Jul. 2 -- With the 2015 class done and the 2016 class all but done, UCLA can turn its attention to 2017 this summer during the evaluation periods...
With UCLA very likely done for both 2015 and 2016 recruiting, this summer will afford the basketball staff the unique opportunity to focus almost solely on rising juniors and rising sophomores to fill out both the 2017 and 2018 classes.
Already, the 2017 class is shaping up to be a sizable one, with both LiAngelo Ball and Jalen Hill already committed, and likely at least three more scholarships available.
As we wrote in our review of 2016 recruiting, it would still behoove UCLA to recruit 2016 as if it will have another scholarship available, but for purposes of this 2017 preview, we'll assume that UCLA stands pat on 2016 recruiting and instead devotes its energy to recruiting the 2017 class heavily.
UCLA is in the mix for several high-level prospects in the 2017 class, and with Hill and Ball already committed, the Bruins are poised to have a large, highly ranked class.
Here's how the depth chart projects for the 2017-2018 Season.
Heading into 2017, assuming UCLA does not take any more 2016 recruits, the Bruins will have three obvious scholarships to give from graduating Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton, and Noah Allen. We'll also project that Lonzo Ball will likely go pro after his one year of college ball, freeing up a fourth scholarship. Between the remaining nine players on scholarship at that point, we'd project pretty easily that at least one of Prince Ali, Thomas Welsh, or Jonah Bolden will have elected to go pro by then as well (we'll go with Bolden as the most obvious choice), which should give UCLA at least five scholarships to work with in the 2017 class.
Assuming that's the case, the Bruins are obviously going to be in the market for a major influx of talent at guard. Even if Ali and Holiday both stay for their junior years (which we would probably say is unlikely, given UCLA's recent history with players electing to go pro early), UCLA will have just four guards/wings on roster in Ali, Holiday, Kobe Paras, and LiAngelo Ball. Paras, as we've talked about, doesn't project as a starting-level player at this time. Ball obviously counts as another wing but, like Paras, he doesn't project as a starting-level player at this time, and probably not a significant contributor in his first year. In any case, getting at least two more guards in the 2017 class, in addition to LiAngelo Ball, is very important.
The projected depth chart, again, like it's been for years, lacks a true small forward. So that would be another priority -- as it's been.
In the front court, the outlook is pretty rosy at center, but a considerable question mark at power forward. Even if Welsh decides to leave after his junior year, which could happen given his rate of progress over the last two years, the Bruins should have solid talent at center in sophomore Ike Anigbogu, freshman Jalen Hill, and JC senior Ikenna Okwarabizie. At the four, though, there could be some question marks. We'd be a little surprised if Bolden makes it all the way to his senior year, and we'll operate under the assumption that he does not. That leaves a senior Gyorgy Goloman and a junior Alex Olesinski as the two power forwards on roster during that year, and while we haven't seen Olesinski in person, it's difficult to project either as ideal starters on a very good UCLA team. Securing an instant-impact power forward in that 2017 class is going to be key.
So, with Hill and Ball committed, UCLA probably needs to find, bare minimum, a point guard, another wing, and a big-time power forward with the remaining three scholarships that will almost certainly be available, and then probably attempt to find another power forward or high-level wing (perhaps that pesky small forward) to fill out a sixth scholarship, which will likely be available.
Hill committed to UCLA after an unofficial visit earlier this week, surprising some by committing so early. He's a very intriguing prospect primarily because of his youth -- at just 15 years old, he's young for his grade by high-level athlete standards, and thus potentially has considerably more upside than the typical rising junior. He projects as a center right now, but as he grows both physically and in terms of his skills, he could develop some ability to play the four at the next level. In any case, he's one of the most talented post prospects in the West in his class, and, even if he never develops the ability to play the four, is a big get for UCLA.
Ball committed to UCLA earlier this spring after the first April evaluation period. He's not the prospect that his brother Lonzo is, and projects more as a pure wing than Lonzo, who has the vision and unselfishness of a point guard. LiAngelo has made a name for himself as a shooter, and he's refined his mechanics some in the last year and change, shortening his stroke and making baskets a bit more consistently. He will need to continue to work on his body, and he has athletic limitations that might prevent him from ever being a very good defender at the UCLA level. Even if his sole role for UCLA is just to keep Lonzo in the fold, though, that might in and of itself be worth the scholarship.
