When Ben Howland starts off an interview by talking about offense, it's obvious there are some big changes going on at UCLA.
Howland has become synonymous with a physical, stingy brand of defense. It's how he turned Pittsburgh into a contender again in the Big East and how the Bruins made a surprising run to the NCAA title game last April. Remember that ugly 50-45 win they pulled off over Memphis in the Elite Eight?
Well, those games could be a thing of the past for the Bruins, who broke the 80-point barrier just five times last season.
"We are really going to try and push the pace next season," Howland told Rivals.com. "We are going to put a big emphasis on that."
The change of style has been prompted by the change at point guard. Sophomore Darren Collison will replace the savvy Jordan Farmar, who was taken with the No. 26 pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Draft.
The two floor generals have contrasting styles.
Farmar isn't blessed with great athleticism, but makes up for it with superb decision making, great court vision and clutch shooting. He is at his best in the half-court game, when he can expose defenses by maneuvering around defenders and getting into the paint.
Collison is much quicker and most dangerous in the open court. After watching him average 5.5 points in 19.2 minutes a game last season, Howland is ready to turn him loose.
"Darren did an outstanding job as a freshman," said Howland, who signed a seven-year contract in July. "He's been working hard on improving his dribble and getting it lower in traffic, shortening his stroke and getting around screens."
Working on those skills against top competition isn't necessarily difficult for a UCLA point guard. Several NBA players routinely show up for summer pick-up games on campus. The year's list was headed up by Southern California natives Paul Pierce and Andre Miller. Brent Barry, former Bruin Earl Watson and ex-NBA standout Cedric Ceballos also participated.
Those star-studded pick-up games also provided the Bruins with some good news on the injury front. Junior small forward Josh Shipp played without pain and looked like the athletic and versatile threat he proved to be as a freshman. He averaged 9.3 points and 5.2 rebounds a game in 2004-05.
A surgically-repaired hip limited Shipp to just four games in the middle of last season, and his return could give the Bruins another new weapon in their frontcourt. Shipp will play alongside sophomore power forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, the Pac-10's Freshman of the Year last season.
"Josh has come back full strength and been playing with Collison a lot and playing very well," Howland said. "He's a very smart player with a good feel for the game. His freshman season he only had 36 turnovers in 29 games and also helped us out on the boards."
Howland also said that it will be about two more weeks before UCLA's star guard Arron Afflalo, who suffered a stress reaction in his left foot in July, can start working out again. Howland expects him to be healthy by the start of preseason practice.
Trivia question: Name the only two men who won Division-I NCAA titles as players and coaches? Hint: One is actively coaching and both won multiple titles as coaches. (Answer can be found at the bottom of this notebook).
The 6-foot-10 Brackman is considering giving up basketball to focus solely on baseball. He was ranked the No. 2 pitching prospect in the Cape Cod League by Baseball America and has been pitching for the U.S. National Team this summer.
Brackman didn't put up overwhelming numbers last season, averaging 7.6 points and 3.5 rebounds a game. With center Cedric Simmons' departure to the NBA, the Wolfpack badly need the inside presence Brackman can provide.
That was obvious earlier this month when Lowe and his entire coaching staff went to see Brackman pitch in an exhibition game in Fayetteville, N.C.
"Front and center we were right there," Lowe said of road trip. "It's just like recruiting because he is that important to us. He's been our first priority. We've recruited him like he's been coming out of high school. He is the most important piece right now over anyone else right now."
If Brackman doesn't return, 6-8 sophomore Brandon Costner - who averaged 2.8 points per game in limited action last season - and 7-2 freshman Bartosz Lewandowski would be Lowe's only options when it comes to post players.
Drama Ends, Eligibility Begins
With just two days left to register for classes at Tennessee, the Volunteers' prize recruit, Ramar Smith, found out that his SAT score had been validated on Wednesday and he is eligible for the upcoming season.
A five-star point guard from Detroit, Smith was the key piece of Rivals.com's No.6-ranked recruiting class.
The defending SEC East champ Vols must replace four-year starting point guard C.J. Watson and Smith is the favorite to take over the spot.
Smith was admitted into Tennessee last week, but he couldn't start receiving an athletic scholarship until the NCAA Clearinghouse confirmed his test score. Even coach Bruce Pearl started to indicate that he was losing hope Smith would enroll earlier this week.
UAB received some great news on Tuesday when four-star signee Jeremy Mayfield was officially cleared by the NCAA for the coming season.
New coach Mike Davis is counting on the No. 50-ranked prospect in the class of 2006 to play significant minutes this season and he will be able to accompany the team on its tour to the Bahamas that begins Friday.
"This is great for the UAB program and for Jeremy," Davis said. "Jeremy is going to be a special player and he is the type of player who can make up immediate impact. Jeremy and the rest of us are just glad we can put this behind us and move forward as a team."
Mayfield's eligibility was in question because he attended God's Academy in Dallas and the prep school was one of several being investigated by the NCAA.
Step Up Mr. Smith
The least heralded member of Louisville's four-man recruiting class might be its most important this season.
Four-star guard Jerry Smith could replace senior guard Brandon Jenkins, who is expected to miss at least three months and possibly the entire season with a broken leg suffered earlier this month.
Coach Rick Pitino believes Smith is the most physically prepared member of a freshman class that includes five-star prospects Earl Smith and Derrick Caracter.
Smith, along with freshman guard Edgar Sosa, will get a chance to fight for Jenkins' position when practice begins Wednesday. The Cardinals travel to Ottawa, Ontario, on Friday for a three-game tour.
The suspension of New Mexico State junior power forward Tyron Nelson was lifted on Tuesday after a committee recommended that athletic director McKinley Boston reinstate Nelson immediately. Nelson was suspended for 72 hours after allegations surfaced that he robbed a pizza delivery man last week. He earned first-team All-WAC honors last season after averaging a team-high 17.8 ppg and 8.7 rpg last season.
Former Memphis power forward Almamy Thiero is one of the first to take advantage of the NCAA's new rule allowing graduate students to transfer without penalty. Thiero will play his final college season at Duquesne. Thiero played sparingly during his career at Memphis due to a string of injuries, including an ACL tear that caused him to miss all of last season.
Former Auburn forward Daniel Hayes has transferred to South Alabama after moving back to his hometown of Mobile to be with his daughter. Hayes, who has two years of eligibility remaining, averaged 5.8 ppg and 3.1 rpg last season.
Kendrick Johnson is transferring from Georgia to San Jose (Calif.) City College so he make some improvements in his class work and continue to rehab an ankle injury. The power forward plans to then return to the Bulldogs for the 2007-08 season. As a freshman last season, Johnson was limited to 14 games due to the injury and averaged 2.3 ppg.
Answer to trivia question: Bobby Knight (won as a player with Ohio State in 1960 and as a coach at Indiana in 1976, 1981 and 1987) and Dean Smith (won as a player at Kansas in 1952 and as a coach at North Carolina in 1982 and 1993)
Note: Information from editors within the Rivals.com Network as well as other media outlets were used in this report.