If there is one thing that is making UCLA basketball Coach Ben Howland happy after watching five days of practice, it is seeing Luc Richard Mbah a Moute shooting jump shots.
And making them.
Mbah a Moute, the 6-foot-8, 230-pound junior forward from Cameroon, struggled last season to find a steady scoring rhythm. After averaging 9.1 points as a freshman, his scoring average fell to 8.2 points. He was held scoreless for the first time in his UCLA career at Arizona State.
He had achy knees (tendinitis) and with reduced oomph in his legs, the slam dunk rebounds that so often energized the Bruins his freshman year were unavailable. His raw and unreliable shooting motion also made jump shots too often ill-advised. Things have changed, according to Howland.
"Luc has had an unbelievable week of practice," Howland said Tuesday.
When fans see Mbah a Moute's shot for the first time this season, Howland said, they will see a shorter, more compact stroke.
After UCLA lost to Florida in April's NCAA national championship semifinal game, the coaching staff put Mbah a Moute on a 12-week program to help alleviate the knee tendinitis. Howland said they also broke down his shooting motion and almost started over.
"In the spring we were having him shoot one-handed," Howland said. "The only way to consistently make it one-handed is to have proper balance and have good follow through."
Assistant coach Scott Garson said that it was a cooperative effort, one that the coaching staff and Mbah a Moute embraced.
While the staff knew that Mbah a Moute's shooting stroke wasn't ideal, it was hard to suggest to the rookie who was Pacific 10 Conference newcomer of the year that he needed to change his shot.
"Two years ago, Luc was the new guy," Garson said. "Guys had never seen him, didn't know his game.
"Last year, especially in league play, teams had scouted Luc. They had defenders playing off Luc, making him be a shooter. They knew Luc could beat them off the dribble, but the perimeter wasn't his strength. Luc recognized that last year and went ahead and committed to changing that. Now players are going to have to get out and guard him, respect his jump shot."
Garson compares Mbah a Moute's new shooting motion to Detroit Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace.
"Luc's got such long arms," Garson said. "He had to learn how to release properly and shorten his stroke. Like Rasheed, he's shooting high above his head with a much shorter stroke, less motion, less chance for error."
Senior center Lorenzo Mata-Real worked for the first 45 minutes of practice Tuesday when the Bruins did strength and conditioning drills, and Howland said Mata-Real, who is recovering from a sprained foot, has been cleared to compete fully Thursday.
Sophomore forward James Keefe, recovering from shoulder surgery, was allowed to shoot with both hands on the ball Tuesday. "He'd been one-handed up to this point," Howland said. . . . Junior Michael Roll, who will play the second guard spot and small forward, earned Howland's praise for having 11 assists and no turnovers Tuesday. . . . Freshman Kevin Love led UCLA in scoring and rebounding at the last two practices, Howland said. . . . Swingman Josh Shipp, who had hip surgery in April, is "shooting it better than I've ever seen him shoot," Howland said. "He's strong and he's surprisingly in good condition."