‘Everyone’s a free agent’: UCLA is heading into what could be its wildest offseason

By | March 17, 2024

UCLA coach Mick Cronin talks with Dylan Andrews during a game against Arizona State on March 9. Cronin has a lot of decisions to make after the Bruins’ disappointing season. (David Dennis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Dylan Andrews made his way through the T-Mobile Arena locker room, from one teammate to the next.

The UCLA point guard exchanged claps, hugs and words of encouragement, his eyes glistening with tears from a season that had reached its cruel end.

There was no way of knowing who he was saying goodbye to for the last time.

While nearly every player on the Bruins roster remains eligible, they all have decisions to make about their futures.

Should they return for another season together? Declaring for the NBA draft? Looking for more playing time with another team? Back to Europe? See what kind of name, image and likeness they could get elsewhere?

“Look, it’s all crazy,” coach Mick Cronin said Thursday of the new world order in college basketball after the Bruins were eliminated from the Pac-12 Tournament in a quarterfinal loss to Oregon. “Everyone is a free agent. It is what it is. We will handle it all.”

Read more: Dylan Andrews and UCLA can’t conjure last-second magic after a losing season

The math of the stock market is not as simple as it seems. UCLA currently has one available, and there’s a good chance more will be used in the coming weeks as player decisions trickle in like election results.

The only known moves involve the departure of sixth-year center Kenneth Nwuba and the arrival of freshman guard Eric Freeny from Corona Centennial.

But sophomore Adem Bona could declare for the NBA draft and a host of others could either look for a more prominent role or more NIL dollars with other college teams. Bona’s situation will be most closely watched after he finished the season as the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Currently not being selected in the first round of the draft, Bona must weigh the risk of ending up on a two-way contract that could pay him around $500,000 versus returning and improving his professional stock while he would probably earn as much or more. in NIL money.

If he returns to UCLA for another season, he can further improve his offense and work on eliminating his tendency to commit unforced errors that limit his playing time. Those improvements could be enough to move Bona into the first round of the 2025 NBA draft.

UCLA forward Adem Bona dunks against Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament on Wednesday.UCLA forward Adem Bona dunks against Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament on Wednesday.

UCLA forward Adem Bona dunks against Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament on Wednesday. (John Locher/Associated Press)

His eyes glowed with emotion after playing just 17 foul-plagued minutes in what might have been his final college game, but Bona declined to speak to reporters in the locker room afterward.

Meanwhile, Andrews, junior guard Lazar Stefanovic and freshman guard Jan Vide told The Times they planned to return next season to put it back together with a core group that would no longer include one of the youngest teams in college basketball after their selection consisted of seven first-year students. three second-year students.

“If this whole team comes back,” Andrews said, “it would be special. You know, we’ve had a year of great experience now.

Andrews’ return is crucial for next season given his surge in production, averaging 21.2 points over his last six games. Stefanovic will continue to fill a crucial role after averaging a team-high 6.1 rebounds and making 38.9% of his three-pointers in his first season as a Bruin after transferring from Utah.

Vide’s playing time increased last week, which may have been an incentive to return after he averaged just 7.3 minutes this season. The Slovenian native was one of four freshmen who arrived from Europe with much fanfare to make only modest contributions as they struggled to adapt to the college game.

“It’s a big change,” Vide said. “The pace [in Europe] is much slower compared to here, there is more physicality and I play with other guys who are about 24 years old and are practically men.

Freshman center Aday Mara (Spain) showed the most promise of the pack, his sky hooks starting to fall and his blocks piling up during the final weeks of the season. Freshman forward Berke Buyuktuncel (Turkey) was hampered by injuries and inconsistency on his way to averaging 4.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 16.3 minutes per game. Freshman guard Ilane Fibleuil (France) only got spot minutes, mostly for defensive purposes.

Read more: Waiting to enter Pauley Pavilion for UCLA basketball games can be a real love line

Freshman forward Brandon Williams has battled fatigue and illness in recent weeks after earning a spot in the starting lineup, but would likely play a key role when he returns next season. Freshman forward Devin Williams (no relation) needs to improve his strength to get additional playing time after averaging just 3.2 minutes in 10 games.

Given the demands of his plan, which could take a season or more to master, Cronin must balance the need for continuity with upgrading the talent level through the transfer portal. Among their top needs, the Bruins could use an experienced post player as insurance for Bona’s potential departure, another point guard to offset Andrews’ heavy workload and more shooting on the wing after making a disappointing 33.2% of their three-pointers.

“It’s hard when you ask guys to do things that they’re not ready for, that they’re not trained for yet,” Cronin said of the shortcomings of a team that posted a 16-17 record while also ending made about the coach’s period. streak of appearances in 12 consecutive NCAA tournaments. “Unless your talent outweighs your inexperience, it’s really, really difficult. And our talent has not replaced our inexperience this year. That’s why I had to ask a lot of guys to do things they weren’t quite ready for.”

Stefanovic acknowledged that just coming back won’t be enough for the Bruins to have the kind of success they want in their debut Big Ten season.

“There is great potential,” Stefanovic said, “but we have to do our best and remember what this felt like and use it throughout the offseason to really reach our potential.”

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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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