After limping through the summer recruiting season having ruptured his Achilles' tendon, UCLA coach Ben Howland hopes things are looking up for himself and the Bruins.
They're coming off a 14-18 season — UCLA's worst since 2003-04, Howland's first season in Westwood. The Bruins missed the NCAA tournament just two years after making three consecutive Final Four appearances.
"Last year was a tough year," Howland said Wednesday. "We've got to bounce back and start out strong."
He is walking with a slight hitch after he slipped at home in June and tore his Achilles' tendon. Howland had surgery, then spent most of July on crutches and in a walking boot.
"I can't dunk," he said, smiling. "I'm still not 100 percent and I've still got to do a lot more rehab."
He hopes rehabilitating the Bruins won't take as long.
They don't have any seniors and just two of the three returning juniors have played major minutes. One of them, Malcolm Lee, will play primarily as a shooting guard after splitting time running the offense with Jerime Anderson last season.
"Everybody is playing with a chip on their shoulder," Lee said. "Everybody's got a redemption mindset. I just want to win, earn a Pac-10 title and make it back to the (NCAA) tournament."
Anderson, the other junior with experience, is expected to be challenged for the starting point guard job by Lazeric "Zeke" Jones, a junior college transfer from Chicago.
Freshman Tyler Lamb figures to be a key backcourt contributor. The guard committed to the Bruins two years ago.
Sophomores Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt will anchor UCLA's frontcourt after playing a lot as freshmen, although both were dogged by injuries at times. Freshman Joshua Smith could relieve Nelson from playing center, although Smith's conditioning (he's listed at 305 pounds) will be tested. Honeycutt led the Bruins in rebounding, averaging 6.5.
A year ago, the Bruins endured a rash of injuries during preseason practice that prevented the starting unit from working together. By December, third-leading scorer Drew Gordon quit, while starter Nikola Dragovic got in legal trouble off the court. Last spring, Howland dismissed J'mison Morgan from the team.
"Everybody was kind of embarrassed with how things went," Nelson said. "We don't ever want that to happen again."