Hands might be the most important recruit in this class for UCLA. If we've learned nothing from the end of the Howland years and the beginning of the Alford years, it's absolutely imperative to nail down point guard recruiting. Hands was offered by UCLA in September, and the Bruins have been at or near the top of his list since then. He's obviously one of the big priorities for UCLA in the class, with elite athleticism, great ball skills, and very good ability as a scorer. He's more of a shoot-first point guard at this time, but he's a very good passer, and more of the point guard approach could come with time. In any case, he's a big-time talent, and will probably be UCLA's No. 1 priority this summer. Interestingly, Hands' recruitment shouldn't stretch out too much longer, with most expecting him to commit sometime in the next month or two. So, whichever way this recruitment goes, UCLA will have more than enough time to pivot to another option.
Troy Brown, the other elite point guard in the West region, will likely be another UCLA priority, especially if Hands ends up picking Arizona. Brown, like Hands, is not a prototypical point guard, but his size and passing ability makes him an obvious option for initiating offense out of the half-court. He'll need to continue to develop his handle and ball skills, but he has a tremendous work ethic and is very competitive, which should help him continue to progress. Landing either Brown or Hands will go a long way toward making 2017 a successful class. UCLA would absolutely take both if they could, but it's probably unlikely that Hands and Brown would want to play with each other in college. Brown isn't anywhere close to making a decision, so that recruitment will extend long past whenever Hands makes his commitment.
UCLA is not yet recruiting Howard heavily, but he'd be another option if both Brown and Hands fall through, and it's likely that UCLA will spend some time watching him this summer to evaluate him. He and Brown are actually close, so if UCLA were seriously interested in paring Brown with another point guard, Howard would probably be a more realistic option than Hands. In any case, as of now, Howard projects as a backup option if things fall through with Hands and Brown.
UCLA has offered Remy Martin, the point guard out of Sierra Canyon, after he put together a nice spring on the AAU circuit. Securing a player like Martin in addition to one of the other point guards on this list would go a long way toward solidifying the position in the long term, which hasn't been done at UCLA in a long, long time.
It's not a great class yet for wings on the West Coast, but there's little doubt that some will emerge this summer as UCLA-level prospects. In any case, O'Bannon projects as a clear-cut priority for UCLA heading into the summer. Obviously, he has the great bloodlines, and people around him pushing him to UCLA. O'Bannon is a very good shooter, with very good length for the position, and, as an above-average athlete, could probably be a pretty good defender at the next level if he has the right approach. Arizona could also be a factor for him, but as of now, we're hearing that UCLA is maybe a little bit ahead in O'Bannon's recruitment.
Other guards/wings in the West have yet to really emerge as either UCLA-level or likely UCLA options, so if things fall through with O'Bannon, UCLA may be in the position of going national for high-level wings.
Riley has emerged as a UCLA priority at power forward, and from what we gather, the Bruins can be considered the favorite at this time, and perhaps the heavy favorite. He was on campus twice this week for unofficial visits. He's a bruiser at power forward, with his strength, power, and motor being his best attributes. He probably doesn't project as a one-and-done despite his lofty ranking, so securing him would go a long way toward solidifying the power forward position for at least a couple of years.
Preston transferred to Prime Prep in Texas last year, which is just the latest transfer for a player who has already had quite a few in his early prep career. He's a talented prospect, but there are fit issues here. UCLA will likely continue to evaluate him, but Riley is higher on the board as of now.
Lee is another option that UCLA has already offered, and given that the Bruins will most likely have more than five scholarships available and a lack of great depth at power forward, taking Lee in addition to Riley would not be a bad move. The question is whether Lee would be remotely open to that. He already has offers from much of the Pac-12, including Arizona, which, from what we've heard, is doing well with him.
UCLA is among the schools recruiting McCoy the hardest, and it's a safe bet with so many scholarships to give in the 2017 class that the Bruins won't back off with Hill already committed as a center. McCoy is a true center at seven-feet tall, and is local, out of San Diego Morse.
Another center, Brown has said that UCLA is recruiting him hard, and he's already unofficially visited. Interestingly, Brown, who hails from Miami Beach, says he grew up a fan of the Bruins. Like McCoy, he is absolutely a center, at over seven-feet tall. And, as with McCoy, we can't imagine UCLA will back off given the number of scholarships available in 2017.