UCLA Basketball welcomes the return of Star Defensive Player

 

The UCLA men's basketball program finally got a break when star defensive player Adem Bona announced his return to the Bruins for the 2023-2024 regular season. Bona had been considering entering the 2023 NBA draft, but a late season shoulder injury made it impossible for Bona to show his physical skills at the NBA combine.

The 6-foot-10 forward was selected as the 2023 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and made the Pac-12 All-Defensive team. Bona ranked second overall in the conference in field goal percentage at 67% and fifth in blocked shots with 1.7 blocks per game. Overall, Bona averaged 7.7 points per game and 5.3 points rebounds per game, while playing an average of 23 minutes per game.

The 2023-2024 Bruins squad will be led by Bona and fellow freshman Dylan Andrews. Bona was a McDonalds All-American in high school and Andrews was a four-star combo guard who will take over at point guard for the departed Tyger Campbell. UCLA head coach Mick Cronin has called Andrews the fastest player with the ball in his hands that he has ever coached.

Reserve guard Will McClendon will likely become the starting shooting guard, although he will have competition. The Bruins are adding combo guard Jan Vide from Slovenia. Vide is considered a talented guard who could be a one-and-done at UCLA. Talented French 6-foot-6 wing Illane Fibleuill will challenge for playing time. Fibleuill is considered a very athletic wing player with a lot of upside.

The Bruins picked up a transfer from Utah in Lars Stefanovic, a 6-foot-7 guard/forward. Stefanovic averaged 10.2 points per game for Utah in 2022-2023, shooting 36% on three-point shots and 86% at the free throw line. He led Utah in steals with 34. He started 33 games in two seasons with Utah.

According to 247sports, the UCLA recruiting class ranks 13th overall and includes a trio of four-star recruits: Guard Sebastian Mack out of Coronado high school in Henderson, Nevada; Power Forward Devin Williams of Centennial high school in Corona; Power Forward Brandon Williams from Christ The King Regional high school in Middle Village, New York.

A good roster and the Bruins are not done yet. The Bruins are hoping to land Aday Mara, a 7-foot-3 center from Spain. He is a strong favorite to sign with UCLA. Mara is considered a future lottery pick in the NBA. Mara reminds NBA scouts of former Laker star Pau Gasol, who is also from Spain. Mara has good footwork, is an excellent passer, a shot blocker in the middle, can score inside or outside. He runs the floor well.

Mara's addition to the roster would make the Bruins a tough team to score on inside with his presence inside along with Bona. The Bruins also return center veteran center Kenny Nwuba, who brings toughness and leadership to the team. The Bruins would have a young talented roster that might struggle early. But by the NCAA tournament, the Bruins could be difficult for any team in the country to deal with and a favorite to make the Final Four.

This younger lineup will be challenged to replace the loss of forward Jaime Jaquez, Jr., the loss of guard Amari Bailey, the loss of guard Jaylen Clark, and the loss of Campbell. Those four starters are headed to professional careers, with Jaquez, Bailey, and Clark likely to be selected in the NBA draft. The Bruins also loss guard David Singleton, a three-point shooting specialist, who is probably headed for a coaching career.

Cronin is going to need to lean on Andrews and Bona early next season to provide on the court leadership. Stefanovic’s playing experience at Utah will help and Nwuba has played in 90 games in his career, including 11 NCAA Tournament games. They Bruins have a foundation of defense under Cronin and that should help with the transition to the younger roster.

 

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