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Righting the Shipp

He's thrilled to get another chance to help UCLA on a Final Four run

March 28, 2007|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

After UCLA canned Kansas last Saturday in San Jose, and pockets of Bruin bedlam broke out, sophomore swingman Josh Shipp found his mother, Debbie, in the stands at HP Pavilion.

He handed her his West Regional championship cap, then the T-shirt.

"What about the net?" Debbie asked. Josh handed her a piece.

Few words were exchanged because few needed to be.

"We just knew," she said.

What they knew was that life doesn't offer many Final Four do-overs -- but the Shipps had just received one.

Four of the five UCLA starters returning to the Final Four played significant roles in last year's run-up to the national title game.

Four of the five celebrated after beating Louisiana State and then, against Florida, knew what it felt to be the 57 on the scoreboard as opposed to the 73.

The exception was Shipp, the former L.A. Fairfax High star who watched from a courtside seat.

Shipp, sidelined for all but four games because of a hip injury, couldn't take a shot, grab a rebound or divert any of Gators guard Lee Humphrey's four three-point baskets.

"It was tough last year, just sitting and watching the guys make their run," Shipp said.

So how sweet was it Sunday, when Florida's win over Oregon set up a Final Four rematch between the Bruins and Gators in a national semifinal?

"I can't tell you how phenomenal this is," Debbie Shipp said the next day. "It's so rare you get an opportunity like this. You think of all the athletes and all the schools, and they are facing each other again? To me, that's extraordinary odds.... They cannot wait."

And Shipp can leave his pompoms at home this time.

He is second on the team in scoring and assists and third in rebounds and steals. Nine times this year he led the Bruins in scoring.

His boxscore line in the 68-55 West Regional championship win over Kansas sums up his sometimes overlooked value to the Bruins' success. He finished with nine points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocked shots in 35 minutes.

Shipp made only two baskets, but his three-pointer from the corner to beat the first-half buzzer was one of the game's significant shifting points. It put UCLA up by four, 35-31, and sent the Bruins frolicking into the locker room.

"That gave us great momentum going into the half," Bruins Coach Ben Howland said.

Shipp did his best to stay involved last year after his slow-healing hip relegated him to cheerleader.

Bruins fans can only wonder how different it might have been had Shipp been throwing passes to his teammates instead of towels.

Debbie Shipp said Howland -- maybe he was only trying to be nice -- told her after the Florida loss, "The difference in that game was Josh."

Shipp had surgery on Sept. 28, 2005, to repair the hip he first injured in a summer-league spill. Loose cartilage irritating his hip socket was removed, but recovery took longer than Shipp or anyone imagined.

He sat out the first 11 games last season but attempted a comeback in late December. He lasted four games before the pain forced him to shut his season down.

Some would say he came back too soon. Debbie said her son did the right thing.

"I really encouraged him to go play," she said. "I didn't want him to second-guess himself. By him playing, it gave him a frame of reference to make an intelligent decision. He knew he couldn't play."

Sitting out was hard, but it also allowed Shipp to see basketball from a different perspective.

"I think I kind of became a fan of the game again," he said. "I got to watch a lot of my teammates, guys I was close with, play the game they love. Just have fun out there. That's what I learned the most, just to enjoy this experience. It's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing."

If you're a lucky Bruin, it's twice in a lifetime.

Debbie Shipp credits Howland and UCLA players with helping Shipp feel as if he was part of last year's success.

"Now he knows what it feels like," Debbie Shipp said. "This is what Josh wanted the whole year. Before he was on the bench, this year he's made a great contribution. It's not the same."

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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