Dylan Andrews steps into the spotlight in new era for UCLA men’s basketball
(Alicia Caldera/Daily Bruin)
By Jack Nelson
Nov. 5, 2023 11:33 p.m.
Often confined to the shadows, Dylan Andrews was keen to be hidden no longer.
He lurked behind a program icon, patiently waiting for opportunity to shine upon him. And when it did, his focus was singular.
“Just be a spark, be an energy,” the sophomore guard said. “Do whatever you can – just don’t let that score go down.”
Those shadows – now receding – are but an old home, and the bright lights must become his place of comfort.
With longtime point guard Tyger Campbell moving on from UCLA men’s basketball, Andrews is taking up the mantle, ascending from the bench to the starting rotation and inheriting all the responsibilities. The offense now runs through him – a newly minted veteran and the new on-court extension of his coach.
It’s an abrupt succession for Andrews, but he said he is ready to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps.
“It’s just like I stepped into the role of Tyger, which is at a young age,” Andrews said. “But I feel myself as a leader, and I feel like I’m going to keep getting better and better and progress as the season goes on.”
A year ago, his role was determined well before he made the leap from Compass Prep to UCLA. Campbell had been the floor general for three seasons and had already led the Bruins to Final Four and Sweet 16 appearances by the time Andrews entered the equation.
The eventual three-time All-Pac-12 First Team honoree was a cornerstone of the old guard. Campbell finished his career ranked second in program history in assists, 10th in games played and 23rd in scoring, leaving an all-time legacy at a place where the bar is exceptionally high.
For a year, the two overlapped. While Campbell took the lion’s share of minutes, Andrews observed and learned, graciously accepting an apprenticeship with an established leader.
“When I came to UCLA, he was one of the first people that opened his arms to me, and I’m over at his house every other day, and we’re just talking basketball,” Andrews said. “Man, any question I asked him, I’m surprised he wasn’t annoyed.”
But the two also became intertwined. As Andrews picked Campbell’s brain on how to thrive in coach Mick Cronin’s system, their on-court conversations blossomed into an off-the-court connection. The arranged mentor and mentee became brothers by their own accord.
Since Campbell departed the United States to join France’s Saint-Quentin basketball club, life at UCLA hasn’t been the same for Andrews.
“He really helped me out, and I love him for that,” Andrews said. “That’s really my big bro, so I miss him a lot, too.”
Even with a source of guidance at his side, Andrews said he wrestled with how he fit into the team – a freshman joining a squad of veterans, some of whom even preceded Cronin’s time. He sought to impose his game, but he’d have to do so in an unconventional way, as he was no longer a regular starter like he was in high school.
Midseason approached, and Andrews realized his place. Opportunity came knocking soon afterward.
Injuries to former guard Jaylen Clark and then-freshman forward/center Adem Bona forced his coach’s hand.
Cronin looked to his bench, and when the time came to win or go home, he called Andrews’ number more than he had all year.
Across the Bruins’ final six games of the season – constituting the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments – Andrews played 10 or more minutes in each contest, his longest stretch all year. Among nonstarters, he finished his freshman campaign as the second-leading scorer behind former guard David Singleton.
“There’s a lot of strengths Dylan has that shined last year,” Bona said before the start of the 2023 season. “He’s a really fast player, good defender, really good midrange shooter. I think it’s going to surprise the country how good of a three-point shooter he’s been this year.”
When he wasn’t flying down the court looking to score at the rim or passing to an open shooter, Andrews said he sharpened his defensive fortitude. He had to temper his eagerness as a young player with the discipline and IQ of the archetypical Cronin defender.
Even before joining the Bruins, Andrews never liked seeing the ball go into his team’s basket, much less off the hands of his own man. And when donning the blue and gold, buying into the defensive philosophy while coming off the bench was a must.
“If you’re not in the right spot, if you’re not guarding your man, you might not even see the court,” Andrews said. “I’m already taking pride in defense. Now as a starter, it’s 94 feet all the time.”
But as much as Andrews commits to being a cog in Cronin’s machine, he also possesses something that few else do – a voice. It comes with the job, and how to use it effectively is something Cronin preaches to him on a daily basis.
It’s a sudden power to wield. He has only had one year in the system, but unlike his predecessor, he has had the benefit of real-game experience. Campbell tore his ACL before his true freshman season and was thrust into the starting point guard position from the get-go as a redshirt freshman.
For Andrews, priority number one is to prepare new players for the road ahead and become the mentor Campbell once was to him.
“I’m just trying to get the freshmen to understand what they’re getting themselves into,” Andrews said. “We’re getting ready to go to war, so we all have to be on a chain together.”
That goal is already heard by freshman guard Sebastian Mack, the next guy in line behind Andrews.
“Dylan – when I came in here – taught me a lot of different things about how coach Cronin is and what he expects and stuff, and I feel like I needed that,” Mack said. “Like a big bro, little bro type of relationship, and he’s teaching me different things every day.”
Andrews’ challenge is that few point guards – Campbell included – have had to deal with the roster turnover faced by the Bruins.
Of the seven freshmen entering the program, four hail from outside the country, while the other three are all from different states. With UCLA’s top-five scorers from last season all out of the picture, many of those recruits will be expected to make an immediate impact.
Center Aday Mara from Spain, forward Berke Buyuktuncel from Turkey, guard Ilane Fibleuil from France and guard Jan Vide from Slovenia form a diverse international contingency.
Andrews has the same message for all of them.
“There’s going to be mistakes down the road, but they have to be mentally, especially if we want to go all the way and get to March, bring another banner,” Andrews said. “All that freshmen stuff goes out the window, man, we need more. You’re a freshman, but we need you, so you’re not a freshman.”
Campbell’s receding shadow took with it the remnants of what the Bruins were: veteran, homegrown talent that executed Cronin’s philosophy in winning fashion.
That team is gone. All the accomplishments, all the moments, all the camaraderie – now left to memory.
Andrews is expected to lead his teammates into a new era. He acknowledged it won’t be a solo effort, but Cronin trusts him to do what needs to be done.
After all, Pauley Pavilion’s lights will shine brighter on him than they ever have.