Mick Cronin entered his first season at UCLA wondering who would be the standout players.
There won’t be any mystery a year from now.
The Bruins landed the nation’s top point guard prospect Wednesday when Daishen Nix signed a binding letter of intent, becoming Cronin’s first official recruit and the expected future cornerstone of the team’s offense.
“He’s just a guy that makes everybody better,” Cronin said. “There’s not anything he can’t do. He can score if you need him to score, he’s got unbelievable vision as a passer. He has to score a lot for his high school team, but his default, he would much rather pass the ball at times, so just really excited about him.”
Nix, a 6-foot-5 senior at Trinity International High in Las Vegas, was rated the No. 1 point guard in his class by 247Sports. Last season, he averaged 19.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game while playing in a league comprising prep schools from around the country. His teams have won the last two National Christian School Athletic Assn. Division I championships.
Nix will greatly enhance the Bruins’ point guard depth with redshirt freshman Tyger Campbell widely expected to be a multi-year college player. Campbell has thrived as a playmaker in the Bruins’ first two games, compiling 11 assists to go with five turnovers.
“You can never have enough guys that can create offense,” Cronin said. “You can always teach defense. You can get creative on defense, you can change defenses, it’s the beauty of college basketball. But scoring is important.”
Cronin said it was doubtful that UCLA would bring in another player during the early signing period. The Bruins will have at least three scholarships available, including the departures of redshirt seniors Prince Ali and Alex Olesinski, because they also have one scholarship open.
It’s also possible that other players could opt for the NBA with remaining college eligibility.
“We don’t have anybody all-league,” Cronin told The Times recently, “but that doesn’t mean somebody may not leave, because you never know what’s going to happen, especially at high-level programs.
“You can lose a guy to the draft that you were going to be counting on and you didn’t dream he would go pro. You didn’t see that happening, so you’ve got to try to make sure you’ve got contingency plans for the spring. So we are recruiting a lot of guys that are going to sign in the spring and that’s becoming more of a trend, guys that are going to wait.”
Cronin said redshirt freshman forward Shareef O’Neal was still bothered by the right hip pointer that forced him to miss the Bruins’ victory over UC Santa Barbara on Sunday.
“When you’re bony, you tend to get hit in the bones more and he’s a bony guy, so his hip is a little more exposed,” Cronin said. “It’s just the way he’s built.”
Redshirt sophomore forward Cody Riley said he had recovered from the fever and strep throat that kept him in bed for three days before the game against the Gauchos. He came off the bench and tallied eight points and three rebounds in 18 minutes.
Ali said the ankle he sprained in the exhibition game last month was not fully healed but was “getting better every day.”
UCLA’s ability to rebound and get to the free-throw line have been early strengths. The Bruins (2-0) have pulled down an average of 11.5 more rebounds than their opponents and have taken 58 free throws to their opponents’ 25.
“Right now, our offense is coming off the glass and at the free-throw line,” Cronin said, “and we have got to get better at our first-shot execution, but I think a lot of teams are like that right now, to be honest with you.”