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UCLA Men’s Basketball Brings in Big Potential with 2018 Freshman Class

| Sports | April 19, 2018

The NCAA Men’s Basketball season came to a close recently, so all sights are set on the 2018-2019 season. The nation’s best high school recruits have all chosen the schools they’ll be suiting up for, and the anticipation is mounting to see which of these prospects help their respective programs make it to the pinnacle of college basketball, cutting down the nets as national champions.

In the mix is UCLA, after having yet another successful offseason. When all is said and done, the Bruins are projected to have a top-five recruiting class, strengthened by the additions of Moses Brown and Tyger Campbell, who both signed their National Letters of Intent on April 11. Although both will be true freshmen at the start of the new season, they have the potential to fill the voids left from losing Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday.

Campbell is a pass-first point guard who should be looked to as the engine of the offense any time he is on the court. He is a bit undersized, at 6-foot and 170 pounds, but his stature has not limited the impact he makes.

When going one-on-one with a defender, Campbell has the ball-handling skills to get separation and create his own shot. These same abilities are what allow him to penetrate the paint and score at the rim against much taller defenders. Even if he doesn’t score, Campbell can draw fouls and get his points at the free-throw line.

A pass-first point guard has to have incredibly good court vision, a trait that Campbell doesn’t lack in the slightest. This comes in handy when multiple defenders are required to stop Campbell from scoring at the rim, leaving another offensive player wide open. Campbell has the vision to find his open teammate, often leading to easy points. The one flaw with great court vision is that a passer may believe he can pass the ball to a tightly defended player, which can lead to turnovers.

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Jaylen Hands is the projected starter at point guard, following a freshman season that saw him score just shy of 10 points per game, and register four rebounds and three assists per game as well. A bench role will give Campbell time to adapt to the speed of the collegiate game and the strength of the players in it. He will also be matched up against second string point guards, giving Campbell an opportunity to display his many talents.

Brown gives the Bruins something they were lacking last season, a true center. This isn’t to say Welsh wasn’t a fantastic center in his time at Westwood, but Brown plays the position in a completely different way. Welsh is a stretch center who can collect double-digit rebounds and hit shots from any spot on the court. Brown is a more prototypical big man, who can protect the rim, and score with his back to the basket.

At 7-foot 1-inch and 241 pounds, Brown is a long-limbed center that any opposing offensive player will find difficult to score on. Brown’s presence in the paint should lead to teams trying to score on UCLA with jump shots. How the Bruins’ defense responds will be a story to follow when the season tips off, but forcing an opposing team into trying to win from the outside is a solid defensive strategy.

More jump shots will also lead to more rebounds, which Brown has no trouble collecting. In the 2018 McDonald’s All American Game, Brown was tied for sixth most rebounds, with five, in just 13 total minutes – the least amount of playing time for any player. With more floor time, it’s not hard to fathom Brown averaging nearly 10 rebounds per game.
The 2018 McDonald’s All American Game gave a glimpse of another one of Brown’s strengths – efficient scoring. He scored 11 points on 63 percent shooting from the field. Brown is able to score so easily because all of his offense takes place at the rim. He can post up any defender willing to go toe-to-toe with him, and has the footwork to make said defender pay. Brown is also strong enough to finish through contact, however his free-throw shooting needs improvement before it can be seen as a legitimate threat.

If Brown isn’t the player taking the shot on offense, he has a knack for corralling offensive rebounds and turning them into second chance points. This makes him a double-double threat on any given night.

The Bruins will be returning Hands, Kris Wilkes and Prince Ali, and will be looking to atone for a 2017-2018 season that ended in a 65-58 loss to St. Bonaventure in the First Four of the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Tournament. The additions of Brown and Campbell, as well as three other four-star recruits in Shareef O’Neal, Jules Bernard, and David Singleton III, helps fill out UCLA’s roster with young, athletic talent.

Yet again, the Bruins have a roster ripe with potential, and it is now up to Steve Alford to mold this talent into a top-ranked team. There is no reason this rendition of UCLA’s men’s basketball should be barely squeaking into March Madness. If all goes the way it should, the 2018 Bruins can rival the success of 2016, where Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf led the team to the Sweet 16. Only time will tell if this will be the case, but bringing Brown and Campbell into the fold are steps in the right direction.

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About Keir Chapman

Keir Chapman began his career in sports journalism as Sports Director for iCLU Radio in Thousand Oaks. After graduating from California Lutheran University in 2013, Keir used his experiences as a writer and a college basketball player in a weekly blog for the New York based athletic gear company, True Athelite. Now, Keir makes weekly appearances on the Doug and John show on KHTS as Mr. Sports and is happy to contribute to the Santa Clarita Gazette.

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