2016-2017 Season Review
It was a season that UCLA fans had been waiting for. The Bruins had their first 30 win season since 2007-2008, going 31-5 (15-3). That included wins at Kentucky and at Arizona in the regular season, among other big wins. Led by freshman phenom Lonzo Ball, the Bruins played a fast paced, entertaining style of basketball that had everyone on the edge of their seats. They put up 89.8 PPG, which was second best in the country. They were ranked in the top 11 from November 28th on, peaking at #2 for four weeks. Steve Alford’s crew earned a #3 seed in the Big Dance, where they beat Kent State and Cincinnati to reach the Sweet 16. Their season was cut shorter than UCLA fans would’ve liked, though, when the Bruins fell to Kentucky in the regional semi-finals.
The man who most tuned into see and made everyone around him better, Lonzo Ball, is gone after one season (as expected) with the Bruins. Ball declared for the NBA Draft and was the #2 pick by the Lakers. Lonzo was a stat stuffer, putting up a 14.6/6.0/7.8 line, in addition to getting 1.8 steals per game and hitting 80 threes at a 41.2% clip. Ball was a consensus first team All-American and a Naismith Award finalist. Another guy that declared for the NBA Draft after his freshman season was TJ Leaf. The 6’10 forward led the Bruins in scoring with 16.3 PPG, while also grabbing 8.2 RPG. Leaf was very efficient, shooting 61.7% from the field. He was a first team All Pac-12 selection. Steve Alford’s son, Bryce Alford, is gone after four very good seasons in a UCLA uniform. In his senior campaign, Alford was a first team All Pac-12 selection. He scored 15.5 PPG and set a school single season record by hitting 116 threes. Also gone after graduating is Isaac Hamilton, who put up some big numbers as well. Hamilton averaged 14.1 PPG and 3.6 RPG, and he also hit 74 threes. 6’10 big man Ike Anigbogu made a surprising decision to declare for the NBA Draft after his freshman season. Anigbogu averaged 4.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG and 1.2 BPG.
With all the losses they were already facing, UCLA got some great news when two key pieces announced they were returning for this season. One of them was Aaron Holiday, a 6’1 junior guard that averaged 12.3 PPG, 4.4 APG and shot 41.1% from three. That was all well being in the shadow of Ball, Hamilton and Alford, so it’ll be exciting to see what he does this year when he’s more of the go-to-guy.
The other big returner is Thomas Welsh, a 7’0 senior that scored 10.8 PPG, grabbed a team high 8.7 RPG and blocked 1.3 shots per games. Welsh will be a legit threat to average a double-double this season.
Also returning is Gyorgy Goloman. The 6’10 senior put up 3.7 PPG and 2.4 RPG in 11.5 MPG last season and should see an expanded role. 6’9 senior Ikenna Okwarabizie, who only played in 12 games last season, could also see a larger role. The Bruins also return two guys that missed last season with injuries. Prince Ali, a 6’3 RS sophomore, missed last season with a torn meniscus. As a freshman Ali played 11.8 MPG and scored 3.9 PPG. He’ll be a large part of the Bruin’s success this season. 6’10 RS sophomore Alex Olesinski missed last season with a foot injury after a freshman season that saw him appear in 23 games.
Steve Alford brings in the #4 rated recruiting class according to 247Sports. Headlining that class is 6’8 Kris Wilkes, the #21 rated player in the 2017 class and #7 SF. Wilkes is still a little raw as a player, but he is extremely long and athletic and that alone should cause fits for opposing teams.
The #22 player in the class and the third rated PG, Jaylen Hands will look to step into the PG spot with Lonzo Ball gone. Hands is more of a score first point guard that is extremely explosive and can create shots. He can score from all three levels. He does need to improve on becoming a more true PG.
6’7 Cody Riley is a four star recruit that is the #10 rated PF in the class. Riley is very strong and tough, making him a good rebounder and a tough player to stop around the hoop. 6’8 Jalen Hill is another four star forward that is a great shot blocker and rebounder, but a player that is very raw on offense. Chris Smith is a 6’8 three to four star forward that has a great frame but is also pretty raw has a player. He is a high potential player, we just may not see it this season. Rounding out the class is the second brother of the Ball family, LiAngelo Ball. LiAngelo is a strong 6’5 three star recruit that is an excellent shooter. He definitely is the weakest of the three Ball brothers, though, and likely won’t have a big role for the Bruins this year.
It will definitely be step back from last season in terms of talent, but UCLA should still have a nice squad that should be a preseason top 25 team. Mix Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welsh, and Prince Ali with the newcomers and you have a team that could be a second weekend type team come March. I think they’re definitely a class below Arizona and USC in the Pac-12, but they should compete for that third spot in the league. Steve Alford has another team that should be really exciting to watch.