Reeves Nelson hasn't felt this good, maybe ever. And it's not just because he's the returning scoring leader for UCLA and poised to take the Bruins on their deepest March run since appearing in the Final Four in 2008. What has given the 6'8", 235-pound power forward a new outlook is a revitalizing—and fittingly SoCal—hobby: yoga. He has hit the mat for an hour nearly every weekday morning for the last six months. "It makes me more in-tuned with my body," says Reeves, who also this summer adopted plyometric workouts that he believes have improved his quickness and jump shot. "If something tweaks, I know how to correct it. And mentally, I can focus and regroup in a shorter amount of time."
Focusing and regrouping for the entire UCLA team will be paramount this season after it lost two top players (Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee) to the NBA draft. But Nelson, along with 305-pound center Joshua Smith and √ºberathletic guard Lazeric Jones, will help the Bruins battle for the conference title in a weak Pac-12.
One of their biggest challenges will come on the court—or rather, with the lack of one. Pauley Pavilion's $136 million renovation won't be completed until next fall, forcing the team to play 14 home games at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena and four others at the Honda Center in Anaheim. "Logistically, it's going to be difficult as we do this 'road show,' " coach Ben Howland says. "Hopefully it'll makes us tougher."
Toughness may come over time. But size? UCLA has that now. Twin brothers David and Travis Wear (both 6'10", who also do some yoga), out last season after transferring from North Carolina, will add depth to a frontcourt that helped the team block a conference-best 5.9 shots a game last season. In addition, if the 6'10" Smith, who plays soft at times, improves his footwork and tenacity in the paint, that will suck defenses in and allow Nelson and Jones to get more open looks. (UCLA ranked 282nd in threes made last year.)
Assuming the Bruins can grab defensive boards as they did last season (25.4 per game, best in the conference) and can feed the ball inside to the Big & Tall collection on the other end, no team will want to play UCLA late in the season—at home, away . . . wherever.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
COACH Ben Howland (9th season)
2010--11 RECORD 23--11 PAC-1O 13--5 (2nd)
NCAA TOURNAMENT Round of 32
*2009--10 stats at UNC
TURNOVERS the Bruins had last season, fourth most among teams in the six major conferences. Since 2000, UCLA has had the most (5,283) in the conference.
The departures of Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee prove too costly, while poor outside shooting allows teams to key on and frustrate the big men.
With the Wear twins playing alongside a tougher Joshua Smith, the Bruins control the paint all winter and make a deep run in March . . . and perhaps April.
REEVES NELSON The team's top returning scorer has used yoga and plyometrics to improve his quickness and jump shot.