Coming off what has clearly turned out to be an excellent 2016 recruiting class (UCLA's curren freshman class), UCLA signed the No. 2 class in the nation for 2017.
In addition, it just received a verbal commitment from Chris Smith, an athletic 6-7 small forward who was reclassified from 2018 to 2017. He took an official visit to UCLA last weekend and announced his choice over Oregon and TCU. The plan is for him to sign in April during the Spring Signing Period.
UCLA 2017 Recruiting Class
So, where does UCLA recruiting stand now?
For 2017, it is almost certainly full up. It was recruiting M.J. Walker, the five-star shooting guard from Georgia, but we've heard that it was an either/or situation with Smith and Walker -- basically whoever jumped in the boat first.
For one thing, if you go strictly by number of scholarships, UCLA is currently two over the NCAA-allotted 13. Of course, Lonzo Ball is going pro, and you can almost certainly expect T.J. Leaf to do the same. With the commitment of Smith, that would make it 13 scholarship players on the roster.
Of course, someone else could leave the program and UCLA could have one more scholarship available. There's a slim possibility of that happening and UCLA then also taking Walker, but we wouldn't be surprised if Walker did officially visit in case of this scenario.
If everyone eligible to be on the roster besides Leaf stays for the 2018 season, UCLA will have three scholarships to give.
But that's a big 'if."
We have removed Leaf, because if he does return for his sophomore season he's almost certainly gone after that.
We think it's unlikely Aaron Holiday stays for his senior season. Again, whenever we say this about a player it prompts long threads on the BRO Forum about whether a player is ready, would it behoove him to stay for his senior year, etc. Again, like we always say, what might make logical sense to a fan doesn't necessarily to a college player and his family. From what we've heard, there's a very good chance that Holiday isn't at UCLA for his senior year.
Ike Anigbogu could also be a viable candidate to leave for the NBA after his sophomore season. He's already appeared on some draft projections for the 2017 draft -- that is, after his current freshman season.
While it's impossible to project at this point, we have to keep open the possibility that Kris Wilkes is also a candidate to leave for the NBA after his freshman season. Wilkes is the No. 17-ranked player in the country, and he has an unusual -- and NBA-conducive -- body and skill set, being 6-8 and a small forward-type.
Given all of that, we'd suspect UCLA will be recruiting like it has at least four scholarships to give, the three that are open and almost certainly Holiday's. They would be really prudent to recruit like they are, in fact, losing Holiday because being unprepared for that could be very impactful to the 2018-2019 season.
2018 Point Guards
UCLA, given that we think Holiday won't be on the roster as a senior, would only have one point guard on the roster -- Jaylen Hands -- so it absolutely needs someone else who, first, can spell Hands, and then be the heir apparent to the position when Hands leaves the program. Hands is talented enough, too, that he could very well not be a four-year player.
Getting someone in the class after the elite, well-known Hands, though, could be a tough proposition. First, point guard talent is down in the west for 2018, and actually down nationally. We expect, then, for UCLA to cast a wide net nationally in trying to find its 2018 point guard.
UCLA is pursuing JaVonte Smart, the nation's No. 1 point guard for 2018 from Louisiana; Darius Garland, the No. 3 point guard prospect nationally, from Tennessee and Minnesota's Tre Jones, No. 7 in the nation. Given the point guard talent situation being down across the country, it absolutely should try with these guys. Remember, though, when this coaching staff first came to UCLA they shot high in the first few recruiting cycles, went after nationally-ranked players and, for the most part, weren't successful. But now, given the high-profile of the UCLA program as a result of this year's team, and the offensive style the Bruins utilize that all recruits would want to play in, it makes sense to test the waters on these elite, five-star point guard prospects. At this point, you don't know if UCLA basketball is currently such a hot commodity it could defy convention and pull in a five-star point guard from out of the region, even on the heels of bringing in Hands. It's smart to at least to kick the tires on national, five-star guys like this.
