By Andrew Kahn
Kevon Looney came to UCLA as one of the top prospects in the country (ranked 10th by Scout; 15 by Rivals), which in this era means the NBA is not far off. The UCLA coaching staff knows this. “You recruit him with thought that he’s probably going to be a one-and-done,” Bruins assistant Ed Schilling says. “It’s not something we necessarily talk about, but as we’re planning we see him as a one-and-done guy.” Looney is only halfway through his freshman season, but he’s showing why he has the skills to make the quick jump to the next level.
A statistic that has proven to translate well from college to the pros is rebounding, Looney’s greatest strength. Honed from years of chasing down his older brother’s shots at pick-up games in Milwaukee, Looney has a knack for being in the right spot. It doesn’t hurt that he’s 6’9” with a 7’4” wingspan. “He’s as good a rebounder as there is in the country at both ends of the floor,” Schilling says. Looney is averaging 10.3 rebounds per game, tops in the Pac-12 and fourth in the country among major conference players. He’s a double-double machine, and had his best game against Stanford two weeks ago, scoring 27 and grabbing 19 boards in a double-overtime win.
Like many players his size, Looney spent much of his time near the basket in high school. He’s working on his perimeter game to become more of an inside-outside threat. UCLA has been playing him at both the power and small forward positions. His outside shooting needs work—he’s 7 of 23 (30 percent) from deep—and Schilling says Looney is a willing student. Part of the reason he chose UCLA was the NBA experience on the coaching staff: Schilling was an assistant with the Nets and head coach Steve Alford and director of operations Tyus Edney both played in the league. Looney also had the opportunity to go head-to-head with Kevin Durant this summer. He and Oklahoma City teammate (and former Bruin) Russell Westbrook are among the many NBA stars who drop by the campus during the summer for a week or two of pick-up ball.
It’s way too early to predict whether Looney will one day be an NBA All Star, but he’s shown why draft experts project him as a lottery pick. He had a rough shooting game in a loss at Oregon State last night, but still recorded his 10th double-double of the season.
Says Schilling, “He’s unique in that he can be an impact player and you don’t have to run plays for him. He gets his points in the flow of the offense and on the offensive glass. He’s definitely going to be a high first round pick and will contribute because he doesn’t need his number called to be effective.”
Of course, winning will only help Looney’s draft stock, and right now the Bruins are 11-8 overall and 3-3 in the conference. Road games against Arizona and Stanford loom as potential signature wins, which UCLA will need to get an NCAA Tournament bid.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.