It was only a few years ago that UCLA was at the top of college basketball.
And when I say “at the top,” I’m not referring to the three Final Fours.
I’m referring to the one Fabulous Five.
In retrospect, labeling the 2008-2009 recruiting class that landed Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee, Drew Gordon, J’Mison Morgan and Jerime Anderson in the blue and gold adidas ““ a recruiting class ranked No. 1 by nearly every major scouting service ““ with that title is beyond blasphemous, considering the success of the real, original “Fab Five.”
But in all actuality, it wasn’t the success of the original Michigan “Fab Five” that calls for accusations of blasphemy, so much as the disappointment of UCLA’s.
Now, three years later, only Anderson remains in the confines of Westwood, as the other four have not only left the UCLA program, but did so without fulfilling the prophecy of taking UCLA back to the Final Four.
Holiday, after his freshman season, bolted for the NBA, where he is now one of the league’s up-and-coming young point guards.
But that’s about where the “silver lining” excuse ends.
Most uncharacteristically for UCLA hoops, both Gordon and Morgan pulled a LeBron and decided to “take their talents” elsewhere, transferring to New Mexico and Baylor, respectively.
And Lee recently decided to take the monumental step of entering the NBA draft, a move that few believed he was ready for.
From “Fab Five” to “Uno Anderson,” the to-be senior point guard is the only remaining remnant that UCLA fans have of a squad meant to add to a deep Bruin legacy.
“I don’t think about it like that too much,” Anderson said when asked if he realizes he’s the last man standing. “I just think about the team that I’m on right now. Those guys went on to do the things that they did and that was their decisions. I wish all of them the best because they’re all my good friends.”
In Gordon’s case, there were often rumblings that tiffs with coach Ben Howland were frequent before Gordon’s departure, which isn’t difficult to believe when reminiscing over his on-the-court demeanor.
Morgan suffered greatly from lack of playing time, which was obviously attributed to his lack of conditioning combined with Howland being a stickler for work ethic.
“I think that sometimes players deal with coaching different ways,” Anderson said. “And sometimes, coaches deal with players different ways. I think that everything is not going to be a happy family all the time. Sometimes things just don’t work out. That’s what happened, and people made the moves that they needed to make. And I think right now, everyone is better off for it.”
Holiday was in the unique position of being a high school player who probably would have skipped college and gone directly to the NBA if not for the new “one-year” rule put in place by the NBA.
And coincidentally, the supposed “Party of Five” quickly became centered on the star of the class ““ Holiday.
“We never really played too much together to develop that chemistry,” Anderson said of why the five freshmen never clicked. “When we were freshmen, we didn’t get as much playing time, and Jrue Holiday played a lot. So we were never on the floor to really develop as a class, us five together.”
Most recently, Lee bounced for the bigs, which was quite the head-scratcher considering he was beginning to garner attention for his defensive prowess, and next year, he would have possibly been the team’s main offensive weapon, at least from the perimeter.
“I always knew that Malcolm had the talent to go to the NBA,” Anderson said. “He had to make the decision when the time was right, and I think the time is right for him.”
I wish I could convince myself that that’s just not the friend in you speaking, Mr. Anderson.
Regardless, since that class, which was prefaced by three Final Fours and ended up being the last crowning achievement of a three-year glory period in recent UCLA basketball history, the Bruins have fallen short of landing a group of kids that forced the nation to take notice.
Each of the five freshmen were ranked in the top-50 players nationally by ESPN.com that year, and now, Anderson, who was ranked No. 49 out of thousands upon thousands of high school recruits in 2008, can only reflect on what he thought should have been.
“Definitely, I had really high expectations for us as a group,” Anderson said. “I thought we could have done some really good things, but things don’t always work out the way you want them to or how you think it might. Things are where they are now, and I’m the last one. Hopefully, I can push forward, and we can build off our success from last season.”
However, Anderson did make a valid point in that recruiting is based off of how guys perform on an amateur level.
Hell, even I looked like the next LeBron with the guys I played against growing up.
“Frankly, recruiting classes are just all hype,” Anderson said. “There are players who play well who were highly recruited. I don’t think people remember really too much about it because once you start playing in college, that recruiting class doesn’t mean anything. It’s not high school rankings anymore.”
But then again, much of recruiting today is based on Amateur Athletic Union basketball rather than actual high school basketball games. In AAU, the best play the best every summer in Las Vegas and other parts of the country.
Yeah, the guys are amateur, but they’re the best amateurs in the world.
Unavoidable is the fact that with Lee’s recent departure, the UCLA basketball community is reminded of yet another loss in a string of misfortune, this one dealing with what could have been.
Now the weight of that class, inadvertently, lands on the shoulders of Anderson.
The hype machine did its job, but the results are yet to be seen.
Email Watson at [email protected]