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Wooden: Bruins are worth the wait

The 98-year-old former coach likes what he sees from UCLA's young roster but says, 'Good teams take time.'

December 10, 2008|David Wharton | Wharton is a Times staff writer.

For the last few weeks, UCLA basketball players have been asking fans to remain patient, to give them more time to gel as a team.

This argument apparently makes sense to at least one onlooker -- John Wooden.

Speaking to reporters four days before the annual basketball doubleheader in Anaheim that bears his name, the respected former coach said he likes what he sees in the Bruins.

"Good teams take time," he said. "They always do."

This year's John R. Wooden Classic features UCLA against DePaul in a Saturday afternoon game at the Honda Center, with San Diego State playing St. Mary's in an earlier matchup.

The 5-2 Bruins, ranked fourth in the preseason polls, have slipped to No. 16 after losses to Michigan and sixth-ranked Texas.

They feature a mix of veterans such as point guard Darren Collison and swingman Josh Shipp with five freshmen from a highly touted recruiting class. The newcomers have struggled at times -- and that includes starting guard Jrue Holiday -- while the team as a whole has suffered defensive lapses.

"We've got to keep doing a better job," Coach Ben Howland said. "Trying to strive to improve."

Wooden has kept a watchful eye on UCLA, as always. "I have some bad days but, at 98, I feel pretty good," he said.

His analysis of the team was hopeful. There have been mental errors, he said, but nothing a little experience can't cure.

The Bruins have also stuttered on offense, managing only two points in the final three minutes of a close game at Texas. Wooden did not seem overly concerned.

"Most writers and critics I know don't feel that UCLA has a great offense," he said. "If you have a great defense and patience on offense, you're going to be tough to beat."

This season's team might be a little closer to the old coach's heart if only because his great-grandson, Tyler Trapani, is on the roster.

Not that Wooden was overly sentimental about Trapani, a walk-on from Simi Valley High. He said they don't talk much basketball -- he doesn't want to seem pushy -- and was frank about the freshman's skills.

"He's a little heavy-footed," Wooden said. "And that will always be a hindrance in basketball."

Sounding more like a great-grandfather than a coach, Wooden added: "It's more important to me that he's an outstanding student."

For Trapani and the Bruins, Saturday marks the continuation of an important stretch of games until the start of Pacific 10 Conference play in January.

Collison insisted the Bruins will learn from their losses.

"I think this is going to get us tough," he said. "Everybody's expecting us to win all these games but they're not seeing we have all these newcomers."

It's an opinion that makes sense to Wooden.

"Patience. Patience," he said. "I think that's the toughest thing with a young team."


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