WESTWOOD, Calif. -- Impressions from UCLA's practice Tuesday:
• Luc Richard Mbah a Moute may be the most improved offensive producer for the Bruins:
Mbah a Moute had no problem hitting the mid-range jumper and the 3-point shot in practice. So, Mbah a Moute, as well as Josh Shipp may help offset the loss of Arron Afflalo.
Mbah a Moute had a jump shot before, but he just wasn't confident shooting the ball. Mbah a Moute said an injury to his shoulder when he first arrived at UCLA was the contributing factor to his poor 3-point shooting (5 of 38 for 13.2 percent as a freshman). He shot 10 of 30 on 3s as a sophomore.
As a result, Mbah a Moute was pretty much limited to playing power forward, or the "4" as a coach would say, and not on the wing. He was a driver, and teams played off him with good reason.
"I had bad habits as a freshman after hurting my shoulder,'' Mbah a Moute said. "I had to take time and work on my mechanics from the bottom up and did a good job with coaches this spring and summer to help me be more comfortable taking shots.''
Point guard Darren Collison said he and the rest of his teammates were aware that Mbah a Moute could shoot, but the junior needed confidence and reps.
"I don't think teams will play off of him as much this season,'' Collison said.
"That will really change his game,'' said teammate and Cameroonian countryman Alfred Aboya. "In the past, nobody guarded him because everyone knew he was a driver. This will open up the game for everybody else.''
UCLA coach Ben Howland said Mbah a Moute "worked his [butt] off" in the offseason to make his shot right.
"He's going to be a huge shooter for us,'' Howland said. "There's no question he's an NBA player. He's one of the few guys in the country -- I can't even name another one -- who can truly guard a point to a 5 in college basketball. Tell me who else can do that?"
Mbah a Moute's overall game has improved tremendously and so has his confidence after he helped lead Cameroon to the silver medal at the African Cup in August in Angola. He wasn't even planning on playing with the team until he got a phone call in August from friends on the team that they wanted him to play. Even though he had just gotten back from a June trip to Cameroon to see his family for the first time in four years, he didn't hesitate to jump back on a plane to head to Africa.
"I was really excited about doing this,'' Mbah a Moute said.
Mbah a Moute said he is committed to playing with the Cameroon national team next spring in an Olympic qualifier in Spain.
• Shipp is still in the post-rehab mode from his hip surgery:
Shipp had surgery on his hip again last April for the second time in as many years to "clean up" some cartilage and shave down a bone. He said he wasn't able to play for months and is only recently back doing fullcourt workouts.
"My hips feel good, but my legs are sore,'' Shipp said of being out of condition. "I'm just getting back into shape. I feel fine but it is going to take time.''
Shipp may have been the player who worked up the most sweat in Tuesday's practice. He was trying hard to be in the right spots, curl and hit the 3-pointers he'll need to make as Afflalo's replacement.
Having Mbah a Moute at a natural small forward moves Shipp to "the 2, which is my natural position. We'll definitely be bigger and quicker.''
• Aboya will be hard to move out of the post:
Aboya pounding away on Kevin Love in the post in practice. Aboya, a 6-foot-8, 233-pound junior, is a rock inside and will certainly be the banger the Bruins need in more of a specialist role now that Love can be a scorer in the post.
"I'm stronger and I'm wiser,'' Aboya said. "I shoot the ball better.''
• Russell Westbrook may be the sleeper on the squad:
Collison will be the jet point guard and is the unquestioned playmaker. But Westbrook has been a pleasant surprise so far, especially with his perimeter skills. He'll rotate with Michael Roll and Shipp as one of the primary guards.
"A lot of people will sleep on him and a lot of people don't know his name, but he's improved a ton over the summer,'' Love said. "He's going to jump out on a lot of people's notepads and may not be on the stat sheet, but he'll play 'D' and get a lot of offensive boards.''
That's not bad for a 6-3 guard who is a role player.
• Love will be a national leader in rebounds:
Every time I looked he was grabbing a rebound. He corralled eight to lead the team in practice. Every day he is grabbing more and more. He also was on the floor for loose balls, and there were a few occasions when he did fall down like a tree crashing in the forest. He was always quick to get up. Love was relentless with his work ethic and gives the Bruins the presence they've been lacking in the post the past two trips to the Final Four (more on Love next week).
But already, there is a buzz about Love's return to Oregon on Jan. 24. Assistant coaches Scott Duncan, a former Ducks' assistant, and Scott Garson, say that the Oregon-UCLA ticket in Eugene will be the toughest ticket to get in the Pac-10 season. Love will be making his return to his home state where he starred for Lake Oswego High, but he spurned the hometown Ducks and his father's alma mater and opted for UCLA instead.