<
>

Ben Howland optimistic on UCLA's future

The NBA draft could end up stealing plenty of talent from the Pac-12. USC's Nikola Vucevic declared last week he was signing with an agent, as did UCLA's Tyler Honeycutt today. Several players must still make decisions, including Arizona's Derrick Williams, Washington State's Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto, and UCLA's Malcolm Lee and Reeves Nelson.

And when it all shakes out, UCLA could easily be the favorite going into next season. The Bruins lose their best athlete in Honeycutt, but won't miss his 100 turnovers and could return most of their roster to go along with transfers David and Travis Wear.

"Would we be a better team if (Honeycutt) came back? Absolutely," said coach Ben Howland, whose team was without a senior this season. "One hundred percent.

"I'm still very optimistic. I think we'll be a very, very good team."

Howland said the team could still play with three guards, using David Wear as a small forward. And the interior presence provided by the Wear twins along with freshman center Joshua Smith -- all standing 6-foot-10 -- is a nice advantage to have.

Should Nelson and Lee stay in school, UCLA would return its top two scorers along with point guard Lazeric Jones, who now has a Division I season under his belt.

UCLA will have plenty of challengers in the Pac-12. Arizona will really miss Williams should he leave for the NBA, but would still return most of a team that includes point guard Lamont Jones and bring in a top recruiting class coming off an Elite Eight appearance. Washington should still have Isaiah Thomas and an emerging star in Terrence Ross. Cal brings back freshman of the year Allen Crabbe, and Washington State would be strong with Thompson returning to school.

Losing Honeycutt isn't ideal, but it appears the Bruins will manage. And after some more draft decisions get made, they could really find themselves in a good spot.