If the 2014 recruiting class represented Steve Alford's first chance to generate enthusiasm for his UCLA tenure, then it's safe to say things weren't progressing as quickly as he hoped prior to this week.
The three point guards Alford targeted during the summer all chose other schools. The heralded wing whose commitment Alford secured in September reneged barely a month later. The only class of 2014 player still committed to UCLA was a little-known Hungarian big man who reportedly chose the Bruins over Davidson, Richmond and New Mexico.
All the grumbling halted abruptly on Thursday, however, when one of the nation's most coveted prospects made a surprising decision. Kevon Looney, a 6-foot-9 forward from Hamilton High School in Wisconsin, announced he will attend UCLA next fall, stunning recruiting analysts who expected him to choose Duke, Tennessee or Florida.
The announcement represents a potential momentum-shifting moment for UCLA because Looney eases the pressure on the new UCLA staff and gives fans and top recruits a reason to get behind Alford. Looney, Rivals.com's No. 13 class of 2014 recruit, is a hard-working, high-energy power forward capable of stretching defenses with his shooting, finishing in the lane or hurting them in the paint with his offensive rebounding.
Why would Looney select UCLA over in-state Wisconsin, improving Tennessee or national powers Duke, Michigan State and Florida? Aside from the warm Los Angeles weather and the pedigree of the UCLA program, one reason was probably the immediate playing time Alford could offer.
With David and Travis Wear graduating and Kyle Anderson having already stated he will turn pro, the only returning big men UCLA has on its roster for the 2014-15 season are sophomore Tony Parker and unproven freshman Wanaah Bail. Looney would have every chance to start immediately and emerge as UCLA's most potent frontcourt weapon.
The late-October commitment from Looney also gives UCLA more ammunition in its pursuit of other 2014 prospects.
Perhaps 6-foot-6 small forward Justise Winslow's interest in UCLA will increase now that the Bruins have a commitment from a fellow elite prospect. The Bruins also have heavily recruited Los Angeles-area center Thomas Welsh, who has shown the most interest in UCLA, Cal, Stanford and Colorado.
If Alford were able to add either or both of those two and scramble to find a serviceable option at point guard in the spring, he could still manage to cobble together a very good 2014 recruiting class. That's something that appeared highly unlikely 24 hours ago, but Looney's surprise commitment changes everything.
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