Monday, May 27

New kid on the block


New kid on the block

By Eric BranchSummer Bruin Staff

After sizing up his opponent, anticipating the shot and timing
the block,

Jelani McCoy always has a split second to make a decision before
swatting away another basketball.

The first option is more glamorous and appealing -

throw the ball somewhere in the second deck off the popcorn
stand. Unfortunately, it’s also a pointless display of machoism – a
waste of one of

basketball’s finest art forms. It’s like sticking the Mona Lisa
in Cleveland.

The 6-foot-11-inch McCoy, UCLA’s top incoming recruit and the
most prolific

shot blocker in San Diego County history, understands this.
That’s why he will leave his ego aside for that split second and
merely tip the ball to a

teammate. It’s a practice which requires admitted restraint.

"It’s really hard sometimes when I get all my adrenaline
pumping," McCoy said. "Sometimes you

just want to throw that ball in the stands and glare at the guy
or something. But I¹ve worked hard and become a lot more
disciplined in my shot blocking.

I’m now satisfied just to tip it and start a fast break." McCoy
had plenty of practice developing his skills in high school. Along
with averaging 25.8

points a game, he also averaged 8.1 blocks a contest, including
19 in one game. He finished with a career total of 718 blocks.

"I’d rather block a shot

than do anything else on the court ­ even dunking," McCoy
said. "It’s a great feeling when a guy makes a sweet move on me and
I still come back and swat

him. By the end of the game I want guys thinking, ‘Man I
can¹t do anything against this guy.’"

Playing at tiny St. Augustine High School, few opponents did
anything against McCoy. That lack of competition had some
questioning the hype. However, skeptics were silenced after the
McDonald¹s All-American game

in April which featured the top high school seniors in the
nation. McCoy posted 13 points, 12 on thunderous dunks, along with
seven rebounds and five

assists.

"I never really doubted my ability to compete against better
competition," McCoy said. "Games like that give me added
confidence. Before that I

played against guys like Kevin Garnett at different camps during
the year.

"I remember at this camp in Las Vegas he kicked my butt ­
it was embarrassing.

But when we met again in Chicago, I outplayed him ­ it was
sweet. So I know I’m ready for the college game."

UCLA assistant coach Lorenzo Romar agrees.

"He is certainly talented enough to play as a freshman, but how
much he does will depend on how he plays," Romar said. "He’s only
17, but basketball-wise

he’s very mature. He¹s a real student ­ he likes to
study his opponents. But he also has great instincts. His timing is
uncanny."

Although McCoy has an

obvious respect for his sport, he isn’t a straight arrow on the
court. During high school, some of his on-court gyrations drew
criticism from opposing

coaches and players.

At the Say No Classic summer league, his play has been marked by
primal screams after dunks and general clowning. However, even
mild

mannered J.R. Henderson, a teammate of McCoy’s this summer,
finds the routine harmless.

"He’s a very outgoing guy," Henderson said. "He’s got a lot
of

antics out on the court, like his screaming when he dunks on
someone. But he’s just having fun ­ he just loves playing
basketball."

Besides personality,

McCoy adds another dimension to the Bruins ­ quickness.

"He’ll help us cover up some of our deficiencies," UCLA
assistant coach Steve Lavin said. "When we

went to the full-court press last year we were somewhat limited
with George (Zidek) back there. Now if they break through our press
they’ll be staring at

a guy with more speed and quickness."

While McCoy may have Zidek beat in the athletic department, he
needs to emulate the graduated senior’s work ethic.

"Offensively Jelani has to develop an attitude," Romar said.
"Right now he doesn’t have the mentality he needs. He has to work
on going to the basket more

aggressively. He’s not a real back-to-the-basket Shaquille
(O’Neal) type so he needs to practice his perimeter shot. But with
time all that will come. I’m

not concerned about Jelani."

After swatting down prep-level foes like flies, incoming
freshman Jelani McCoy aims to elevate his game to the next
level

Photos by Steve Kim/DB

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