UCLA is being spared a complete makeover of its basketball roster for next season after forward Kris Wilkes announced Tuesday that he would come back for his sophomore season instead of entering the NBA draft.
“Year 2 up next!” Wilkes tweeted. “Go Bruins.”
Wilkes’ return gives the Bruins a proven scorer and playmaker while considerably brightening their outlook for next season considering they could have as many as eight freshmen. Had Wilkes departed, UCLA would have had to replace its top three scorers and its entire starting lineup with the exception of guard Prince Ali.
Wilkes was the team’s second-leading scorer (13.7 points per game) and rebounder (4.9 per game) last season while showing admirable consistency as a freshman, scoring in double figures in 26 of 33 games. A member of the Pac-12 All-Freshman team, Wilkes made 35.2% of his three-pointers.
UCLA freshman point guard Jaylen Hands and power forward Cody Riley also must decide whether to return next season after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent. They have until Wednesday to withdraw from draft consideration and preserve their college eligibility.
Hands was a part-time starter with a flair for the dramatic, including a midair between-the-legs alley-oop pass that Wilkes converted into a layup. Hands averaged 9.9 points and 2.6 assists but could be somewhat erratic, often hoisting three-pointers early in the shot clock and looking to score rather than to pass.
Should he return, Hands would presumably face competition for the starting point guard spot next season from freshman Tyger Campbell, who is more of a natural playmaker.
Riley’s only appearance last season was in an exhibition victory over Cal State Los Angeles that came a few days before he shoplifted with teammates Jalen Hill and LiAngelo Ball during UCLA’s trip to China for its season opener. Riley and Hill served a season-long suspension that allowed them to redshirt while Ball left the team to play professionally in Lithuania.
Riley and Hill were allowed to practice with their teammates after the Christmas break.
Wilkes told reporters at the NBA draft combine earlier this month that he intended to return to UCLA if he wasn’t widely projected to be a first-round selection.
“I’m grateful to everybody at UCLA who has been supporting me and helping me through the pre-draft process,” Wilkes said Tuesday in a statement released by the school. “It was certainly an eye-opening experience, one that I know is going to help me get better. I’m excited for the summer and for our season ahead, and I’m ready to get to work.”
UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement that Wilkes would have an even bigger role with the Bruins next season.
“With Kris, you’re talking about a young man with limitless potential,” Alford said. “We are really excited to have him back for at least one more season. He certainly has a bright future in this game, and there’s no question that, down the road, he will be a first-round draft pick.”
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch