No one, not even head coach Mick Cronin, can predict what this year holds for the UCLA Bruins. The turnover is colossal, with standout players like Jaime Jaquez Jr., Jaylen Clark, and Amari Bailey now gracing the NBA courts. Tyger Campbell, the stalwart point guard, has taken his talents to France, and David Singleton has graduated. The void they’ve left is immense, both in terms of production and experience. Adem Bona stands as the sole returning starter, and the remaining trio of Dylan Andrews, Kenny Nwuba, and Will McClendon lacks seasoning. To add to the intrigue, eight newcomers, including seven freshmen and one transfer, have joined the squad, effectively reshaping the entire team. Losing three NBA-bound players and two valuable contributors is no easy feat, but some believe this might just be the most talented team Cronin has ever had at Westwood.
“It’s strange to not see the Bruins as a consensus top-25 team, given what they’ve done under Mick Cronin since late in the 2020-21 season,” Borzello wrote. “There was the Final Four run, followed by a 4-seed and Sweet 16 appearances in 2022, followed by a Pac-12 title, 2-seed and Sweet 16 appearance last season.”
Recently, Jeff Borzello of ESPN released his Way-Too-Early NCAA Top 25 list, and UCLA was conspicuously absent. Nevertheless, the Bruins remained a hot topic of conversation. Borzello dubbed them the “new preseason mystery team,” highlighting the roster additions, notably Lazar Stefanovic, a transfer from Utah, and a diverse group of international recruits. Borzello posed the pivotal question: Can Cronin harness the potential of this talented yet youthful ensemble and mold them into championship contenders? Given Cronin’s stellar history of player development, this team may become a formidable force come March.
“There is plenty of talent on this roster,” Borzello added. “Bona, Mara and Buyuktuncel could all be in the NBA 12 months from now. Andrews looks to be a capable point guard, and Stefanovic was a double-figure scorer in the Pac-12. But are the role players ready to take a step forward? How big of an impact will the incoming freshmen make? How quickly can the international players adapt?”
At the very least, the fledgling Bruins face a stern examination in the Maui Invitational, featuring a formidable field of opponents. Their non-conference schedule includes clashes against Maryland, a showdown at Villanova, and a neutral-site matchup against Ohio State. These challenges will undoubtedly test the mettle of this evolving UCLA squad.