Our next Bruin in the Spotlight is Thomas Welsh.
After UCLA was knocked out of the 2017 NCAA Tournament in the Sweet Sixteen, Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, and Ike Anigbogu each declared for the 2017 NBA Draft. Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday soon joined them, but neither hired an agent. This allowed both Welsh and Holiday to withdraw their names and maintain their NCAA eligibility. As a result, Welsh will return for his senior season at UCLA to help the Bruins try to win an NCAA title.
Welsh started making a name for himself at Loyola High School when he wasn’t considered a top prospect leading up to his senior year. That was until the summer before his senior year when he improved immensely. He played with the Los Angeles Rockfish, the longest running all-star team in Southern California. Then, in his senior year, he was one of the top centers in California and was named to the 2014 McDonald’s All-American Game. This was a big honors for a player who had rarely been recognized leading up to his final year. During his senior year, Welsh committed to UCLA over other Pac-12 schools UC Berkeley or Stanford.
In his freshman year, Welsh was a backup to junior Tony Parker. While he only played limited minutes, he played in all 36 games and averaged 3.8 points and 3.8 rebounds. He also led the team in blocks, averaging 1.1 per game.
In his sophomore year, he broke into the starting line-up when Tony Parker was moved to forward. Leading up to the season, Welsh played for U.S. U19 national team which in the played the 2015 FIBA Championship in Greece during the summer. Playing with Team USA helped improve his footwork and fundamentals vastly. He played in all seven games and helped Team USA win gold.
His starting job did not last long, though, as Welsh offered up his spot to a benched Tony Parker, who had been benched in favor of Jonah Bolden. Most players wouldn’t even think about giving up their spot, but Welsh did. He did what he felt was best for the team. Unfortunately, the team finished the season with a 15-17 record, one of the few losing seasons in UCLA history since John Wooden was hired.
This past season, Welsh led the team in rebounds again. He bruised his right knee early in the season and missed four games. Even though he was hurt, the team completed non-conference play with a 13-0 record and some were calling the Bruins one of the best teams in the country. Welsh returned in the conference opener where UCLA suffered their first season loss to Oregon. Despite the loss, Welsh played a strong game with had 20 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks. Overall, Welsh averaged 10.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game for the season.
After the season, he decided to test the waters by declaring for the NBA Draft. He did not hire an agent which allowed him to withdraw his name and head back to college without any consequences. As the deadline for withdrawal approached, all eyes were on Welsh and teammate Aaron Holiday as the clock was ticking. In the end, Welsh announced on Twitter he would, indeed, withdraw his name from the draft and play his final season at UCLA. This decision let Bruin fans and head coach Steve Alford breathe a sigh of relief. He made the right decision. He wasn’t on any mock drafts and was told it would be best to return to school to improve his stock for next year’s draft.
It is a big relief to Bruin fans to have Thomas Welsh back. He will provide a much-needed veteran presence to the upcoming six-man freshman class and he has developed into a leader the younger players can look up to.