UCLA’s freshmen are still adjusting to their new home
Jaylen Hands, an old-timer as a sophomore point guard on this UCLA basketball team, had just finished ticking off the attributes of every freshman when he paused to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anyone.
“That’s six, right?” Hands asked the reporters gathered around him Wednesday during the team’s media day.
His math was spot on. Almost.
The Bruins’ roster also features two redshirt freshmen in Jalen Hill and Cody Riley, set to make their collegiate debuts after sitting out last season as punishment for their roles in a shoplifting incident in China.
Having so many newcomers leads to some inevitable feeling-out moments. Coach Steve Alford noted that several freshmen were still trying to navigate Pauley Pavilion, their new basketball home. Shooting guard David Singleton acknowledged having reported to the women’s side of the building with fellow freshman Kenneth Nwuba before reversing course.
“Me and Kenny were like, ‘Oh no,’ ” Singleton said with a laugh. “So we had to go all the way back.”
Freshman center Moses Brown seemed unsure where to position his 7-foot-2 body when he appeared in front of reporters, asking if he needed to step on a blue X taped onto the court. As the tallest Bruin since 7-7 center Mike Lanier completed his final season 26 years ago, Brown was informed he could stand wherever he liked.
Brown went on to show that he needs to jump only a couple of inches to dunk the ball, his massive wingspan doing most of the work for him.
After having grown an inch since his arrival on campus this summer, Brown is eager to prove he’s more than a curiosity. Classmates and teachers have made him feel otherwise every time he sets foot in a classroom.
“Every time I walk in class, the first person they always see is me,” Brown said. “The teacher always wants to pick on me [by asking], ‘Hey, how tall are you?’ I’m the first one to introduce myself in front of the class.”
Brown has also endured plenty of unauthorized photos on campus.
“I’m walking and I just see the flash,” Brown said with a chuckle before noting that he also poses for photos whenever asked.
The wonder carries over to Brown’s teammates.
Said sophomore Chris Smith, no shorty himself at 6-9: “I have to break my neck to see Moses.”
Singleton and fellow Southern California natives Shareef O’Neal and Jules Bernard have served as tour guides for the other freshmen, showing them around since their arrival this summer. Singleton even hosted a barbecue at his View Park home and took Brown to Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach to prove the superiority of Los Angeles-area beaches to those in Brown’s native New York.
O’Neal and fellow freshman Tyger Campbell posed for team photos after recently learning they would not play for the Bruins this season. Campbell will be sidelined by a torn knee ligament and O’Neal by an electrical problem in his heart that Alford said was a birth defect.
Campbell hobbled around the court, still awaiting surgery to repair his knee. His floppy hair was lampooned by former Bruins center Tony Parker, who tweeted that he felt bad for Campbell because Alford “gone be killin him bout his hair.”
Alford praised the freshmen, saying Brown had the potential to be the first elite shot-blocker he’s had in his six seasons in Westwood. The coach described Nwuba as a hard worker and Singleton as a perfectionist. He also said Bernard was skilled at driving toward the basket.
The freshmen seemed more like long-lost friends while posing together for a group photo, draping their arms around one another as they stood at midcourt. They’ve been immediately embraced by an exceedingly young team that also includes three sophomores expected to be significant contributors.
“We’re all like one big unit, one big family,” Hands said, “because we’re closer in age.”
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch
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