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UCLA Basketball: What 2014-15 Might Look Like Without Jordan Adams?

Jordan Adams is leaving for the draft. Can the Bruins recover from the loss?

Jeff Gross

Sunday, April 27 was the deadline to declare for the 2014 NBA Draft, and in a shocker, Jordan Adams let the word out Saturday night that he had changed his mind.  This was quite a stunning turn of events after saying:

"I've had so much fun playing here at UCLA, and I'm really excited about the team we're going to have next year," Adams said. "Once the season ended, my family and I began carefully weighing all of my options. In the end, staying at UCLA for my junior year is a win-win situation. I'm glad that I went through the process, received constructive feedback and had time to reflect on what I truly want. I love being a Bruin. I'm looking forward to getting back in the gym and the weight room to get better, and I can't wait for next season."

Yesterday, I wrote about the post-season exodus from the UCLA Basketball program.  While not directly blaming the current regime for Jordan Adams' departure, at the very least, he doesn't seem to have a compelling reason to come back and play for this coach even in light of the gamble he's taken on and the harsh reality of second round draft picks -or even late first round picks for that matter.  Second rounders do not get a guaranteed contract.  Further, the guaranteed money goes from $1.6 million for the 15th pick to $900,000 for the 30th pick.  Allan Crabbe, PAC-12 POY in 2012-13, was the first pick of the second round in 2013.  He was one of the lucky ones. He played a total of 90 minutes for the Portland Trailblazers this season.

So what happened?  The story behind Jordan's late change of heart hasn't come out yet, and may never, but here are the circumstances as I see them:

  1. His roommate, Kyle Anderson, is leaving school for the draft. Kyle also happened to be the point guard, a role that will be taken over, in part, by Bryce Alford.
  2. A Final Four is not on horizon.
  3. His game is known, and his perceived physical weaknesses are not going to resolve with one more season in college.
  4. He was suspended for the Oregon game.
  5. He has family issues.
  6. He went to Oak Hill Academy. While not as bad as Findlay Prep or Prime Prep, a student at this school does not normally fit the profile of someone who likes school and wants to be in college.
  7. The UCLA Campus and LA in general, are infested with sports agents.
  8. He's likely being told he'll be taken in the first round.

My thesis is, and this is only my humble opinion, that Jordan wanted to go into the draft all along.  His head told him that he would benefit from one more year at UCLA, but the constant chirping in his ear from the agents and other hangers-on resonated with what was in his heart.  He doesn't like school, his mother is ill, his draft stock isn't going to get much better, there may be internal strife within the team, and he could get a pay day right now (even if it is ultimately in Europe).

For the sake of due diligence, I'm going to give you both the optimistic and pessimistic views of what UCLA Basketball Team will be like in 2014-15, but frankly, this is hard to spin.  It's going bad, unless someone pulls a rabbit out of a hat.  UCLA loses five of last season's eight rotation players, and four of them were starters.  In Jordan, you lose the team's leading scorer and UCLA's season record holder for steals.   Expectations were high for Jordan in what would have been his junior year, one year removed from a serious foot injury.  In a sport where seniors are rare amongst the high majors, his leadership as a Junior will be missed.

From the optimist's point of view that "rabbit" could be Daniel Hamilton, the five star 6'7" small forward from St. John Bosco, and Isaac's brother. There are other names being floated like Namon Wright, a Missouri de-commit after a coaching change, and Elijah Stewart, and LMU de-commit also after a coaching change.  Neither holds the appeal of Hamilton, who could immediately step in at the 3 and provide defense and rebounding at a level that Adams would never reach.

I've spoken about DHam many times here, and even I have to admit that this ship has sailed.  Although he has yet to sign an NLI with Connecticut, and the stage seems to be set with the departures of both LaVine and Adams, I don't see him turning his back on Kevin Ollie and the National Champs at this late date.

The rest of the optimist's argument:  UCLA brings in the number seven-ranked class led by two McDonald's All-Americans, and that doesn't even include Isaac Hamilton, a five star who some say was already the third best player on the team during the season he just sat out.  Even without any other newcomers, don't forget Jonah Bolden, an athletic 6'9" four star and late bloomer from Australia who flew under the radar.  Though listed as a power forward, he plays face to the basket, and is athletic enough to cover a 3.  Imagine the rebounding nirvana to be achieved with a front line of Looney, Parker and Bolden with Thomas Welsh waiting in the wings.

The basic problem with the optimistic viewpoint is that it relies on five or more players who have never set foot on a college court.  Oh, and our coach is not John Calipari, a specialist in acclimating a list of new players every year.  Hell, he's not even a Sean Miller.

I believe next season's lineup up could go in one of two basic directions:  small or big.  I've always been an advocate of balance and good structure, that is, everyone can cover their position, and at least three players can contribute on both sides of the ball.  There won't be a choice here.

The small lineup would be:  Bryce Alford at 1, Norman Powell and Isaac Hamilton at 2/3, Kevon Looney at 4, and Tony Parker at 5.  Be prepared to see Norman Powell in the back of the zone again. Just based on seniority (and nepotism), I think Steve Alford goes with this lineup until it self-destructs.

The big lineup would be Isaac Hamilton/Bryce Alford  at the 1, Norman Powell at the 2, Jonah Bolden  at the 3, Kevon Looney at the 4, and Tony Parker at the 5.  There are three newcomers in this lineup, and I don't see any evidence that the UCLA coach can channel John Calipari all of a sudden.  Although I don't have high hopes, I would prefer this lineup because it will match up better with Arizona and the others on paper, and I do believe we will see an improvement in rebounding over last season.

No matter what lineup, we'll be looking to Norman Powell to provide leadership - there IS no one else.  Norman made a nice leap last year, and I expect him to make another one next year.  Norman and Jordan together would have made a nice leadership tandem, but I think those shoes are just too big for Norman to fill alone.

The Bruins went from a solid number two in the PAC-12 and once again challenging Arizona for first, to anywhere between third and fifth and a lot of close calls within the conference. That said, Steve Alford mainly has his own players now. No excuses if they don't play hard on both ends of the court every game. Like we always say, predictions are different from expectations, and I expect Steve Alford and the man who hired him, Dan Guerrero, to deliver a season in line with last year's if not better.

One last question. Why didn't we do better with a team that ultimately had three first round picks? Yes, yes pro talent is different from college talent (and all three might bomb in the pros), but it seems like the talent was there.