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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At a glance: No. 11-seed UCLA vs. No. 6-seed SMU

No. 11-seed UCLA (20-13) vs. No. 6-seed SMU (27-6)
Thursday, March 19, 12:10 p.m. PT (approximate start)
KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, Ky.)
NCAA Tournament — South Regional
TV: truTV (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)
Radio: AM 1150 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

Scouting report: There is good and bad that comes with Larry Brown — the good being that he is a very good basketball coach, and the bad being that he’s not likely to stick around very long. And for college programs, there’s the ugly too: NCAA violations tend to follow him.

Though his degree of involvement varied in the two cases — Brown essentially told Grantland he was in the wrong place at the wrong time in regards to UCLA’s vacated 1980 runner-up finish — the 74-year-old left both the Bruins and Kansas with sanctions in his wake. That might happen again at SMU, his third collegiate stop and the 13th team he has coached in his career.

On the court, there’s little disputing what Brown has done for the Mustangs. Before he was hired in 2012, SMU went 13-19 and ranked 281st and 121st nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively. The team had significantly improved by his second season, going 27-10 for a runner-up finish in the NIT after being snubbed from the Big Dance.

This year, the Mustangs are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993. In the aforementioned efficiency statistics, they now rank 25th (offense) and 42nd (defense) in the country. Although they don’t have any standout wins, all but one of their losses have come against tournament teams. The exception is an 81-73 loss at UConn on March 1, one it avenged two weeks later in the AAC title game.

With a deep, capable frontline that can rebound and defend the rim as well as most teams in the country — as well as a capable point guard in Nic Moore, the AAC Player of the Year — SMU is a team without many glaring weaknesses. Three of five starters are transfers, perhaps a testament to Brown’s ability to develop players that others once overlooked.

It’s fair to wonder how long this rise might last. Continue reading

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