What is the ceiling for UCLA this year?
The Bruins had quite the season last year and it began on an unprecedented note in China of all places when LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill infamously stole designer apparel and got detained in their hotel before their game versus Georgia Tech in Shanghai. They received a slap on the wrist by Chinese Government standards and were allowed to go back to the States. However, upon arrival, the trio were suspended and forced to redshirt. In a surprise (but not really), LiAngelo Ball dropped out from the program and school ultimately and is now playing for the JBA alongside former UCLA commit and brother LaMelo Ball. Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, on the other hand, are preparing for what is their redshirt freshman season. The Bruins struggled with their line-up cut short, however, they grinded out the season to make the first four, but ultimately came up short to make the next round.
In another series of surprising events, the Bruins came out on the other end of uncertainty when last June when they heard that Wilkes and Jaylen Hands were returning to Westwood after their NBA Draft stint. They worked out with the top college players, learned a great deal of the game, and come back Westwood essentially as professionals. Prince Ali, redshirt junior looks to add to the work load with his perimeter play, as he was worked extensively with Hands and Wilkes in the summer. UCLA returns this season with one of the premier freshman class in college basketball, including Jules Bernard, Moses Brown, and David Singleton. In another turn of events, Shareef O’Neal is forced to sit out this season due to a newly diagnosed heart condition and will receive open heart surgery and spend the following year in rehab. This season, the Bruins look to continue to develop their young leaders in Hands and Wilkes with youngsters Brown, Riley, and Bernard in hopes of making a deep run in the tournament and hopefully have less casualties along the way.
Players to watch
Jaylen Hands - was a part of the legendary Rico’s Runs, held annually at UCLA In which NBA players play secret closed “open” gym runs to get better during the off season. Jaylen played with his running mates amongst top world talents such as James Harden, Paul George, Russel Westbrook, Ben Simmons, to name a few. Jaylen has the entire city of Los Angeles behind him and he looks to help run the show alongside Wilkes, who is a scoring machine. NBA scouts saw Jaylen’s ability to run the open court, his athletic prowess, ability to finish at the rim, and jaw-dropping dunks. If Jaylen can learn to run his game at a more solid pace and include his teammates, then the world is in the palm of this man Hands (See what I did there?)
Kris Wilkes - the scoring machine from the Hoosier State lit up opponents last season, punishing them for 14 points per game and shooting a solid 44 percent along the way. Wilkes was named on the Julius Erving Award watch list amongst top small forwards in the country. Wilkes is a dominant ball player with the ability to score at all three levels and looks to provide the Bruins with instant offense this season.Scott Chandler - UCLA Bruins
Moses Brown - within the last few seasons the Bruins seem to hall in a dominant big man (ex. Thomas Welsh, TJ Leaf, Ike Anigbodu) to fill up the center and Brown is amongst their blueprint this season. The big man from New York is filling it up in the middle, dunking with ferocity in the Preseason and looks to continue to hurt opposing player’s feelings. Brown was a McDonald’s All American in high school, attending Archbishop Molloy High School alongside Cole Anthony (Oak Hill Academy) and was ranked number 15 by ESPN in the class of 2018.
Key non-conference games
11/22 vs Michigan State - Bruins play in a loaded Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational Tournament and meet up with Tom Izzo and the Spartans, who return big man Nick Ward. Cassius Winston (12.6 PPG last season) and Joshua Langford (11.7 PPG last season) return for Michigan State in what will be a marquee college basketball matchup.
11/23 vs North Carolina/Texas - in the next round of the tournament UCLA will be pitted against either North Carolina or Texas, two truly scary teams in the college basketball world. UNC returns Luke Maye, who won a championship with UNC with his gritty play, as he has evolved into a Kevin Love caliber type player. UNC also has blue chip recruits Colby White and Nassir Little; Little is getting early season praise and should contend with Zion Williamson as top freshman forward in the ACC. Texas, on the other hand has high flying guard Kerwin Roach, who awed opponents and fans alike with his dazzling dunks in the PK80 last year. Roach was a 50 foot triple jumper in high school and two time State Champion in Texas, which explains his Vince Carteresque hops at 6’4”. Floor general Matt Coleman returns for the Longhorns alongside essential high post big man Dylan Ostekowski, who passes with Sabonis-like skills. Newcomer Kamaka Hepa is a familiar face for Oregonians, as the big man prepped his last two years for the Jefferson Democrats of Portland and is looking to make a splash for Texas.
12/8 vs Notre Dame - Fighting Irish and Bruins don’t battle too often, as Pac-12 takes on ACC. Fighting Irish finished fourth in the conference and overall at 26-10 and made a great showing at NCAA’s last season. The Fighting Irish return TJ Gibbs who varied 15.3 as a sophomore and Rex Pflueger, fourth year senior, who is looking to prove that his storied Mater Dei was not a pfluke. (Sorry, I know, I did it again).
The Bruins Looks To Have Fun All Season Long