UCLA Basketball: 2015 Recruiting Reset

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into home stretch of the 2015 recruiting season, the Bruins' primary needs are at shooting guard, small forward and power forward as Alford has to deal with potentially heavy losses to the NBA and transfers.

July is a busy recruiting month for college basketball coaching staffs.  We're in what's called the live recruiting period which effectively means coaches watch national-level AAU tournaments like the LeBron James Skills Academy and the Peach Jam Festival.  Adidas Nations takes place locally starting Thursday, Monday, July 31, and UCLA should get a slew of unofficial visits including top target, Jaylen Brown.  Nationally, elite targets will be announcing their college choices between now and the early signing day in November.

 

If everyone eligible comes back
Point Guard Shooting Guard Small Forward Power Forward Center
Aaron Holiday Isaac Hamilton Jonah Bolden Kevon Looney Tony Parker
Bryce Alford Noah Allen Wannah Bail Thomas Welsh
Gyorgy Golomon
2015-16--High Likelihood
Point Guard Shooting Guard Small Forward Power Forward Center
Aaron Holiday Noah Allen Gyorgy Golomon Tony Parker
Bryce Alford Thomas Welsh

It's getting harder to forecast a lineup one season out when the psychological and media barriers to NBA Draft entry have become so low.  Kyle Anderson signaled his intention to leave school early on, but Zach LaVine was a surprise based on preseason expectations, and Jordan Adams blew the conventional wisdom right out of the water with his eleventh hour change of heart regarding the draft.  He was proven right when he was selected #22 by the Memphis Grizzlies, and then had a successful Summer League in Orlando.

Isaac Hamilton, Kevon Looney and Jonah Bolden likely enter 2014-15 hoping that one season is enough to jump to the NBA and one other player may transfer due to lack of playing time.  Regardless whether any or all leave school, the coaching staff has to be prepared to recruit in an high turnover environment.  Alford seems to have a national recruting strategy as if he was cautioned by AD Guerrero that national championships have to be coming in short order (I know -- hard to believe from mediocre Dan), and going national to compete with Kentucky, Duke, Arizona, Kansas and Connecticut is the way to do it.

Publicly, one of the reasons for firing Ben Howland was his disconnect with the local recruiting scene.  Alford has brought in Thomas Welsh, Aaron Holiday and Lonzo Ball, but the others are from Wisconsin, Hungary and Australia.  Further, the current "leans" are all out-of-state, and Arizona is continuing to pick up top Western prospects (here's there Verbalcommits page, and here is UCLA's).

We can debate whether UCLA should be in a basketball arms race or not, but we, in fact, seem to be, and if this is the case, how does UCLA compete in the recruiting wars?  In a one or two and done environment, Kentucky and Arizona have their advantages:  luxury hotel-like facilities, low academic stress and a rabid fan base.  UCLA also has its advantages.  The most important one is its location in a rich local recruiting base (in the current long range recruiting cycle, Southern California alone is probably not enough, and the UCLA recruiting base should include Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada).  At a minimum, UCLA should recruit enough three and four year players from its local base to sustain the program at a high level in the face of the high turnover of potential one-and-done players.

Colleges have can  thirteen scholarships players, and you can see from the chart above, UCLA will have three to seven openings.  Clearly, the positions of need are shooting guard, small forward and power forward (UCLA has a 2016 verbal commitment from point guard Lonzo Ball).

Pursuing an apparent national strategy inherently means there will be many strikeouts.  I previously had Diamond Stone from Wisconsin, friend of Kevon Looney, as a lean, but he recently cut his list to UConn, Wisconsin, Kansas, NC State, Kentucky and Miami -- he's a package deal with friend and fellow five-star, Malik Newman.

So with a grain of salt, I offer you this list as a 2015 class prediction:

 

Name Position Hometown National Rank
Aaron Holiday Point Guard Los Angeles, CA 29
Prince Ali Shooting Guard Weston, Florida 47
Jaylen Brown Small Forward Marietta, GA 4
Stephen Zimmerman Power Forward/Center Las Vegas, NV 8

 

This would likely be a top five class, though potentially still behind Arizona. It does fill the holes highlighted above and would give the Bruins a highly athletic profile; however, it would mean putting four freshman on the floor along with Tony Parker.  Arizona will probably be going through a similar restocking, but UCLA hasn't had a history of coming together quickly to excel in the Tournament.  If Hamilton, Looney and/or Bolden return for 2015-16, this is potentially a very good team.

247Sports has 6'4" Prince Ali, who decommited from UConn, as a UCLA lean.  He impressed enough at the LeBron James Skills Academy to bring a late offer from Louisville. He's an athletic guard would will go to the hoop and also shoot the three, and, in his self-evaluation, can defend positions one through three.

6'8" Jaylen Brown is thought to be the nation's top small forward.  247Sports has him as a Kentucky lean, but their Southwest recruiting analyst has him going to UCLA,  The Kentucky blogosphere is drooling over him. UCLA hasn't had a tall, athletic wing since Luc (really a power forward for us).  They often create unsolveable mismatches in college basketball because wings are usually shorter and the bigs aren't mobile enough. With the point guard position solved by Holiday followed by Ball, Brown is the key to this class.

6'11" Stephen Zimmerman's recruitment has been up and down.  Last March, he was ranked at the top of Scout's 2015 list, but he's thought to have faded. NBC Sports had a recent mixed review on him.  Predictions about him have gone from UCLA to UNC to UNLV to Arizona and back to UCLA.  He has an official visit scheduled to UNC, but the academic scandal there makes would make that a treacherous choice for Big Zimm.  247Sports predicts Arizona, but Arizona is in the hunt for several big men, including Ivan Raab, and it is unlikely that likely one-and-done Zimmerman wants to share playing time.  Zimmerman is a highly skilled, passing, mid-range shooting, front-facing, tall forward/center who sees himself as an NBA three in the mode of Kevin Durant (who actually has a much further range).

2015 is a class full of talented big men, including Zimm's Bishop Gorman teammate, Chase Jeter, who is thought to be a Duke lean.  Its a situation where there is probably enough bigs to go around, and I believe UCLA will get one of them, whether it is Zimmerman, Henry Ellison or Caleb Swanigan or DJ Hogg.

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