Moving the UCLA basketball program forward is going to be tricky.
The Bruins had a good season, reaching an NCAA regional semifinal for the first time since 2008 and pushing top-ranked Florida to the final minutes. For two days in Memphis — pregame and postgame — Coach Steve Alford talked about the “foundation” that was built.
Less than 24 hours later, though, that foundation already had a crack.
Freshman guard Zach LaVine will declare for the NBA draft, his family said Friday. LaVine had said he was undecided following the Bruins’ 79-68 loss to Florida on Thursday night.
That follows Kyle Anderson Sr.'s comment three weeks ago that his son, sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson Jr., was “done” at UCLA and would declare for the NBA draft.
Sophomore guard Jordan Adams is also mulling a jump to NBA.
Adams and Anderson, both first-team All-Pac-12 Conference selections, were UCLA’s leading scorers this season. LaVine was the Bruins’ top scorer off the bench.
Alford’s recruiting acumen will now be judged by how many of his own players he can keep. He did very well guiding what former coach Ben Howland had left for him.
“I’m really happy what this program did,” guard Norman Powell said. “We had a first-year coach and we put in a lot of effort. This program changed in just one year. The whole culture is different. It’s a family atmosphere. Our coaches are very competitive and they made us competitive.”
Moving forward, Powell, a junior, got an up-close look at a model to emulate. Florida is big and athletic, and has a roster deep in talent. The Gators survived several minutes in the second half with two senior starters — forward Casey Prather and center Patric Young — on the bench in foul trouble.
“They have veteran guys who have been here before,” Powell said. “They weren’t going to get out of character and give up their basketball team.”
For the Bruins to develop that, underclassmen would have to stay in school. At least two probably won’t.
Anderson is expected to be chosen in the lower half of the NBA draft’s first round. He pushed and prodded the Bruins to a Pac-12 tournament championship, averaging 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists.
LaVine, who at 6-feet-6 is both fast and explosive, has been projected as an NBA lottery pick in a mock draft published by NBA.com. Although he started only one game for the Bruins, he showed flashes of great potential. However, his shot selection was poor at times and his defense was a work in progress.
LaVine shot only 38% during Pac-12 play. That dipped to 31% in six postseason games.
If Adams also chooses to turn pro, the Bruins would lose a creative scorer and sneaky defender. He led the team in scoring (17.4) and steals (2.6). Adams is projected as a second-round pick.
UCLA could have five significant holes to fill if Anderson, LaVine and Adams all move on. The Bruins also lose twin brothers David and Travis Wear, both seniors.
Point guard is the linchpin spot. Bryce Alford spelled Anderson at the point this season but is not a natural at the position.
Noah Allen, a freshman whose season was slowed by injury, is a shooting guard, as is redshirt Isaac Hamilton.
The Wears are 6-10, but the Bruins might actually be getting bigger rather than smaller.
Coming in are Kevon Looney, a 6-foot-9 forward from Milwaukee Hamilton High; Gyorgy Goloman, a 6-10 forward from Hungary by way of Weston (Fla.) Sagemont High; and Thomas Welsh, a 7-0 center from Los Angeles Loyola High. Jonah Bolden, a 6-8 forward from Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep, has committed but hasn’t signed a letter of intent.
Steve Alford has acknowledged that UCLA “is full of history and tradition of excellence.”
For most UCLA fans, the Sweet 16 was good enough. This year.