UCLA Basketball: What the Bruins Can Look Forward to in 2014-15
UCLA’s basketball season only just recently came to an end with a loss to Florida in the Sweet 16, but the Bruins have plenty to look forward to in the upcoming 2014-15 season.
March Madness took on a different meaning for UCLA this year, as shortly after another stinging loss to Florida dashed its hopes for a 12th national title, the Bruins’ top offensive player Kyle Anderson and freshman phenom Zach LaVine declared for the NBA draft.
The Bruins may also lose their top scorer Jordan Adams, who will test the draft waters this summer.
If Adams were to leave, the Bruins would be left with only two upperclassman starters returning—one of whom would be center Tony Parker, who played his de facto freshman season this year.
Yet, while projections for the upcoming season suggest that UCLA will be under construction, there is plenty for the Bruins to look forward to, including a commonly overlooked factor.
UCLA has lost three starters—David Wear, Travis Wear and Kyle Anderson—and will have another starting spot to fill if Adams takes his talent to the NBA, but the Bruins aren’t exactly depleted of talent despite the major losses.
Coach Steve Alford and his staff have nabbed a top-20 recruiting class (ranked as high as 10th by ESPN Recruiting Nation) in their first year of recruiting for UCLA, which will help the program bounce back after losing potentially four starters and a key bench player in Zach LaVine, who also declared for the NBA draft.
The incoming class is led by 5-star freshman forward Kevon Looney, who is the type of athletic, physical forward that UCLA has long been searching for. He’ll be complemented by fellow All-American, 4-star center Thomas Welsh, who has the potential to be dominant if he adds some muscle to his 7’0” frame.
The less-known member of the 2014 class is 4-star Australian small forward Jonah Bolden, who can contribute plenty to UCLA in his freshman season with his versatile inside-out play. He is committed but hasn’t yet signed a letter of intent.
The Bruins made sure to stockpile the frontcourt this year, as 3-star 6’10” Hungarian forward Gyorgy Goloman will also join the squad next season.
So, while key members of the team have graduated or decided to jump to the NBA, UCLA has a strong group of incoming players who have the potential to have a big impact on the team.
Alford received a mixed greeting to Westwood when he was hired a year ago after UCLA fired longtime head coach Ben Howland, but he proved in his first season that he’s serious about propelling the program in the right direction.
That was never more apparent than when he benched his two top players, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, for one of UCLA’s conference games after they violated team policy. That sent a message to players and fans that he’s serious about upholding discipline and maintaining control over the program.
More importantly, he backed up his ideological moves with on-court success.
UCLA compiled a 28-9 record this season and strung together a red-hot run in March. The Bruins not only won the Pac-12 tournament but also advanced to the Sweet 16. They hadn't achieved both feats since 2008.
Alford may not have been the front-runner to be UCLA’s head coach after Howland’s firing, but he’s proved to be a good hire so far for athletic director Dan Guerrero.
Now that Alford has settled in and has a year of coaching the Bruins under his belt, his tenure is looking promising for a program that had been on a downturn for quite some time.
After years of unmet expectations from the Wear twins, UCLA will have a fresh new look in the frontcourt this coming season.
Center Tony Parker, who will be a junior, flashed some impressive potential this past season, which served as his freshman season in terms of playing time and coaching. His still has plenty of room for improvement, particularly with body control and defensive positioning, but he will have a breakout season next year if his development continues.
Parker is joined by one other returning frontcourt member in Wanaah Bail, who has flown under the radar so far but could be a big weapon for the Bruins in his sophomore season. He only played a total of 60 minutes in his freshman season, but he showed impressive athleticism and power in games and in practice.
However, Parker and Bail will be competing for court time with an incoming class that is stacked with big men.
All-American forwards Kevon Looney and Thomas Welsh are on their way to Westwood thanks to a strong pitch from first-year head coach Steve Alford and his staff.
As it stands right now, Looney and Parker will team up in the starting lineup, but that could change quickly if Parker underperforms.
The bottom line for UCLA is that it has a deep, talented frontcourt to look forward to.
Steve Alford’s wish for a tougher nonconference schedule has already been partly fulfilled.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, UCLA will play Kentucky, which recently finished runner-up to a national title, right before conference play at the end of December. It will mark the first time the teams meet up in eight years.
This game will serve as a key opportunity for the Bruins to measure how they match up against top talent, as the Wildcats are once again expecting a top recruiting class from head coach John Calipari.
Regardless of the outcome of the game, it’s a win-win scenario for UCLA. If the Bruins lose, they’ll have a better understanding of how to beat an elite team, and if they win, they’ll have the confidence of defeating a top team under their belt.
Many have forgotten that UCLA has a highly recruited guard who didn’t play last season and will be available for the Bruins’ forthcoming campaign.
St. John Bosco alumnus Isaac Hamilton was a highly touted guard coming out of high school, but he didn’t play last year due to a knot in his recruitment that caused the NCAA to disallow his eligibility.
After a year of practicing with the team, the 6’5” shooting guard will be ready to take the court for UCLA this coming season, which lessens the impact of the departures of LaVine and potentially Adams as well.
Like Adams, Hamilton is a versatile guard who will be a proficient tool in UCLA’s offense. He is also a great passer, which will help the Bruins fill the void of their point guard’s early exit to the NBA.
How his skill translates to on-court success will have to be seen next fall, but Hamilton has the potential to be an excellent guard for UCLA.