that rivaled an NCAA tournament game, Wright had three points and four rebounds in his seven minutes. He also played solid, hard defense on Wildcats center Randolph Morris. "I'm looking at film right now," Garson said, "and watching Ryan grab a big offensive rebound and get the putback. That was a confident move."
Last year Wright would come to Pauley at 8 a.m. every day to do individual work with assistant coach Donny Daniels. Garson said Wright worked intensely this off-season. "He was running on his own, asking the conditioning coaches to come out and because he doesn't get as tired in games now he can do everything better. He's not worried about catching his breath, he's worried about catching the ball."
Wright said he didn't start playing organized basketball until he was 13. He received his best coaching, he said, when he worked with the Canadian national team. When he was a junior in high school, Wright said he started getting recruiting letters. "I think my first was from Rhode Island," he said. By his senior year, Wisconsin was writing. Most of the Big East schools showed interest.
Stanford, Michigan State and UCLA were Wright's final three choices.
"The only way to make a decision," Wright said, "was to ask myself a question. Do I see myself living here? I felt very comfortable at UCLA."
And the basketball court is becoming comfortable too.*
vs. UC Riverside, 2:30 p.m.
FSN Prime Ticket
Site -- Pauley Pavilion.
Radio -- 570.
Records -- UCLA 5-0, Riverside 3-4.
Update -- This is the second time that Riverside has faced the nation's No. 1-ranked men's basketball team. The Highlanders upset Iowa, 110-92, in the finals of the 1988 Chaminade Christmas Classic. Back then, Riverside was even a Division II school. Sophomore forward Benoit Bekono dislocated his knee Nov. 24 and is out for the season.