Cody Riley is finally getting to play. Riley has spent the last year living with his part in the shoplifting incident in China, so much so that people forget who he was and who he could be. So, let’s start out with who he was. When Riley was a high school prospect, ESPN wrote this of him on their recruiting profile:
Riley is a physical specimen with long arms, big hands, and a solid amount of explosiveness. Despite his size and strength advantage, his go-to move is his feathery jump shot out to 17-feet. The release on his shot is smooth and his mechanics are solid all-around.
Riley was a Top 50 prospect recruited by not just UCLA but others such as Kansas and Arizona. In fact, his whole childhood was spent in the basketball spotlight. ESPN’s Joel Anderson wrote this about Riley:
There was Riley, who once earned recognition as the country’s top-ranked middle schooler and helped build the basketball program at Sierra Canyon School into a home for the talented progeny of former NBA dads such as Scottie Pippen and Kenyon Martin.
And, now, to the elephant in the room: China. I regularly said last year that the loss of LiAngelo Ball may have been a blessing to get rid of the freak show around LaVar Ball, that Jalen Hill was a likely redshirt, and that the loss of Riley did hurt.
To Riley’s credit, he was the first to speak at the infamous press conference. At the time, ESPN wrote:
“I want to start off by saying how embarrassed and ashamed I am,” he said, reading from a sheet of paper. He looked up and sighed. “I feel terrible, and I’m sorry to everybody who I have let down.”
Cody’s apology and feelings seemed genuine and it was reinforced by a statement by Steve Alford in December in formally announcing that Riley and Jalen Hill’s suspensions would last the entire season.
’’Since returning from China, they have done everything asked of them and continued to work hard in the classroom and in their own personal workouts,’’ Alford said in that statement.
But, unfortunately, not all the drama was over. Tracy Pierson of Bruin Report Online wrote an article suggesting that Riley wouldn’t return to UCLA for the coming season due to academic issues. In it, Pierson wrote:
The most likely of the four not to return, from what sources are indicating, is Riley, due to not being in good academic standing at UCLA. Sources are telling us Riley isn’t even enrolled at UCLA for the spring quarter. It was a bit puzzling why Riley, who was suspended for the 2017-2018 season due to the shoplifting incident in China, put his name in the NBA Draft, but it makes sense now in light of recent information about his academics.
Of course, Bruin Report Online was wrong, but the rumors persisted. I was asked in comments here on Bruins Nation if Riley was coming back over the summer as the rumor persisted that he was kicked out because of academics. I’m not sure there was any truth to his academic woes, but Riley did miss a number of practices from being banged up with relatively minor injuries.
But, he was there Saturday night and playing for UCLA. It was his second EXHIBITION game as a Bruin. And, he showed something. He can move, not like Moses Brown, but better than say GG Goloman or Alex Olesinski last year. He hit a three, not like TJ Leaf, but looked good outside. He had steals and rebounds. He is not going to be any threat to be a point, but he can dribble and pass. Oh, and he is big.
The moral of the story is Riley gives something that has often been missing in the Alford era: a rebounding true stretch four. Leaf and Kevon Looney were legitimate college stretch fours but the other starting fours David Wear, Jonah Bolden, and Goloman averaged under five rebounds a game. (I realize Alford often started two fives during Bolden’s year. But when he did start a four, it was Bolden.)
And, again, Riley looks like a man. While the scouts’ focus is going to be on Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands, and Moses Brown at games, Riley may be the other guy that gets their attention.
Or, he could be the knucklehead who stole sunglasses, actually does have academic problems, or just keeps getting hurt.
I am hoping he is the pleasant surprise. The potential is there.