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UCLA Basketball: Thomas Welsh's Desire is Second to None

Third in a series. Focusing on the only Bruin playing right now, the USA Under 19 Team Center Thomas Welsh.

Thomas Welsh played his best when UCLA needed him most.
Thomas Welsh played his best when UCLA needed him most.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Desire. It is a factor and concept often overlooked in a basketball player. Never was it overlooked more strongly that Joshua Smith. Smith had more ability than any center at UCLA probably since Bill Walton. He also had less desire to play basketball than any player in my memory. Smith was discussed in an LA Times article.

Smith could potentially offer an NBA team more than a slimmed-down physique capable of jostling with a legion of 7-footers. Said Newell: "Joshua's too big to arm guard. You might as well get a Mack truck to try to move him."

He's also a gifted passer who has soft hands to go with an impressive array of moves around the basket.

He recently was added to the Miami Heat's Summer League roster. Of course, the problem with Smith is does he want it? That has always been the issue. As the same LA Times article states:

Knock No. 3: He gets complacent. A promising freshman season with the Bruins was followed by what seemed like hibernation mode as a sophomore and junior. A breakout debut with the Hoyas led to a series of blah showings on the court and in the classroom, where Smith became academically ineligible.

Smith stopped putting in extra work and his production plummeted as his weight soared. His statistics dipped across the board during his sophomore season and he was barely playing as a junior when he announced he was leaving UCLA in November 2012.

His arrival at Georgetown resulted in another breakthrough, a 26-point game against Oregon in his debut with the Hoyas. It might have been the worst thing that could have happened.

Smith said he got lazy amid a schedule that included trips to South Korea and Puerto Rico, feeling like he was "on vacation." His siesta included repeated absences from class that made him academically ineligible.

Why am I talking about Josh Smith in my preview of last year's roster, because our current backup center is the exact opposite of Smith. Smith is fat and unmovable. Thomas Welsh is too skinny and in his first exhibition game was pushed out of the lane by players over half a foot shorter. Smith had some quickness for his size and had a respectable 27 steals his freshman year, more than defensive ace Malcolm Lee. BN Chrissorr pointed out that Thomas Welsh barely knew how to run and had an awkward gait. Smith was an unstoppable force close to the basket who would dominate the offense boards, Welsh prefers to shoot jumpers outside.

Yet there is no doubt Thomas Welsh will be a better Bruin. Because he wants "it."  Welsh, the stories go, asks the coaches every day after practice what he needs to do to get better. Unlike Smith who took the summers (and more) off Welsh is working hard on his game with the under 19 US team this summer. Welsh worked so hard just for a CHANCE to make the team:

In the time leading up to the national team tryouts, which were held at the high-altitude United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Welsh spent five days a week working with strength and conditioning coach Wes Long on his endurance. To prepare him to run up and down the court during fast stretches of play, Long put Welsh through interval training that kept him at near-maximum intensity levels for minute-long spans, rather than more typical 15-second bursts. Welsh also used a training mask that simulated the effects of high altitude.

"(Welsh) knows the value of strength and conditioning to his game," Long said. "He's a workhorse; he's asking to do extra work."

Often times we hear a coach say the player works hard, when was the last time you heard of a player "asking to do extra work"?!  Furthermore not even the fun stuff like shooting but strength and conditioning. . .  for a basketball player.  Welsh wants to the best he can be.

A highlight of Welsh scoring in the U19 is in the gif here. Welsh plays tomorrow at 10:30 on ESPNU for the under 19 team in the quarterfinal. U19 Coach Sean Miller (yes that Sean Miller of AZ) said:

We're getting great production from our center position - Thomas Welsh, Chinanu (Onauku) and Caleb (Swanigan). Every game that we've played, if you look statistically at what they bring to the table, it favors us and I thought they had another good night tonight.


Welsh only had double figures twice during the season and they were both early season games against lesser competition. But his best game is easy to pick despite the fact he only had 2 points.  It was the tournament game against SMU. Starting Center Tony Parker had as many turnovers as rebounds (2) and was just 1-6 from the field.  Welsh was ready to fill in and help out.

They won, thanks to a goaltending call against SMU that will be reviewed at every officiating clinic all summer, but also thanks to Welsh.

He blocked a shot with 33 seconds left, allowing Norman Powell to get two foul shots. He was setting screens for Bryce Alford's 9-for-11 day from the 3-point line. He got six rebounds in the first half against large Mustangs inside. . . .

Parker came out tired, maybe preoccupied by the exams UCLA is taking (Powell finished his Friday morning, before practice). Welsh's 22 minutes were his most since Jan. 24.

Talk about about being ready for your chance.


Here is where everyone wants to discuss playing Parker and Welsh together. Problem is, it does not work.  Ironically it could work on offense. The taller Welsh could play four on offense. Parker is only a five but a pretty good one at the PAC 12 level. On defense though, Parker's skill at playing close to the basket is underated. Oregon ate UCLA alive with Parker out with back spasms. Parker really clogs the lane. Parker is not quick enough to play 4. Welsh is similarly good at blocking shots and defending near the basket but is not capable of playing outside the paint.

Welsh is getting better but it is hard to think he will get quicker. Yes, UCLA can play a packed in zone but a good team will kill Parker or Welsh on the bottom wing. It is tough to imagine a twin towers defense. Plus Welsh and Parker drawn outside are just that much more likely to foul.

Thus I do not blame Alford for not playing Parker and Welsh together. It is also worth noting that Welsh at the end of the season was much better than Welsh at the beginning of the season.

I don't know how much more Alford could have used Welsh. I give him a B.


The offseason is the time to come up with a goofy gimmick that may fit your teams unique strengths and flaws. Try it and see if it works early in the season. It seems to me that Alford and Coach Schilling may need to come up with a unique zone or modified man that allows Parker and Welsh to play together some of the time. They are seemingly two of the better players on the team if Welsh continues to improve. However, if Parker continues to improve, I still think Parker should get more minutes than Welsh. (More on this later.)

Regardless, one thing is for sure, Welsh will do whatever the coach's ask of him and more. I'll close with another quote about his desire.

"I haven't seen anybody more interested in being coached," said assistant coach Ed Schilling. "He's always coming up to us, ‘How can I get better? What do I do now?'

Thank you, Thomas. Go Bruins.