UCLA’s Ball, Leaf, Alford, Welsh make mid-season award lists

Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf are in the running for several of college basketball’s top awards

Naismith Men’s College Basketball Player of the Year
Freshman Lonzo Ball was the only UCLA representative on the 50-player preseason watch list for college basketball’s most prestigious award. The Bruins freshman point guard will almost assuredly be one of the 30 players on the mid-season watch list when it’s announced on Thursday. He was one of six Pac-12 players on the preseason list along with Waghington’s Markelle Fultz, Cal’s Ivan Rabb, Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen and Oregon’s Dillon Brooks and Chris Boucher.

As a pass-first point guard, Ball will largely be judged on UCLA’s win total and the Bruins aren’t too shabby in that department with 20 victories in their first 23 games. The 6-foot-6 freshman is the only player in the country averaging at least 10 points, seven assists and four rebounds. Ball’s actual averages are 14.8 points, eight assists and 5.8 rebounds.

TJ Leaf was added to the Wooden award watch list at the mid-season mark


John R. Wooden Award (Player of the Year)
Ball and classmate TJ Leaf are two of 25 to crack the mid-season watch list for an award that carries plenty of weight in Westwood – it’s sponsored by the Los Angeles Athletic Club. It was no surprise that Ball was among the preseason top 50 for the award. Leaf, however, was not.

The committee gave a nod to Leaf’s particularly high level of play through the freshman’s first 17 games, adding the 6-foot-10 forward to the pool of candidates on Jan. 11 while subtracting more than 25 from the preseason list. Leaf is averaging a team-high 17 points and 8.9 rebounds. He is shooting 64 percent from the field, the 19th-best mark in the country.

The complete John R. Wooden Award Mid-Season Watch List:
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State, Soph., G
Lonzo Ball, UCLA, Fr., G
Joel Berry II, North Carolina, Jr., G Continue reading

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UCLA’s Thomas Welsh named to Pac-12 All-Academic second team

UCLA center Thomas Welsh is the first Bruin named to a Pac-12 All-Academic team since 2010. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Archive)

UCLA center Thomas Welsh is the first Bruin named to a Pac-12 All-Academic team since 2010. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Archive)

Thomas Welsh has been named to the Pac-12 All-Academic second team, becoming the first UCLA men’s basketball player to receive such honors since 2010.

The sophomore center maintained a 3.18 GPA in economics while averaging 11.2 points and 8.5 rebounds this past season. He led the team with 10 double-doubles, but head coach Steve Alford never found a way to best utilize both him and senior big man Tony Parker in the same lineup en route to a 15-17 record.

Welsh is the first Bruin to win conference academic honors since Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, a little-used reserve who earned a first-team nod with a 3.81 GPA in global studies. Malcolm Lee made the second team behind him that same season.

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UCLA moves center Tony Parker back into starting lineup

UCLA senior big man Tony Parker (23) returned to the starting lineup against Colorado on Saturday after five straight games as a reserve. (David Crane/Staff)

UCLA senior big man Tony Parker (23) returned to the starting lineup against Colorado on Saturday after five straight games as a reserve. (David Crane/Staff)

After five games on the bench, UCLA’s Tony Parker is back in the starting lineup — though not at his old spot.

Against Colorado on Saturday night, the 6-foot-9 big man became the Bruins’ No. 1 center, filling the role for the first time as a senior. For much of this season, the former four-star recruit played as a power forward next to 7-foot sophomore Thomas Welsh. In the last five games, he took to the bench as head coach Steve Alford finally abandoned the “big-big” lineup — one that had become too much of a defensive liability.

Forward Jonah Bolden remained in the starting lineup for the sixth straight game, while Welsh became the team’s backup center for the first time this season. Earlier this week, Bolden was asked how playing next to Parker rather than Welsh changes his role on offense.

“I know Tom can shoot the ball better than Tony,” the sophomore said, “but Tony is more post, gets the ball lower. I can move off him. He gets the ball low, they double him, I cut. With Thomas, he gets the ball wide.”

Against the Buffaloes, the Bruins are (14-12, 5-8) trying to climb back to .500 in conference play in the midst of the most underwhelming season of the Alford era.

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USC 80, UCLA 61: Thomas Welsh

Thomas Welsh talked about UCLA’s 80-61 loss at USC, one that the Bruins’ opened by falling into a 9-0 hole. According to the sophomore center, the ugly offensive start trickled into the team’s defensive play too.

“That’s not the way it should be,” he said. “You should always be able to play hard on the defensive side of the ball, but we just weren’t making shots. It was downhill from there.”

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