UCLA coach Ben Howland spent so much time building a relationship with David and Travis Wear in high school that he has no problem detailing the subtle nuances that differentiate their game or telling them apart off the court.
That's why Howland was so disappointed when the twins chose North Carolina over the Bruins two years ago. And that's why he was so elated Tuesday when the Huntington Beach natives sent UCLA their signed grant-in-aid papers a few weeks after unexpectedly leaving the Tar Heels program.
"Obviously we were disappointed when we didn't get them originally, but I'm so thankful how things work out," Howland said on a Tuesday afternoon conference call. "Now, they're going to have one year where they're practicing every day, getting bigger and stronger. You talk about hitting the ground running? They're going to be hitting the ground sprinting having been here for a year and having three years eligibility left."
Adding the Wears gives UCLA two much-needed bodies in practice next season and two versatile 6-foot-10 former McDonald's all-Americans who figure to contribute significantly once they become eligible in the 2011-12 season. Travis averaged 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.3 minutes per game for front-court heavy North Carolina last season, while David posted 2.9 points and 1.7 rebounds per game in 10.5 minutes.
The timing of the Wears' departure angered North Carolina because they waited until the end of the spring semester to announce their decision, and left even though their playing time was likely to increase. Howland offered little insight into why they reversed course and decided UCLA was a better fit, citing mainly geographic reasons as the primary factor.
"One thing you learn, and I've had the experience of living in a lot of places, is there's no place as nice as Southern California. That to me is a no-brainer. You don't really learn that until you live in other parts of the country. I know they're really going to be happy being back close to home, close to mom and dad, close to their friends, close to their girlfriends. It's just great for everybody, especially UCLA basketball."
A subtle bonus for UCLA in landing the Wears is that it strengthens the Bruins' relationship with SoCal high school basketball juggernaut, Mater Dei, a school that sent many of its top players to Arizona when Lute Olson was there. Howland now has three Mater Dei players on his roster, with the Wears joining highly touted incoming freshman Tyler Lamb next season.
That point clearly wasn't lost on Howland, considering he referenced that the Wears come from "one of the best high school programs in the country" in UCLA's release and then brought up the subject unprovoked again on the conference call.
Said Howland, "They run a practice at Mater Dei like a college practice, so they've been very well-coached."