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UCLA Men’s Basketball: Incoming Freshman Bring Raw Talent to This Year’s Team

Welsh and Holiday will provide leadership for the Bruins’ young guns.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Oregon
Bryce Alford and TJ Leaf are gone, but Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh will look to guide this year’s group of talented freshmen.
Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Lonzo Ball may be gone but the Ball family is still the spotlight. As Media Day to the Media was all about the Balls. The AP had the following story “LiAngelo Ball center of attention at UCLA media day”:

Cameras and cellphones captured the moment Wednesday as LiAngelo Ball walked toward the center of the court at Pauley Pavilion....

The Ball family was thrust into a media spotlight thanks to the brothers’ outspoken father, LaVar. Lonzo Ball played just one year at UCLA, where the Bruins finished 31-5 and lost to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. LiAngelo follows this season. LaVar Ball has pulled his youngest son, LaMelo, out of high school and has said he’s home-schooling him.

Ball is one of seven freshmen joining the Bruins, but, clearly, is the most heralded because of the name on the back of his jersey.

In a very real sense, this is fake news. Gelo is not the best player, nor the key, nor even the best freshman. It really is about something that no one is talking about. Actually, Aaron Holiday said it best when asked about the new group this year. Holiday said, “Very Athletic. Length all across the Board.”

Thanks to Thuc Nhi Nguyen of InsideSoCal for sharing each of today’s videos.

The key to that additional athleticism is two new freshman replacing the seniors Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton. Jaylen Hands is the first two-way point guard that UCLA has had during Steve Alford’s tenure. Even if he plays the two because Aaron Holiday is point or co-point, he will be a major upgrade in athleticism. Hands is a young freshman full of gusto. Yesterday, Hands said, “I think we can win the whole thing.”

Even more important is Kris Wilkes. Wilkes will be a major improvement in length and athleticism over Isaac Hamilton. Wilkes is a relative rarity in college basketball today, a true small forward. Wilkes is mellow and overwhelmed in comparison to Hands. He talked about his coming from Indiana and about how he seems to be enjoying LA as well as one of the UCLA differences. Wilkes said, “Coming out here is an eye opener. Most other colleges are college towns....This is a pro town. The [NBA] GMs come in here [to watch].”

Again, UCLA has a huge advantage in recruiting because of this.

Of course, the influx of freshmen is balanced out, at least a little, by the senior leadership of Thomas Welsh. Welsh spoke about the differences between this year and last year. “We have a lot of freshmen coming in this year,” Welsh said. “So there's definitely going to be a different look. But, I mean I think we can expect hopefully the same from this season in terms of how we do....There’s a lot of things to be excited about.”

Steve Alford’s interview contained a lot of it is coach speak. Alford is happy to have the circle logo back at center court. This year, “we are deeper, longer, more athletic....I like the blend, but it is going to take time.”

And, of course, Alford was asked about Gelo.

The reality is Steve Alford has a raw team with a lot of talent. Can he make it gel, especially on defense? Time will tell. One thing is certain: he needs to do it to justify that contract.