With UCLA's basketball program facing considerable strife, on and off the court, this year's recruiting class has turned the tide for the Bruins. Howland and his staff brought in arguably the nation's top class, led by two of the top five recruits in the country in Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson. They will join a roster with talent and experience but lacking discipline, with the fate of the season potentially resting on one big man's broad shoulders.
After an impressive freshman campaign, a heavier Joshua Smith averaged only 17.2 minutes last year, his season ending with a nine-minute, seven-point, five-foul performance in a loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament. If he comes back for Year 3 leaner and meaner -- early reports aren't promising -- UCLA could contend for the Final Four. If not, the Bruins will have to count on coveted recruit Tony Parker.
Either one of the Wear twins -- David or Travis -- could fill in sparse minutes at the 5, but both are expected to share the power forward duties. They combined for 54.6 minutes per game last season as sophomores after transferring from North Carolina.
Then there's Muhammad, unanimously considered one of the top two recruits in the country, alongside Kentucky's Nerlens Noel. Muhammad is a dangerous and effective scorer who will play extensively on the wing, and he should contend for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors.
Larry Drew II is eligible after spending his first two-plus seasons at North Carolina. While Drew is the more traditional point guard and will likely defend the opponent's point guard, Anderson could become the primary ball-handler early in his career. The prodigious talent is a gifted passer and uses his size to his advantage.
Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell will play major roles in the backcourt. Lamb struggled to find confidence in his offensive game last year, shooting just 40.8 percent while averaging 9.0 points. Powell was a key cog defensively for the Bruins, and if he becomes more polished offensively, he could see significant time.
This is considered a job-saving class for Ben Howland after a few down years. Expectations are sky-high for the quartet of talented freshmen, considered in the top two classes nationally. Muhammad and Anderson are expected to be stars immediately, while forwards Parker and Jordan Adams have plenty of potential but likely will play complementary roles.
The pieces are in place for a UCLA revival in 2012-13. After escaping the miserable digs of the Los Angeles Sports Arena, the Bruins return home to an impatient fan base frothing at the mouth in anticipation. The roster is loaded, recruiting is clicking on all cylinders and two freshmen phenoms are expected to propel the Bruins back into title contention.