Something to watch for, not just with point guard recruiting but with any prospect, is whether they play for an Under Armour AAU team. With UCLA having its record-setting apparel deal with Under Armour start in June, it will be a factor in basketball recruiting. Like how Adidas AAU teams have worked as feeders for UCLA the past two recruiting cycles, the same type of effect could happen with prospects affiliated with Under Armour AAU teams. We've already seen it happen with Kris Wilkes, who played for an Under Armour travel team.
We bring this up here because, at this point, to our knowledge, Smart, Garland and Jones don't play for an Under Armour program.
We have heard, though, that UCLA would have the best chance with Jones. If you remember, he traveled to UCLA a few weeks ago on his own dime for an unofficial visit to take in the UCLA/Arizona game.
A couple weeks ago, UCLA coach David Grace went to see Elijah Weaver, the nation's No. 10-ranked point guard from Florida, and a UCLA offer resulted from that trip. We're hearing, though, at this point UCLA would be further down Weaver's list of favorites.
While pursuing national point guard prospects, what would really be smart is for the UCLA staff to do some extensive scouting and evaluating to find a potential next-rung type recruit they could bring in if they miss on the super-elite guys. This could be a point guard or combo guard, and ideally it'd be someone very athletic who can provide UCLA some of the backcourt athleticism it's been missing in recent years, and at least defend the position well.
In this vein, the guy we'd like to see UCLA pursue is Elijah Hardy, the 6-1 point guard prospect from Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd. Hardy is a good athlete with a good body, with good quickness, and capable of defending just about any D-1 point guard prospect. He also is a true point guard, with a great feel and passing ability. If there's a point guard in the west for 2018 who could carry on the pass-first culture of Lonzo Ball, Hardy would be the guy. Right now it's Cal and USC for Hardy, but with how down point guard talent is nationally and in the west, we could see many big-named programs getting involved with Hardy by the end of the summer.
We anticipate that UCLA will try to sway the west's No. 1 point guard, Brandon Williams. Williams is undoubtedly talented, and would be a great fit on the court, but, from what we've heard it's going to be a tough sell trying to convince him to come in after Hands, especially since they're similar players. He has said Arizona is his dream school, while the Wildcats don't have anyone like Williams, and he'd come in with an open door to the point guard position. Arizona and USC have been on Williams a while, and UCLA got involved a few months ago and has made up ground. Kansas and Connecticut are also involved. Williams will be out of commission with a knee injury at least through July and that could affect his recruitment, perhaps prompting him to verbal early so he secures a spot.
UCLA could far more easily make the case to Hardy that he comes in, sits behind Hands for a season, Hands goes pro after his sophomore or even his junior year, and Hardy is the UCLA starting point guard in the type of offense he wants to play in for 2 or 3 seasons.
There is James Akinjo, from Richmond Salesian, who is a notch below Williams and Hardy, but someone to know. He's smallish, at about 5-10, but he is a true point guard. He's had a mediocre junior year, being pretty inconsistent. He's a good ball handler and passer, but probably not the guy you want to, at least, be a good defender.
A guy we were hoping would step up in his junior season is Payton Moore, a guard from Los Angeles Windward, but Moore has taken a step back this year. He's very athletic and could help to improve UCLA's backcourt athleticism, but he'd have to have a very big spring and summer to get on UCLA's radar.
At this point, we'd like to see UCLA not only look nationally for elite point guard prospects, but develop an expanded list of four-star, 3-to-4 year types, too, just to ensure it has a second point guard on the roster for 2018.
For the 2018 season, UCLA should have a shooting guard in Prince Ali on the roster, and then two small forward types in Smith and Wilkes. LiAngelo Ball is also a guy you can pencil in at small forward, even though we don't know he fits in here. He really doesn't have a position at the UCLA level, perhaps as undersized power forward who can really shoot from the outside. But we'll list him at small forward for lack of really knowingt how he'd fit into UCLA's roster at this point.
