Twelve-year NBA veteran and UCLA alum Tracy Murray weighs in on the state of the UCLA men's basketball program after a season in which the Bruins lost in the second round of the 2011 NCAA tournament. Murray, who averaged over 18 points and six rebounds during his Bruins career before turning pro after his junior season, gives his opinion regarding UCLA sophomore Tyler Honeycutt’s decision to enter the NBA draft, what went wrong for UCLA against Florida, and exactly what it takes to make it in the NBA.
Patch: The season got off to a rough start for the Bruins, but they picked it up midway through and finished strong by making the NCAA tournament. If you had to give the team a grade for this season, what would it be and why?
TM: I would give them a B-/C+ just because I thought they overachieved for the way that they were playing all year. But then at the same time, with some of that talent they have, if they were a little bit more disciplined and had more of an aggressive, attack attitude, I think they would have gotten past Florida. They would have had an opportunity to do more damage because they lost to teams that they shouldn’t have lost to this year. That’s why I wouldn’t give them a higher grade--because teams like Montana should not be in the same gym as us, but we lost to them. So B-/C+, because the way they were spiraling down, and to recover and have a good performance in the Pac-10, and then totally drop the ball against Oregon in the Pac-10 tournament, and then to beat Michigan State and give Florida a run, they found a way to somewhat get it done. Inconsistency is what makes it look like they overachieved.
Patch: What do you think was the difference in that Florida game? Why was UCLA not able to get over the hump at the end?
TM: Florida is huge and Florida has two great guards, but this is the reason why UCLA lost: free throws and layups. It’s that simple. They missed eight points worth of layups and nine points worth of free throws. They took care of the basketball, which was my major concern, them turning the ball over. Yeah, they had a couple of turnovers, but the missed layups, that should have been dunks, and the free throws. You win or lose games at the [foul] line. The games that UCLA loses are at the line, especially in crunch time.
Patch: What do you think about Tyler Honeycutt entering the NBA draft and hiring an agent, and Malcolm Lee entering the draft but not hiring an agent?
TM: I think Malcolm’s way was the smart way, to test the market. At least he left the door open to come back to the Bruins next year. I was sitting with a bunch of scouts during the Pac-10 tournament, and just listening to their observations about Tyler... it was a bad move that he came out. I’m not sitting here trying to call the kettle black, because I came out early. But I made sure that I did every little investigation. I really researched to see if I should come out. When my stock was high, we went far in the NCAA tournament, I led the nation in three-point field goals that year, and it was my second year averaging 21 points per game. Tyler only had one game above 20 this year. UCLA didn’t go far in the tournament this year, so he only had one tournament experience. He hasn’t really proved himself. Those who draft him, they are drafting him based on potential. And the problem with drafting based on potential is, when they get a million dollars in their hands, are they going to continue to work? I’m not too convinced because I haven’t really seen the Tyler Honeycutt everybody says they see.
Patch: What do you think Honeycutt needs to work on and what are his biggest challenges moving forward, considering you guys play similar positions?
TM: Well, he has a lot of skills, a lot of skills that I didn’t have. But I had the mentality. I was a dog. And everybody that came out in my draft was dogs. I don’t see any dog in him. If he doesn’t have any dog in him, or he doesn’t develop any dog in him, he’s going to get swallowed up. That league is not for kids. That league is for grown men. If you’re a kid coming into that league, you’re going to get eaten up.
Patch: What do you think about Lee’s chances?
TM: Like I said, I think Malcolm did it the right way. Honeycutt hired an agent, which means he has no escape back. Malcolm is at least testing the market. Things are a little bit different now. This is another reason why I’m saying that it’s kind of crazy for Tyler to come out right now. I didn’t have to worry about people coming from Europe, Africa, South America, China, Japan; I didn’t have to worry about that. They were picking from the pool of talent in the United States. You have to worry about the world now. The percentage of making the NBA is a lot different than it was when I came in. You don’t know what’s coming from overseas. I’m not saying that Tyler doesn’t have talent, Malcolm either. But you have to be sure. You have to be dead sure when you go in there, that you’re going to last. You want it to last at least 10 to 12 years. You don’t want it to be one, two, three and out. That’s what you don’t want. When you make your decision, you have to think about these things. I wish I could have sat down with at least Tyler and had a man-to-man with him. And him be honest with himself and me be honest with him. Because I played 12 years in the league and I came out after my junior year, not my sophomore year, my junior year, and I still wasn’t ready mentally. I was a dog, I competed, but I was not ready to sit on that bench. I sat for three years before I played any considerable minutes. I was almost out of the league. If it weren’t for the Toronto Raptors, I was out. Will he be able to fight through that? I haven’t seen him fight. That’s the question I have about Tyler Honeycutt. Malcolm Lee is a fighter; you can tell by the way he plays. But, in my opinion, he doesn’t have what Tyler has as far as the skill factor.
Patch: What did you think about Josh Smith’s performance this season?
TM: He can be an unbelievable player if he drops about 50 pounds. Because if he drops 50 pounds, he’ll be quicker and still be able to keep his strength. He has to prove to everybody that he can get his weight down and he can continue to get better. He has to have dominant performances on a consistent basis before he can start thinking about that next level.
Patch: Is there anything to the fact that these players who are leaving early, such as Jrue Holiday, owe UCLA to stay another year, especially with the team looking up for the next year?
TM: Jrue Holiday was a lottery pick. He’s got to go. Kevin Love was a lottery pick. Russell Westbrook was a lottery pick. They have to go. Darren Collison came back because he was a second round pick, and you don’t want to go if you’re a second round pick. You would rather go in undrafted than as a second round pick, because you’re locked into a crappy contract that might not even be guaranteed.