UCLA center Thomas Welsh is the only returning starter for the Bruins this year. (Harry How/Getty Images)
Senior Thomas Welsh was named to the watch list for the Kareen Abdul-Jabbar Award, which honors the nation’s top center.
Welsh averaged 10.8 points and a team-high 8.7 rebounds last year while helping the Bruins to the Sweet 16. He has started 58 of UCLA’s 68 games in the past two seasons.
The 20-man preseason watch list announced Friday will be narrowed down to 10 in February and five finalists will be announced in March, with the winner named on April 6.
Here’s the full watch list:
2018 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award Candidates
Dusan Ristic Arizona
Austin Wiley Auburn
Kingsley Okoroh California
Tacko Fall Central Florida
Marques Bolden Duke
John Egbunu Florida
Jessie Govan Georgetown
Ben Lammers Georgia Tech
Nick Richards Kentucky
Omer Yurtseven N.C. State
Isaac Haas Purdue
Jock Landale Saint Mary’s
Angel Delgado Seton Hall
Michael Humphrey Stanford
Vladimir Brodziansky TCU
Mohamed Bamba Texas
Tyler Davis Texas A&M Thomas Welsh UCLA
Chimezie Metu USC
Ethan Happ Wisconsin
UCLA center Thomas Welsh played his role in the nation’s best offense ever better than it appeared. (Harry How/Getty Images)
Strengths: Thomas Welsh was UCLA’s sixth offensive option. It’s a testament to the junior center that he still managed to average double figures. Starting alongside a couple of first-round draft picks and two of the most prolific scorers in UCLA history, Welsh played his role in the nation’s highest-scoring offense even better than it appeared. Nobody on UCLA’s roster shot a better percentage on 2-point jumpers than the 7-foot junior, according to hoop-math.com. Welsh’s 52 percent clip on 2-pointers not at the rim wasn’t the only pure shooting statistic for which he posted UCLA’s most impressive number. He led the team with an 89.4 free throw percentage. And it wasn’t a small sample size. Welsh made 42 of 47 free throws this season.
Weaknesses: Welsh was not a rim protector, a stark contrast to his more athletic and less-played backup, freshman Ike Anigbogu. He made up for some of his physical shortcomings on the defensive end with solid team defense and a team-leading 8.7 rebounds per game, but there is no denying Welsh was a finesse player on a team that had too many of them. He wasn’t a presence in the paint on either end of the floor, attempting just 21 percent of his field goals at the rim. Power forward TJ Leaf, by comparison, took 51 percent of his shots at the rim. UCLA’s glaring weakness was physical play and their center was an apt representation for why.
Aaron Holiday (left) and Thomas Welsh will both declare for the NBA draft, but neither will hire an agent. (AP photo/Mark Humphrey)
UCLA sophomore Aaron Holiday and junior Thomas Welsh will declare for the NBA draft, a UCLA spokesperson confirmed on Monday. Neither will hire agents, meaning they have until May 24 to withdraw their names in order to return to school.
Neither player is projected to be selected in the draft. ESPN rates Holiday the No. 80 NBA prospect and Welsh No. 119. NBADraft.net ranks Holiday and Welsh 61st and 85th, respectively.
They may be declaring primarily to workout for NBA teams and gather information about how best to prepare for the league when they do leave school for good. UCLA coach Steve Alford’s statement about their decision indicated as much.
“Both Thomas and Aaron are doing their due diligence in getting feedback from the NBA to determine what’s in the best interest for their basketball futures,” Alford said. “Each of these young men come from strong families with great support networks and I want them to know that we will fully support their decisions, whichever way they go.”
Thomas Welsh, with his midrange jumper, is one of many potent weapons UCLA has on offense. HARRY HOW — GETTY IMAGES
UCLA loves to run. Cincinnati loves to wait.
The team that successfully imposes its will on offense will likely be the one to emerge from Sunday’s NCAA Tournament second-round matchup between the No. 3-seeded Bruins and the No. 6-seeded Bearcats at 6:40 p.m. PT in Sacramento.
“We’ve got to keep that ball moving whether we’re at half court or at the full court,” UCLA head coach Steve Alford said. “We’ve got to make sure our spacing is good, our cutting is sharp, our screens are good and physical and the ball moves. If it doesn’t and it becomes a grind that favors them.”
UCLA (30-4) is trying to advance to its third Sweet 16 in four years under Alford. Cincinnati (30-5) is in its seventh straight NCAA Tournament.