For the first four years of Mick Cronin’s term, it seemed that the University of California, Los Angeles had discovered a source of continuity. Even as college basketball changed with a proliferation of transfers, the Bruins stayed together. Players like Tyger Campbell, Jaime Jaquez, David Singleton and Jules Bernard consistently helped turn the program into a 30-game winner and Pac-12 champion.
Now all the famous faces associated with the reconstruction of Cronin have passed away. The top five scorers from the previous season were gone from last season’s squad. Only four scholarship players return, and backup center Kenneth Nwuba is the only one with more than a season of playing experience in a UCLA uniform.
But instead of working hard in the transfer portal to replace departing veterans with more veterans, Cronin and his staff took a different approach. The Bruins signed seven freshmen, ushering in a new era in the program’s final season in the Pac-12. The only incoming transfer is former Utah winger Lazar Stefanovic.
This strategy contrasts with modern roster-building norms and will test Cronin’s coaching skills as the Bruins also welcome three new assistants. With the cycle of offseason player movement finally coming to an end, it’s time to start sorting out the rosters of the best programs in sports. In this installment, we take a look at UCLA and try to decipher what its lineup might look like early in the season. With so many new faces, this can only be considered a rough outline of the squad, with roles and rotations to be determined in the coming weeks and months.
Expected starting lineup
1. Dylan Andrews
6-2 | 175 | So.
Andrews, a former top-50 prospect, gained valuable experience off the bench last season and could become a breakout star in the Pac-12 as he takes over the quarterback role vacated by Campbell. Given the influx of new players to the program, Cronin needs Andrews to marshal the offense and take on a huge increase in responsibility with the departure of several program leaders.
2. Will McClendon
6-3 | 200 | R-so.
McClendon logged 9.4 minutes in 27 appearances last season after returning from a knee injury that sidelined him throughout his true freshman season. The former four-star prospect will have a chance to play a bigger role, but that’s not certain. He was part of the rotation during the band’s overseas trip, but was not a significant producer.
3. Lazar Stefanovic
6-7 | 185 | Jr.
With 62 career appearances and 33 starts under his belt for Utah, Stefanovic is a veteran of this team. The versatile Serb does a little bit of everything and should make a continued impact on the team after playing long minutes in the Pac-12 battles for the Utes. He played more than anyone else on the team during the trip to Spain and it wouldn’t be surprising if he was the minutes leader at the end of the season.
4. Candidate Mara
7-3 | 240 | priest
Mara is generating buzz in the 2024 NBA Draft lottery, but as an 18-year-old facing questionable competition, she remains a bit of a mystery. Stats of 14 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.7 blocks per game during Spain’s seven games in the FIBA European Under-18 Championship this summer provide ample reason for optimism. If Cronin can maximize Mary’s massive frame along with returning center Adem Bona, the matchup against UCLA could become a nightmare.
5. Adem Bona
6-10 | 245 | So.
Bona won Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors after averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 22.9 minutes per game. The former five-star prospect hit 67.5% of his shots, good for second in the conference. As the only returning starter, he should be ready for a leap in offensive production in his sophomore season. Regardless of how it plays out, Bona’s defense is crucial to this team’s success.
6-9 | 215 | priest
Buyuktuncel averaged 11.4 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 34.8% from three-point range in seven games for Turkey during this year’s U19 World Cup. Upon signing, Cronin noted that he was a good goalscorer and creator who had “also developed an identity as a defensive stopper.” Look for that versatility to help Buyuktuncel earn early minutes.
“With Jaime Jaquez graduating in the spring, we were looking for a multi-dimensional player with good size, and Berke fits that description,” Cronin said. “He can do anything on the basketball court.”
6-3 | 195 | priest
According to 247Sports, Mack was ranked 64th in the class and 10th shooting guard. During UCLA’s overseas trip, he showed off his bucket-making ability, averaging 15.3 points.
“Sebastian is an explosive athlete who has developed into an elite scorer,” Cronin said when signing the contract. The trick for Mack will be finding efficiency during his first season. Given his explosive scoring ability and the leash he was given during his overseas trip, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him steal a spot in the starting lineup.
6-10 | 255 | R-Sr.
Now in his sixth year of college, Nwuba has been working at the University of California, Los Angeles since before Cronin’s arrival. He has primarily played a role-playing role, and that will likely be the case again in 2023-24, but Nwuba has delivered when called upon to play at critical times over the years. In a team composed of such young people, he will be an invaluable leader who can bring advantage and experience to the team from the bench.
6-6 | 200 | priest
Fibleuil played regular minutes during UCLA’s three-game overseas tour to mixed results. In one game, he shot 4 of 6 from the field, hit his only three-point attempt and grabbed six rebounds. But he also committed 11 turnovers in three games. He should have a chance to get minutes. “Ilane has great potential as a two-way player,” Cronin said when signing the contract. “He can shoot and cut, defends at a high level and has great anticipation skills.”
6-6 | 200 | priest
Vide is the star of the Slovenian team and will try to translate his flashy international numbers to the university game. He averaged 17.9 points in this year’s U19 World Cup, although his outside shot is still being worked on. Cronin described him as a “prime big-time defender” and praised his pick-and-roll skills.
“He is very well-known and highly regarded in the international basketball scene, having won many awards in European competitions,” Cronin said.
6-10 | 200 | priest
According to 247Sports, Williams was ranked 77th overall and 15th in his class as a forward. Cronin described him as a “modern big man with skill and size” and praised his winning pedigree from Centennial High School in Corona, California.
6-7 | 215 | priest
According to 247Sports, Williams, who is not related to Devin Williams, is ranked as the 66th overall prospect and the 14th forward in his class. When he signed, Cronin described Williams as a “great guard” and praised him for his passing ability and versatility. He won’t turn 18 until the season starts, making him one of the youngest freshmen in the country after a distinguished prep career at New York’s Christ The King High School.
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