Sunday, December 18, 2005

Underclassmen Shine at Center for Bruins

By Bruin Basketball Report

Successful college basketball teams expect their seniors to step up their play and show leadership to underclassmen in road games, especially early in the season.

Obviously, Michael Fey and Ryan Hollins did not get the memo.

Against Michigan on Saturday Fey and Hollins combined for a total of six minutes, zero points, and zero rebounds - check that, they did earn a single personal foul (Hollins).

Its difficult to be harsh on two young players who honestly are trying their hardest to be the best players they can be. Unfortunately, it just might not be in either of their physical or mental make-up to be NCAA Division 1 level post players.

In Michael Fey's two minutes of play against Michigan, a single play described his day the best. While in the middle of a crowd battling for a defensive rebound, Fey (7'0 270lb) stood flat-footed while getting pushed around by smaller Wolverines, and Bruins for that matter - a rebound which a Wolverine won and put back in for a score. A befuddled Fey then looked around for a referee wondering why he didn't get bailed out with a foul call.

Fey was immediately yanked by Howland and never saw the light of day (court) again.

Sure Michael Fey has battled injuries this year and is just recovering from an ankle injury, but let's just say this isn't the first time Fey has gotten lost in a crowd in search of a rebound.

Four years ago, Fey and Hollins came into the program as "projects" and both will most likely leave at the end of their UCLA careers as "projects".

Fortunately for them, they are both 7-footers which automatically earns you a look in the professional ranks. In Ryan Hollin's case, his pogo-like jumping skills will earn him the closest look.

In the meantime, UCLA has underclassmen who have shown no fear or hesitation that they can take care of the center position; sophomore Lorenzo Mata and freshmen Ryan Wright and Alfred Aboya.

Coach Ben Howland only has two expectations for his centers. Knowing his best players are on the perimeter, he just wants his centers to rebound and defend the post. That's it. Scoring points is a nice bonus but not necessary.

Ryan Wright, who almost red-shirted this year, has been the most impressive. After playing minimal minutes during the first 6 games this year, Howland has played Wright 33 and 24 minutes the last two. Wright has responded with quickness in the post - getting his hands on passes into the paint and actively battling for rebounds.

Lorenzo Mata, recovering from a concussion he got from working hard in practice, is still learning the game at this level - but his effort on the boards and defensive end has made up for his lack of experience.

Alfred Aboya will split his time between center and power forward. He is still learning the system and perhaps will not be at full strength until the end of the season. However, he has shown glimpses, especially on the defensive end, of how tough he can be in the paint. At one point during the Michigan game, a Wolverine player could be seen flying head first out of the key - courtesy of Mr. Aboya.

Wright and Mata combined for 14 rebounds, 8 points, 1 block, and numerous tipped passes against Michigan (Aboya played primarily PF in this game). If the underclassmen continue to improve throughout the year - the Bruins may finally have the inside presence it needs to balance out their outstanding perimeter play when tournament time arrives in March.

Fey and Hollins still may very well play a major role for this Bruin squad - especially if the seniors are inspired by the play of the underclassmen. But until that time happens, coach Howland will probably go with the sophomore and freshmen in the middle.

Note: Lorenzo Mata started the game against Michigan, although Ryan Wright had earned the starting spot during practice - but Wright was three minutes late to the team bus in the morning and thus was disciplined by not starting the game.



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