One year after it suffered a mass exodus, UCLA won’t lose any of its freshmen to the NBA draft.
Jaylen Hands and Cody Riley announced Wednesday that they would return as Bruins next season, joining fellow freshman Kris Wilkes in opting for another year of college while significantly boosting the team’s prospects. Wilkes had announced his intention to come back Tuesday.
“I’m excited for what’s ahead here at UCLA,” Hands said in a statement released by the school. “The pre-draft evaluations were extremely helpful, and I’d like to thank everybody who played a role in helping me through that process. I’m just focused on getting better, and I know that my teammates and I are looking forward to having a very productive summer and a big year.”
UCLA will have three starters back in Wilkes, who started every game last season, in addition to Hands and Prince Ali, who alternated as a starter at one of the guard spots.
The return of the three freshmen should make UCLA among the favorites to win the Pac-12 Conference after massive personnel losses at Arizona, USC and Oregon. The Bruins experienced a similar rash of departures last year when freshmen Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf and Ike Anigbogu left for the NBA after one college season.
Wilkes, a 6-foot-8 small forward, was the team’s second-leading scorer (13.7 points per game) and rebounder (4.9 per game) last season while reaching double figures in scoring in 26 of 33 games. He also made 35.2% of his three-pointers on the way to being selected a member of the Pac-12 All-Freshman team.
Hands, a 6-3 point guard, was somewhat streaky, prone to slumps as well as scoring outbursts, including a stretch late in the first half against Arizona in February in which he made three three-pointers in a minute. He finished the season averaging 9.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists while making 37.4% of his three-pointers.
Hands’ preference for the quick three-pointer and the flashy play occasionally irritated coach Steve Alford, who increasingly played point guard Aaron Holiday for entire games rather than allow Hands to run the team while giving Holiday a breather.
“Jaylen has tremendous talent and he’s going to be a vital part of our team’s backcourt next season,” Alford said in a statement. “We’re really looking forward to watching him continue to get better here at UCLA, and he has a really big opportunity ahead of him. We’ve told him that he has a lot of room to grow and improve, and he’s more than capable of becoming one of the country’s most dynamic players.”
Riley’s only appearance last season was in an exhibition victory over Cal State Los Angeles that came a few days before the 6-10 power forward shoplifted with teammates Jalen Hill and LiAngelo Ball during UCLA’s trip to China for its season opener. Riley and Hill went on to serve 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.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch
3:55 p.m.: This article was updated to report that Cody Riley was also returning to UCLA.
This article was originally posted at 11:40 a.m.