With today being the last day of the Spring Signing Period for the 2017 class, it’s probably a good time to review the state of UCLA’s personnel for next season.
Two of UCLA’s current players, Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh, still have their names submitted in the NBA Draft. They have until May 24th (a week from today) to withdraw their names and are able to return to college as long as they don’t hire an agent. Many college players who put their name in the Draft but weren't invited to the NBA Combine and haven't been projected to be drafted have already decided to return to college. It's interesting to note that neither Holiday nor Welsh are expected to be drafted in any Draft projections. Welsh was invited and participated in the Combine and Holiday was an alternate.. Bruin Report Online reported last week that it was still looking likely that Holiday remain in the Draft. We've heard that if Holiday gets a signing guarantee with an NBA team he'll definitely remain in the Draft, but that hasn't happened yet. It doesn't necessarily mean if Holiday doesn't get a signing guarantee that he'll pull out. Of course, things can change quickly and there's still a week left until Holiday has to decide. We haven’t heard the status of Welsh, but most close to the situation believe he'll return.
This is the depth chart if Holiday and Welsh return for the 2017-2018 season:
That leaves UCLA with one open scholarship. Of course, if Holiday and/or Welsh don't return, that would provide UCLA two or three open scholarships for next season.
Obviously, the primary need is in the backcourt. If Holiday leaves, UCLA only has two true guards in Jaylen Hands and Prince Ali. Kris Wilkes is a wing, so he'll play on the perimeter in UCLA's offense, too. But even if Holiday does return, it's clear UCLA could use some help in the backcourt.
Cameron Johnson, the Pittsburgh transfer, is one potential answer. Johnson is a 6-7 wing who averaged 11.9 points per game last season with a great shooting touch (41.5% from three) and an all-around good feel for the game. He isn't a pure guard, which is what UCLA could use, but he's a very talented player that would absolutely fill the gap in UCLA's backcourt. He just visited UCLA, and also officially visited Kentucky, Arizona and Oregon. Most sources close to the situation think it's a Wildcat competition -- that is between Kentucky and Arizona. But the word is that Johnson's decision could depend on whether Kentucky or Arizona lose a perimeter player to the NBA Draft. For Arizona, that would be Rawle Alkins, and for Kentucky Hamidou Diallo. Both Alkins and Diallo have their names in the Draft and have yet to withdraw. Diallo is generally considered a first-rounder and expected to stay in. Alkins, who is projected often as a second-round pick, just had a good performance at the Combine, and that could be enough to keep him in. There is also the factor to consider that Brian Bowen, the No. 18-ranked prospect in the 2017 class and second-highest ranked who has yet to commit, is still considering Arizona, and if opted for Tucson that could preclude Johnson from going there. Johnson and Bowen are probably waiting for the Alkins and Diallo dominoes to fall. At this point, though, it would seem it's a bit of a longshot that UCLA get Johnnson. More than likely, both Alkins and Diallo would have to take their names out of the Draft and then Johnson would still have to choose UCLA over Oregon (and he's also considering Ohio State and TCU, even though he didn't officially visit those two schools).
M.J. Walker, the nation's No. 28th-ranked prospect in the 2017 class, is still a possibility. Scout recruiting analyst Brian Snow described Walker's game this way:
Walker is a high-level athlete who excels in both football and basketball, but has opted to stick with hoops full-time. Walker stays in attacking mode and is top-notch transition scorer. Walker, a strongly built 6-foot-4 wing, is a capable shot maker from both mid-range and three and possesses good shot mechanics and form. With that said, he's still working on his consistency from behind the three-point arc. A strong, physical driver, Walker is a good scorer at the rim and finishes well through contact.
Walker, a McDonald's All-American, officially visited UCLA last weekend, and has also officially visited Florida State, Ohio State and Virginia Tech, while Georgia Tech is involved. He is one of those recruits who refuses to talk to the media about his recruitment, and it's difficult to know exactly what Walker or his camp are thinking. FSU has been on him the longest, and most observers think they're the team to beat. But again, Walker doesn't even talk to his AAU coach about his recruitment and no one outside of his immediate family knows anything. It is known, though, that Walker is in no hurry to decide. The fact that today is the last day of the Signing Period means nothing to him, since he can sign a Grant-in-Aid agreement at any time (which actually doesn't bind the player like an NLI).
We haven't heard this, but we'd speculate that potentially what Holiday chooses to do -- stay in the Draft or return to UCLA -- would impact the decision of Walker, and potentially Johnson, too.
Chase Jeter, the Duke center transfer, just announced he's picked Arizona. We know that UCLA was his first choice for a while after he announced he was leaving Duke, but the word is that UCLA didn't seriously pursue Jeter.
There are graduate transfers -- college players who have graduated from their schools and are immediately eligible to play their last season -- available, but we haven't heard that UCLA is involved with any at this time.
So, these next seven days before May 24th, the deadline for players to withdraw their name from the NBA Draft, should be interesting. It's not only because of the decisions of Holiday and Welsh, but potentially how the other dominoes fall that could affect Johnson and Walker.