Sunday, November 18

Wang’s Word: Promising basketball recruits don’t guarantee a strong season


Freshman forward TJ Leaf is one of UCLA's two top-20 recruits. In the Bruins' trip to Australia this summer, Leaf scored 34 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in three games. (Aubrey Yeo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Freshman forward TJ Leaf is one of UCLA's two top-20 recruits. In the Bruins' trip to Australia this summer, Leaf scored 34 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in three games. (Aubrey Yeo/Daily Bruin senior staff)


Last Tuesday, I felt like I was on top of the world.

There I was, sitting in my friend’s two-bed closet in Dykstra, staring out the window at my immaculate view of a lone pine tree and readying myself for the seven-month roller coaster known as NBA season.

The Golden State Warriors were finally back in action after blowing that 3-1 lead in the Finals, and it was the first chance to see them battle it out with their rivals, the San Antonio Spurs.

Fast forward two and a half hours and…

Yeah, this happened:

And also this:

Sure, I didn’t expect the Warriors to go 82-0 and sweep their way to another ring, but in the first game of the season at home, I thought they would start with a bang. That loss brought me down to earth.

And thus, rule number two of sports: Don’t take anything for granted.

[Flashback: Rule number one of sports]

Uber-talented freshmen Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf may be the saviors of UCLA men’s basketball, but don’t expect them to walk on water or turn a sub-.500 team into a national championship contender.

I get the hype, but as a Warriors fan, I’m all too familiar with this bullish level of anticipation.

We all jumped in joy and exploded like fireworks when Durant announced on July 4 that he was coming to the Bay.

Adding to the fuel was the fact that all but three ESPN NBA writers chose the Dubs to win this year’s championship.

But three games into the season, Golden State has looked more like – well, like UCLA last year with its poor defense, bad communication and stagnant offense.

And that’s the point. Change won’t instantaneously translate to wins, and it might not happen at all.

[Related: UCLA to test new lineup and defense early in the season]

Last year’s consensus No. 1 prospect Ben Simmons and his LSU team should serve as a cautionary tale for UCLA fans. The Tigers returned four of their top six scorers and started the season ranked No. 21 in the AP preseason poll, yet missed out on the NCAA tournament entirely. And that was with the eventual No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

Freshmen will always need time to adjust to the college game, whether it be the speed, physicality or coaching style. Believing a UCLA team whose success largely depends on Ball and Leaf as No. 16 in the country without actually seeing them play legitimate NCAA competition is confounding.

[Related: Ball brings offbeat style to the court]

As sports fans we should know that individual greatness doesn’t necessarily lead to wins. Both Ball and Leaf could have All-American-esque performances this year, but as far as the Bruins’ season goes, the entire team’s defense will be the true indicator for how deep into March they play. If UCLA delivers on both ends of the floor, there’s no reason it won’t deserve its No. 16 ranking.

The Bruins have the pieces to contend for a conference title, but like the Warriors, they will go through growing pains at the start of the year. But come December, with matchups at No. 2 Kentucky and No. 5 Oregon, we’ll know more about the strength of the team.

Just don’t expect them to go 40-0.

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