UCLA men’s basketball guard Amari Bailey set to begin Bruin career
UCLA men’s basketball freshman guard Amari Bailey dribbles down the court during a practice. Bailey will don the blue and gold in a game for the first time when the Bruins play an exhibition contest Wednesday night. (Courtesy of Jan Kim Lim/UCLA Athletics)
By Jon Christon
Nov. 1, 2022 9:58 p.m.
The Bruins unofficially open their season Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion.
And for one Bruin, the game marks likely his only opportunity to make a campaign’s first impression in front of his new home crowd.
“I don’t see him being here much longer than six more months,” said junior guard Jaylen Clark.
Guard Amari Bailey will kick off his freshman season with No. 8 UCLA men’s basketball at a home exhibition contest against Concordia University Irvine on Wednesday, commencing the Bruins’ first public game action of the 2022-2023 season.
But exhibition or not, Bailey said he’s ready to begin the learning process the season brings.
“I’m the baby on the team, so I’m really just still getting acclimated,” Bailey said. “I’m really just trying to soak up as much as I can.”
Bailey – the No. 9 player in the class of 2022 and a McDonald’s All-American – is expected to be the Bruins’ second straight one-and-done freshman after guard/forward Peyton Watson followed the same trajectory a year ago.
Playing at Sierra Canyon School just north of Westwood, the 6-foot-5, five-star combo guard averaged over 20 points and five rebounds per game across his junior and senior seasons. His prowess made him UCLA’s best prep recruit of the last five years, according to 247Sports.
However, Bailey said he’s ready to move to the next level of his basketball career.
“I know what I did in high school doesn’t matter,” Bailey said. “I’m starting from square one.”
Fifth-year guard David Singleton said that mentality is what sets the freshman phenom apart.
“If I tell him one thing, I don’t have to tell him again – that’s the maturity level he’s at,” Singleton said. “It’s really rare to see a young guy have that.”
Singleton added that Bailey has spent the offseason working with the veterans on the roster – along with professional basketball players in Rico Hines’ offseason runs on campus – to improve his game and measure up against experienced competition.
One player Bailey looked to early was redshirt senior guard Tyger Campbell – a former Amateur Athletic Union teammate of the young freshman. According to Bailey, the two benefit from a chemistry that will carry over for the Bruins’ presumed starting backcourt.
“Tyger has definitely been a big key,” Bailey said. “That’s a point guard I’ve been watching over the years, so to actually get to share the floor, that’s really a cool moment for me.”
Bailey will lead a group of six true freshmen – and eight freshmen total – into their first public game action with the blue and gold Wednesday against the Eagles.
Privately though, the newcomers have already suited up and represented the four letters. UCLA played No. 19 San Diego State in a closed-door scrimmage a week ago, a contest the Bruins reportedly won 89-87.
Coach Mick Cronin said the high-scoring scrimmage highlighted the defensive deficiencies of a young roster but added that the play of one freshman was particularly encouraging.
“(San Diego State) coach (Brian) Dutcher was telling me he (Bailey) doesn’t hunt bad shots,” Cronin said. “Most McDonald’s All-Americans don’t defend and hunt shots because people tell them that’s how they got to play to get drafted, but he knows that that’s not basketball. … That’s why he’s an aberration.”
UCLA will get another chance to work on its defense in a low-stakes environment Wednesday night. Part of the NCAA Division II’s PacWest conference, Concordia finished last season with a 13-13 record.
But even with the lesser opponent, Cronin said he doesn’t expect the defense to be fixed overnight.
“Everybody’s going to want … (us to) look like the ’95 Bruins that played in Seattle on Wednesday night,” Cronin said. “That’s not going to be the case.”
UCLA will tip off the exhibition bout at 7 p.m.