For the last few years, one of the hottest names in Southern California high school basketball has been guard Joshua Christopher.
And for the last few decades, UCLA men’s basketball has been a titan of college hoops with an intense hold on recruiting in and around Los Angeles.
Christopher and UCLA may have seemed like a match made in heaven, but times have changed, as the five-star Christopher is seemingly on his way to the Midwest and the Bruins are on the verge of losing another local star.
Tracy Pierson of Bruin Report Online reported Jan. 8 that Christopher is almost certain he will be committing to Michigan. The Wolverines currently boast the nation’s No. 4 recruiting class in the 2020 cycle, with a five-star and two four-stars committed and a third four-star locked in with a National Letter of Intent.
The decision of one high schooler is never something that can sink a program, but it is emblematic of a handful of problems UCLA has found on the recruiting trail in recent years.
UCLA has five-star guard Daishen Nix locked in for next season, but the Bruins’ one-man class is still only ranked No. 76 in the country. Prior to hauling in the No. 77 class last offseason, they hadn’t fallen outside of the nation’s top 25 since 2011.
Up until last week, 100% of recruiting insiders from 247Sports were predicting Christopher would sign with UCLA. The shooting guard out of Mayfair High School – located in Lakewood, California – is the No. 11 player in his class and averaged 25.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game his junior year.
This wouldn’t be the first time in recent memory the Bruins let a five-star player slip out of their own backyard.
Forward Marvin Bagley III played his high school career at Sierra Canyon High School, but the week after he made his official visit to Westwood, he committed to Duke and went on to be the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Just last April, experts unanimously predicted combo guard Cassius Stanley – another Sierra Canyon product – would become a Bruin, but he too signed with the Blue Devils and has started 16 games for them so far this season.
Duke is a true blue-blood like UCLA, so there is no real shame in losing any one prospect to coach Mike Krzyzewski, but trends can manifest themselves into tangible problems very quickly.
Michigan is no blue-blood – despite the program’s well-documented success in the early 1990s – but it does continue to win at a high level. The Wolverines went to two Final Fours last decade, and they were ranked as high as No. 4 in the AP poll this season.
While Krzyzewski has been with Duke since 1980, Juwan Howard is in his first year at Michigan and is still recruiting at an elite level. The excuse that UCLA coach Mick Cronin isn’t able to reel in top prospects because it is still his first year with the Bruins simply doesn’t hold up.
The fact of the matter is that UCLA has clearly taken a tumble from its previously unmatched position atop college basketball, and historically lesser programs are starting to get a leg up on the recruiting trail with more contemporary success on the court.
The Bruins also aren’t the only ones trying to establish a presence in Los Angeles either – there’s a rival from the other side of town who has been doing a better job of that recently, too.
USC hauled in two five-stars as part of the No. 7 class in 2019 and followed that up by signing the nation’s No. 1 player in the class of 2020, Evan Mobley, to an NLI in November. Mobley and the two five-stars in the Trojans’ 2019 class were all from Southern California and were once Bruin targets.
UCLA has historically had three things going for it on the recruiting trail – geography, brand recognition and winning.
But the geography isn’t an exclusive advantage to the Bruins, and the brand takes a hit when the wins aren’t coming. Cronin can’t make USC disappear, so he’ll have to do his best to make sure those other two traits are satisfied at the highest level.
In the meantime, Cronin and the UCLA fanbase can’t expect to bank on a faltering reputation and losing seasons to reel in the best players available.