Sports Beat, 2-8-08

--Both USC and UCLA hauled in fairly impressive recruiting classes. Depending on who you read (,, and about 20 other sites all have lists), USC's recruiting class is ranked anywhere from No. 6 to No. 15. UCLA's is ranked as high as No. 9 and some have them just outside the top-20.

For USC, it's actually the least heralded recruiting class in over five years. But Trojan fans shouldn't be concerned, as Pete Carroll addressed both the offensive and defensive lines, and strengthened his defense. USC didn't need much help at the skills positions like quarterback and running back, so that's why they're ranked a bit lower this year.

On the other hand, UCLA did get plenty of talent at the skill positions, and Bruins fans have to be pleased with Rich Neuheisel's success in hanging onto most of the top guys that Karl Dorrell recruited. Part of that is due to defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker staying on. But adding Norm Chow to the staff probably helped too.

I'm not nearly as into recruiting classes as some other people. It's incredibly difficult to evaluate high school players who are still developing, and the prep school competition can vary dramatically. But based on the opinions of these so-called experts, it appears USC and UCLA are in good shape moving forward.

--After a win over the Nets, the Lakers flew to Atlanta and fell to the Hawks. The team's obscenely long road trip continues tonight in Orlando. So far, it seems like the team has become energized by the addition of Pau Gasol. It will take time for him to find a niche in the offense, and it will take even more time for the pieces to fit when Andrew Bynum comes back. But for now, Laker fans have to be encouraged by what they're seeing.

--I generally cover LA sports here only, but the shocking trade of Shaquille O'Neal to the Phoenix Suns can't go unnoticed on LAO. To be perfectly honest, I don't get it. Shaq is a poor fit for the Suns' run-and-gun style. He has always been best in the half-court game, and he's playing the worst basketball of his career right now. At 35, Shaq is a shell of his former self, hobbled by injuries and his own distaste for conditioning.

I find it hard to believe that the Suns acquired Shaq as an overreaction to the Lakers trade of Pau Gasol. I also disagree with those who say the Suns up-tempo style can't win in the playoffs. Last year they lost to the Spurs when Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were suspended, and corrupt NBA referee Tim Donaghy was blowing the whistle. The year before, Stoudemire was out for the whole year. There's no reason why the west-leading Suns couldn't have competed seriously for a title this year. Now, who knows how Shaq will gel with this group, and who can do all of the work that Shawn Marion did.

One thing we do know is that the media will find plenty of drama to hype when the Lakers play the Suns next.

--in the meantime, the struggling Clippers need to figure out what to do about Sam Cassell. The point guard admitted he's not happy with losing, but added that he's not seeking a buyout. The Clippers probably want to trade him, and there are probably plenty of suitors, but salary is a problem. The NBA requires salaries to be within 15% of each other in trades, and the Clippers probably don't want add a bad contract just to get rid of Cassell.

--Washington State is about to drop out of the Pac-10, but it's never easy to beat the Cougars. UCLA took care of business last night in Pullman, winning 67-59. Darren Collison scored 18 points, and when he's playing well, I'm not sure who can beat the Bruins.

USC was in Seattle last night, and beat Washington 73-59. The good news for the Trojans is that it appears Daniel Hackett is fine after he suffered a hip pointer in last week's loss to Arizona. Hackett is the one player who USC has never proven they can win without.

--The LA Galaxy will have a much more reasonable schedule this year, allowing David Beckham to play a normal season. Also, England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008 should mean we'll see more of Beckham out here in Los Angeles. This year will be the real test of Beckham's value to the Galaxy and the LA sports scene.

--Good news for USC fans, as it appears the University is making significant progress in its negotiations with the Coliseum Commission. The two sides are reportedly close to a deal that would keep the Trojans near campus.

February 8, 2008 11:04 AM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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