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Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will return to UCLA next season

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will return to UCLA next season
UCLA center Thomas Welsh throws down a dunk against Cincinnati in the second half of an NCAA tournament game March 19. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA received a double dose of welcome news Tuesday regarding the NBA draft: Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday are withdrawing their names from consideration.

Welsh announced on Twitter that he would return for his senior season and Holiday's mother, Toya, said in a text message to The Times that her son would come back for his junior season.

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Welsh's return means that the Bruins will not have to replace their entire starting lineup after freshmen Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf declared for the draft and seniors Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton exhausted their eligibility.

"I'm extremely grateful for everyone who helped me through this process," Welsh wrote on Twitter, "and I can't wait to get to work for this upcoming season."

Welsh and Holiday will give UCLA a much-needed veteran presence to complement a six-man freshman class that has been ranked No. 2 in the country. The Bruins also remain in the running for guard M.J. Walker, a McDonald's All-American who is expected to announce his college decision Wednesday.

The 7-foot Welsh started 32 games at center last season, averaging 10.8 points per game while leading the Bruins with averages of 8.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots per game. His return will also help offset the loss of freshman center Ike Anigbogu, who declared for the draft after averaging 4.7 points and 4.0 rebounds per game last season.

"Thomas has worked hard all spring," UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement released by the school. "We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season. Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season's draft."

Holiday averaged 12.3 points, 4.4 assists and 2.9 rebounds as Ball's backup at point guard and one of the nation's top sixth men. Holiday will presumably have to battle freshman point guard Jaylen Hands, a McDonald's All-American, for the starting job next season.

"It goes without saying that we're thrilled to have Aaron back for his junior season," Alford said. "He played a major role in our success last season, and we're going to rely on him in a big way as we move forward. He's a team-first guy and a high-character individual. Aaron's prepared to make even greater strides as a junior, and we can't wait to see him to continue to develop."

Welsh and Holiday were not listed on most mock draft boards. Two NBA scouts, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not publicly authorized to discuss college players, recently told The Times that they thought Welsh and Holiday would be smart to return to UCLA next season to boost their draft stock.

Holiday's decision was intriguing based on the paths of brothers Jrue and Justin, both NBA players. Jrue declared for the draft after one season at UCLA and was a first-round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers before becoming an All-Star. Justin spent four seasons at Washington and went undrafted but eventually landed in the NBA and became a rotation player last season with the New York Knicks, appearing in all 82 games.

Times staff writer Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.

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