UCLA basketball players (from left) Tony Parker, Kyle Anderson, Shabazz… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
UCLA held its basketball media day Wednesday.
There was the coach. There were the players. And there was the man in the gray flannel suit.
Coach Ben Howland covered a variety of topics — the team's August trip to China, the new Pauley Pavilion, the high-altitude expectations.
Players came in waves during a formal news conference — first those returning from a 19-14 last season, then the four-member freshman class that has ignited high hopes for a resurrection.
And hovering around it all was the man wearing gray, Kevin S. Reed, UCLA's vice chancellor of legal affairs. At this point, he may be as much a part of the team as center Joshua Smith.
The elephant in the gym was the on-going NCAA investigation into eligibility of freshmen Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson.
Three times a UCLA official told the media, "We will not be speaking about the NCAA review or its impact on this team."
Yet, those are questions that won't go away.
Asked how to keep some of the uncertainties from disrupting the focus of the team, Howland said, "These kids, they're kids. They seem to stay very focused. There is always going to be adversity, there is always going be uncertainty. … You always have to deal with overcoming adversity as a player, as a team."
Howland then cited guard Tyler Lamb, who had arthroscopic knee surgery Tuesday and is expected back in a month.
Bigger uncertainties could disrupt the team. Those are being hashed out by the NCAA.
Muhammad, from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High, and Anderson, from Fairview (N.J.) St. Anthony, have yet to be cleared for competition by the NCAA, though they are with the team. Under rules, both can participate in workouts for 45 days, after which they either have to be cleared or must stop working with the team.
The freshman class, which includes Tony Parker and Jordan Adams, toted high-end expectations to Westwood.
"We have to live up to those," Muhammad said.
Whether Muhammad and Anderson get a chance remains to be seen.
NCAA officials never comment on investigations. But the specter of the investigation is omnipresent. For the first time in years, media day did not include one-on-one player interviews.
That allowed Reed to monitor the questions and answers.
"We knew it would put the spotlight on us," forward Travis Wear said about the freshman class.
What he likely didn't count on was the glare of NCAA scrutiny. It is a cloud that hangs over what UCLA officials anticipate being a fruitful season.
After a season of playing most of their home games at the Sports Arena, the Bruins will inaugurate a renovated Pauley Pavilion against Indiana State on Nov. 9. The team is scheduled to start practicing in the new arena Oct. 29.
Pauley Pavilion is so close to completion that the plastic was removed from the arena's seats this week.
"It was definitely a bummer playing at the Sports Arena last year," forward David Wear said. "I realize how exciting it is to be back on our own campus. Everyone is talking about how excited they are to come to the games."
The Bruins prepped for this season with their three-game trip to China. David Wear said that internal expectations grew before the first exhibition game was finished.
"We came in at halftime and Coach Howland was excited, the players were excited," Wear said. "We realized this was a special group of guys and felt like we could do a lot of great things this year."
Muhammad was not on the trip, a decision that was made because of the NCAA's investigation.