Ali will be a senior in 2018 and UCLA absolutely needs a shooting guard. Unlike point guards, small forwards and true centers, the position traditionally with the most talent is shooting guard, and they should be plentiful enough in 2018 for UCLA to be fairly selective.
UCLA has the luxury, then to stretch and pursue the No. 1 shooting guard in the nation, Romeo Langford, from Indiana. Louisville will be tough to beat here, but Kansas, Indiana, Duke and North Carolina will be formidable too.
The No. 1 shooting guard in the west for 2018 is Kevin Porter Jr., from Seattle (Wash.) Rainier Beach, but he's a lifelong Husky fan who spends time every day on Washington's campus. In other words, a long shot for UCLA.
http://www.scout.com/college/basketball/recruiting/story/1754924-top-35-... UCLA has been aggressively recruiting the five-star 6-6 wing Gerald Liddell from Texas, and looks like it has a real shot to get the nation's No. 26-ranked prospect. Liddell is projected more as a small forward type, mostly because he's 6-6, but he has the quickness and motor to defend shooting guards with ease. If Liddell played next to Wilkes or Smith, with all that length on the wing, it'd be a real offensive match-up nightmare for opposing teams.
Jules Bernard is the guy you'd think UCLA could get. He's from Los Angeles Windward, which is a very pro-UCLA school, plays for UCLA's feeder AAU program, Compton Magic, and has spent a good deal of time on UCLA's campus and around the program. Bernard has an offer, but is still weighing other options, which might benefit UCLA, giving the Bruins a chance to maybe get out during the spring and investigate other elite shooting guards that might be a bit more athletic than Bernard.
A couple of guys UCLA hasn't offered:
-- David Singleton from Bishop Montgomery, the No. 3-ranked shooting guard in the west, but UCLA has yet to seriously contact (it's Gonzaga and USC right now, with Arizona sniffing around).
-- Isaac Hamilton's cousin, Bryce Hamilton, from Pasadena, has been emerging this season, and would covet a UCLA offer.
This is where UCLA recruiting for 2018 gets really ridiculous, in a good way. UCLA is seriously involved with four of the top ten power forwards in the country (at least), and probably leads for three of them.
There is one slight problem, though: the elite talent in the west coast class of 2018 all basically play the same position.
Marvin Bagley, the #1 player in the nation and a clear one-and-doner, is the #1 target for UCLA in 2018. We've heard, too, that Bagley might very well have UCLA currently at the top of his list. But there are a few things to consider with Bagley. He might have academic issues, having transferred to his current high school of Chatsworth (Calif.) Sierra Canyon from Arizona, where the word is that his transcript is sketchy. Bagley might be more of a Kentucky-like situation, and there are plenty of well-informed people around basketball recruiting who believe that's where he'll end up. Bagley, too, might keep other elite west coast UCLA targets who play essentially the same position from coming to UCLA, so the question would be: Is Bagley worth one year if it keeps away elite players who would spend multiple years in Westwood? You absolutely have to take him, because of the impact he could make in one season (much like Ball's impact this year) and we believe UCLA would accept Bagley if he merely qualified by NCAA's standards, using a so-called "silver bullet" on him. So, all in all, UCLA is in a good place with the Bagley recruitment at this point.
Jordan Brown, the 6-11, 205-pounder from NorCal, is also a power forward type, and the word is that UCLA is still doing well with him, perhaps moving ahead of early favorite Cal. It's highly unlikely, however, that Brown and Bagley go to the same place. Brown also very well could be a one-and-doner and present the same one-and-done position problems. But if UCLA could get either Brown or Bagley that would, obviously, be a huge coup, and greatly bolster UCLA's 2018 roster.
