UCLA’s wait continues as center Stephen Zimmerman picks UNLV

Five-star center Stephen Zimmerman announced his commitment to UNLV tonight, spurning Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA in favor of his hometown team.

Before Thursday, the 6-foot-11 prospect had been one of the top national recruits still undecided on their college destination. His choice leaves the Bruins — who are coming off back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16 — looking somewhat precarious in their quest to break back into the sport’s elite ranks.

A player like Zimmerman would have helped reinvigorate a frontcourt that lost Kevon Looney to the NBA draft. Through his first two years in Los Angeles, head coach Steve Alford has yet to construct a roster with depth across the court. Continue reading

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UCLA officially signs three-star forward Alex Olesinski

UCLA signed three-star forward Alex Olesinski to a national letter of intent today, officially bumping its 2015 recruiting class to three players.

The Bruins signed four-star guards Aaron Holiday and Prince Ali back in November’s early signing period. Olesinski projects as a stretch forward who can add depth to a team that recently lost reserve Wanaah Bail as an outbound transfer.

“Alex is a talented player who has very good size, a great understanding of the game, can really shoot the ball well and never takes a possession off,” head coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “He has developed a reputation as an extremely hard worker, both on the court and in the classroom, and comes from a high school that has embraced a winning culture.”

Several top recruits in the country remain uncommitted, such as five-star forward Jaylen Brown and center Stephen Zimmerman, but many of them don’t seem in a rush to announce a decision even as the second signing period begins.

Some may even opt for grant-in-aid agreements over letters of intent — the former binds only the school, not the athlete — as more and more elite prospects realize that they have the clout to keep their options open.

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UCLA’s Kevon Looney officially declares for the NBA draft

Kevon Looney has officially declared for the NBA draft, becoming the third player in the last three years to leave UCLA after his freshman season.

A five-star recruit out of Milwaukee, the 6-foot-9 forward averaged 11.6 points and 9.2 rebounds and made the All-Pac-12 second team. He sustained a facial fracture during the Pac-12 Tournament, but continued playing with a mask during the Bruins’ Sweet 16 run.

He is projected by many NBA mock drafts as a potential lottery pick.

“This was a really tough decision for me because there were so many positives both ways,” Looney said in a statement. “My time at UCLA has been unbelievable, and I know I’ll be a Bruin forever. But playing in the NBA is a dream I’ve had for so long, and this feels like the right time to pursue that dream and make the transition to the next level. Continue reading

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UCLA’s Kevon Looney could make NBA draft decision soon

UPDATE: Kevon Looney is close to choosing his representation, according to RealGM, and has plans to declare for the NBA draft.

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Kevon Looney has not yet announced whether or not he will leave UCLA and declare for the NBA draft, but head coach Steve Alford doesn’t think the wait will last much longer.

“I think it’ll probably be a quicker decision versus something that’s going to be drawn out,” Alford said.

Although the 6-foot-9 freshman forward left the door open for a return to school last week, it’s difficult to imagine him turning down a chance to become a lottery pick this June. Continue reading

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Post-season thoughts on the state of UCLA basketball

UCLA’s basketball offseason is nearly three days old. Before the post-hoops period of 2015 continues, Steve Alford is scheduled to speak to the media again on Tuesday afternoon.

Before then, here’s a couple of pieces from Sunday’s paper for anyone that missed them:
— My season recap on UCLA basketball, whose long-term future is still a bit unclear despite a Sweet 16 run.
— Columnist Tom Hoffarth talks to longtime UCLA announcer Chris Roberts about his retirement, and names a few of the candidates vying to replace him.

A thoughts on how the Bruins finished and where they’re going next …

1. UCLA’s going to back-to-back Sweet 16s doesn’t necessarily mean you should expect a third. The Bruins could certainly be better next season. They will have more depth in the backcourt, though losing freshman Kevon Looney would be a tremendous blow to the frontcourt. Gyorgy Goloman looks like a nice under-the-radar find, but I think he and center Thomas Welsh will pay bigger dividends as juniors rather than sophomores. Introducing former four-star recruit Jonah Bolden will help significantly; he spent his ineligible season transitioning from the four to the three, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts immediately.

But it is unreasonable to expect the type of good fortune that has followed UCLA these past two postseasons. The Bruins deserve credit for taking advantage of their opportunities, but drawing a double-digit seed twice in the round of 32 is as friendly a path as any team could hope to see. At least Stephen F. Austin was a team that was good enough to return to the NCAA Tournament this season; I’m not sure the same can be said for UAB, which was likely one of the 10 weakest teams in the whole field.

Let’s hazard a guess and say that the Bruins draw a No. 5- or 6-seed in next year’s NCAA Tournament. Will they be able to knock off a fourth- or third-seeded team to end the weekend? Continue reading

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