In one of his final acts as a Los Angeles Lakers executive, Jerry
West did Jason Kapono--and by extension, UCLA--a huge favor in
June. "Stay in school, get quicker and stronger," West told
Kapono, who was the Bruins' leading scorer as a freshman and had
applied for early entry to the NBA draft. Kapono reconsidered and
withdrew his name, and suddenly UCLA's upcoming season is no
longer a cautionary tale defined by the question What if?
What if this year's Bruins could have featured early departees
Baron Davis (Charlotte Hornets), Jerome Moiso (Boston Celtics)
and JaRon Rush (undrafted but under contract to play in the new
ABA 2000)? It's a fair inquiry, but with Kapono, senior point
guard Earl Watson and junior center Dan Gadzuric back in
Westwood, this is hardly a rebuilding year for the Bruins, who
reached the third round of last year's NCAA tournament before
losing to Iowa State. "Jason's such a good shooter that teams are
going to have to guard the perimeter," says Watson, who had a
glittering 28 assists during the tournament's opening weekend.
"That's going to create space for Dan in the lane because teams
can't double down."
With nine upperclassmen, experience will be a strong suit, but
let there be no mistake: Kapono is UCLA's main man. Though he has
a penchant for odd headwear, whether it's his many-hued headbands
or the hooded red sweatshirt he wears around campus, Kapono was
all business over the summer, raising his weight from 199 to 209
and trimming his body fat from 14% to 6.5%.
Kapono likes to speak softly and carry a big body. "No crazy
predictions for the season," he says. "Coach will just say, 'That
is bulletin board material!' That's why I wear the hood. Keep a
low profile." We'll see whether that's still the case next
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Gadzooks UCLA's Dutch-born Gadzuric is a force inside, but he needs to avoid the foul trouble that has limited his minutes.
POS. PLAYER HT. CL. KEY STAT
SF [*]Jason Kapono 6'8" So. 16.0 ppg
PF Matt Barnes 6'7" Jr. 5.6 ppg
C [*]Dan Gadzuric 6'11" Jr. 7.0 rpg
SG Billy Knight 6'5" Jr. 5.4 ppg
PG [*]Earl Watson 6'1" Jr. 5.9 apg
1999-2000 record: 21-12 Final rank (coaches' poll): No. 23