UCLA men’s basketball rebuilds with leadership of Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tyger Campbell
UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin walks on the sideline during a game. While the Bruins will return some veterans, Cronin will have a new-look roster in 2022. (Daily Bruin file photo)
By Jon Christon
Oct. 7, 2022 1:55 p.m.
This post was updated Oct. 11 at 9:19 p.m.
Mick Cronin returned nearly his entire roster in 2021.
Chemistry from the Bruins’ bubble NCAA Tournament run remained in the locker room, sets taught the year before were carried over and players and coaches knew exactly what was expected from one another.
This year, though, is a whole new ball game.
“I just told myself, ‘Look, you don’t have a returning Final Four team,’” said Cronin, the men’s basketball coach. “These guys don’t know.”
Cronin and select UCLA men’s basketball players spoke to the media at Mo Ostin Basketball Center before their morning practice Thursday. It was the first media availability of the year for the Bruins and the first chance to catch a glimpse of the blue and gold’s new roster heading into the 2022-2023 campaign.
UCLA had six new players on the practice court, four of whom are on scholarship, while two more players with freshman eligibility were back in uniform after missing all of last season with injuries.
“It’s a lot of teaching,” Cronin said.
But Cronin won’t be doing the teaching by himself. Despite losing more than half of his minutes and scoring production from a year ago, the coach still has a handful of veterans at his disposal who he said will be vital in bridging the gap between new and old.
Leading the charge are All-Pac-12 honorees senior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. and redshirt senior guard Tyger Campbell, a pair of Bruins that have totaled more than 6,000 minutes across seven combined seasons within the program.
“It flew by so fast. I remember when I was a freshman and I was in their shoes,” Jaquez said. “I’m just trying to be that guy that guys like (former UCLA guards) Chris Smith, Prince Ali were to me, … just trying to guide them as best I can.”
In addition to Jaquez and Campbell, Cronin pointed to fifth-year guard David Singleton, redshirt senior forward/center Kenneth Nwuba and junior guard Jaylen Clark as veterans who need to step up for the younger players on the roster.
“They have to help these guys,” Cronin said. “This guy is untrained, he is in his second week of practice, he does not know what he’s doing.”
Campbell will headline the deep – but young – guard room. Behind Campbell will be freshman Amari Bailey, a former five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American.
Bailey possesses a rare blend of size, speed and playmaking ability – according to Cronin, all skills that will give the Bruins a unique dimension on offense.
“He can make passes Tyger can’t make because he can see because of his size. … He can get in the lane and find shooters in the opposite corner over the top of people that Tyger can’t,” Cronin said. “He is such a physical specimen.”
Freshman guard Dylan Andrews – the fastest player Cronin said he’s seen in 27 years of coaching – and redshirt freshman guard Will McClendon, who missed all of the 2021-2022 season with a torn ACL, round out the backcourt.
Meanwhile, Jaquez will be one of the only true wings on the roster, along with the undersized Clark and Singleton. Freshman guard/forward Abramo Canka – an international recruit who has spent the last few years playing professionally in Europe – marks the one scholarship newcomer on the wing.
“I kind of forget that he’s a freshman,” Jaquez said. “He’s always in the passing lane on defense. He’s a great downhill driver and can create for others. We’re very excited to have him.”
UCLA will have an almost completely blank slate in the post after the offseason departures of Myles Johnson and Cody Riley. Nwuba is the only true returning big, with redshirt freshman forward Mac Etienne also missing the entirety of last season with an ACL injury.
Joining Nwuba and Etienne is freshman forward Adem Bona. Another class of 2022 five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American, Bona averaged 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game in his senior year at Prolific Prep and has already impressed coaches with his willingness to learn, according to Cronin.
“Adem is a very strong player, and he’s very mobile,” Nwuba said. “Every time I practice with him, I want to be doing what he’s doing.”
UCLA will debut the revamped roster in its season opener in early November.
Until then, Cronin said he’s got plenty of work cut out for him.
“This time of year is my favorite time of year,” Cronin said. “I love practice and player development way more than the games.”