There would be some concern exactly where Bagley or Brown would fit, because you'd have to think that junior Ike Anigbogu would be pretty entrenched at one frontcourt spot and sophomore Cody Riley in the other. UCLA could opt to play a three-big lineup (with Kris Wilkes playing shooting guard?) and that would be a pretty talented front line. Bagley is an absolute immediate starter, and Brown probably is, too, as would be junior Anigobogu, but that would have to piss off Riley, who is sharing the spotlight with Bagley now at Sierra Canyon, and Jalen Hill. If Anigbogu went pro after his sophomore year that would relieve some of the playing time issues.
The other two five-star prospects that UCLA would have a real chance to get are also power forwards, Miles Norris of La Mesa (Calif.) Helix, and Shareef O'Neal, of Santa Monica Crossroads. Now, perhaps two of the guys of these top four would go to the same college together, but we're hearing it could be unlikely. UCLA could have a really good chance with Norris, since he actually does play for Earl Watson Elite, and we've heard UCLA is right there with Arizona for him, with Oregon also a serious contender. Norris said he intends to make a decision this spring, after his junior season.
And then there's O'Neal, who is Shaquille O'Neal's son. We've heard his family would like him to stay close to home and that Shareef really likes UCLA, having spent some time on campus and at games, and all of that could overcome that he plays for a Nike-sponsored program, California Supreme. The question on Shareef: Even though he's seemingly a nice kid, does he have the drive to be a successful college player? This is a kid who was given a Lamborghini for his 16th birthday and is already a celebrity. Will he be self-motivating as college player or more like celebrity-son Cordell Broadus and isn't driven to succeed in college athletics? UCLA, of course, would absolutely take him, and would probably benefit from the notoriety of him being Shaq's son. O'Neal, too, could be the one most likely on this list of power forwards to come to UCLA with someone else on this list. Arizona is going hard after O'Neal and they'll be UCLA's main competition (sound familiar?).
It's highly unlucky that the four elite players UCLA leads might lead for in the west for 2018 are all power forwards and probably wouldn't go to UCLA together.
http://www.scout.com/college/basketball/recruiting/story/1735115-top-35-... You wouldn't believe it, but another one of the top eight prospects on the west coast is a similar, power-forward type, Taeshon Cherry, from San Diego (Calif.) St. Augustine. Cherry is ranked on Scout as a small forward, but he's really a 6-8, face-up four. We've heard Arizona is probably leading for him, with him having visited for Midnight Madness. He recently was on UCLA's campus for the Arizona game.
So, there's a plethora of power forwards for 2018 in the west.
UCLA, too, is looking at the No. 2 prospect n the nation, Zion Williamson. UCLA assistant Grace is expected in South Carolina tomorrow to see Williamson. What the heck is UCLA doing looking into another power forward? Well, first, Williamson is 6-6 and certainly a beast, but he could probably play alongside two 6-9+ guys. It wouldn't be the worst thing. And Williamson is probably hearing that Bagley is leaning to UCLA and he might want to be a part of a Lonzo Ball/T.J. Leaf kind of one-year Carmelo-izing (or should it now be called a one-year Ball-Leaf-izing?).
Among true centers, there is Bol Bol, the 7-2 son of former NBA player Manute Bol who is the No. 16-ranked player in the nation for 2018. He told Scout recently that UCLA, USC and Arizona are the three programs recruiting him the hardest.
A player to watch is Fred Odhiambo, the 6-11, 190-pounder who is a plus athlete. The recruitment of the Kenyan native is bound to blow up this spring and summer when he gets out into AAU ball. He might have academic issues that preclude UCLA from taking him, however.
It's likely UCLA has just two spots for bigs in 2018, and would probably take a combination of any of the guys they've offered on this list. What could get fun is if three actually wanted to come. UCLA would probably take three, but still need a wing and guard, so they'd be scrambling to find rides to make it work. Or it could just work out with players leaving early for the NBA or transferring because of a lack of playing time. But the thing is: UCLA will be recruiting the 2018 class this spring, summer and fall leading up to the signing period in November, well before you'd know if Holiday, Anigbogu or even Wilkes would go the NBA after the 2017-2018 season, or someone would transfer after that season. It's a great problem to have.