Smooth sailing

Joe Lago
Yahoo! Sports

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Final Fours and national championships are the standards for the storied basketball program of UCLA. Anything less gets filed away as a disappointing season.

Bruins fans must excuse Josh Shipp for being excited about reaching the Elite Eight.

Heck, the redshirt sophomore guard is happy just to be playing this time of year.

During the Bruins' run to the 2006 national title game, Shipp watched from the bench because of a right hip injury that forced him to miss all but four games last season. Sometimes it was hard to tell which was more painful for Shipp: the nagging throb down his leg or seeing his teammates take UCLA to its first Final Four since 1995.

"It was definitely tough, especially the latter part of the year when I kind of felt healthy," said Shipp, who injured his hip in a summer league game and had to have surgery in September 2005. "It was definitely tough knowing that I could have helped the guys out."

Shipp's belief that he could've made a difference in the Bruins' 73-57 championship game loss to Florida isn't farfetched. He started 23 games his first season, averaging 9.3 points and 5.2 rebounds to earn All-Pac-10 freshman honors. He also developed a good reputation with his hustle, which often had him in place for the timely loose ball or offensive rebound.

With bigger things expected in Westwood under the Ben Howland renaissance, Shipp could've pouted and felt sorry for himself for missing out on all of the fun. But he learned to embrace his time on the sidelines.

Over time, he became a fan of basketball again.

"Just watching my teammates every day in practice and seeing how much they loved it and how much fun they were having out there – that was big for me," said Shipp, who became healthy enough to practice late last season. "I mean, my situation was tough. I was real disappointed, but I think just watching those guys did a lot for me mentally.

"Now when I'm on the court, I know I'm not going to take it for granted. I just want to go out there and have fun."

Two people who can definitely appreciate what Shipp has accomplished are his brothers, Joe and Jerren. Joe, a former Cal star who is now playing for the Albuquerque Thunderbirds in the NBA's developmental league, never made it past the second round in his three trips to the NCAA tournament, and Jerren, a freshman at Arizona State, just endured an 8-22 season.

Shipp often talks to both of them, but Joe, who is five years older, is the one he consults for advice.

"I definitely think it's beneficial to have someone in your family that's been there and done it," Shipp said. "It definitely helps me out to know my brother has gone through the same thing. … He has always motivated me."

Shipp erased any doubts about whether he could return to his old form when he averaged 14.9 points in the preseason. He endured a shooting slump in mid-February but regained his touch in time for the postseason, shooting 49.5 percent and averaging 14.6 points in his last nine games.

As the Bruins' second-leading scorer, Shipp will be one of three perimeter threats that top-seeded Kansas must contend with in Saturday's West Regional final at HP Pavilion.

"I know he's happy," junior guard Arron Afflalo said of Shipp. "It's very rare that you can even go through this situation once, with an opportunity to go to the Final Four. So for us to experience this twice in two years, to have this opportunity, is positive in itself.

"But I know Josh feels happy. He should. He's a big reason why we're back here."

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