Highly coveted prospect Amari Bailey returns ‘home’ in picking UCLA

Sierra Canyon's Amari Bailey drives to the basket against Etiwanda's Brantly Stevenson in March 2020.
Amari Baily of Sierra Canyon, going to the basket against Etiwanda in March 2020, is rated as the No. 3 recruit in the nation for the class of 2022.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Amari Bailey gave himself a special present for his 17th birthday: He verbally committed to UCLA, returning to the school he had originally picked before decommitting when the previous coaching staff was fired.

The 6-foot-4 combo guard from Sierra Canyon High in Chatsworth, who is ranked as the No. 3 prospect nationally by 247Sports in the Class of 2022, announced his decision Wednesday evening by placing a UCLA hat on his head during an Instagram Live video.

“I just want to stay home and honestly it was just like the best fit,” Bailey said in the video. “I just feel like on and off the floor, UCLA is going to be the best place for me. The culture speaks for itself and I’m happy to be back.”


Bailey, a Chicago native who at one point was committed to DePaul, said UCLA coach Mick Cronin and his staff pursued him harder than any other suitor, telling him they would stay in touch even after Bailey broke off his commitment when coach Steve Alford was fired midway through the 2018-19 season. As they continued to correspond, Bailey said he connected with Cronin’s style.

“I play both ends of the ball, I play defense, and I feel like our Midwestern grit is something that we share in common,” Bailey told The Times after his announcement, “so we’re definitely going to go to war with each other.”

Cronin cannot comment on recruits until they sign binding letters of intent.

If Bailey has his way, he’ll be part of a much bigger recruiting bonanza, noting that he was pushing for L.A. Windward High power forward Kijani Wright and Sierra Canyon power forward Shy Odom to join him in Westwood.

“Coach said I’m the new assistant coach, so I can go recruit after whoever I want to recruit,” Bailey said. “So definitely put this down: I’m definitely recruiting Kijani Wright and Shy Odom to come very hard and everyone that’s a Bruin, I want them on their coattails so we can get this rolling.”

In his first season at UCLA after transferring from Kentucky, Johnny Juzang has become the Bruins’ leading scorer at 14.2 points a game.

Feb. 17, 2021

Bailey said he didn’t care if he was labeled as more of a point guard or a scoring guard considering his versatile skill set and the trend toward position-less basketball in the NBA.


“If you need me to facilitate, I’ll do that,” Bailey said, “and if you need me to score, I’ll do that.”

Bailey, who has an interest in sports broadcast journalism and wants to get his real estate broker’s license, said he picked UCLA for more than its basketball team.

“Just my vibe, what I’m interested in and it’s being around a lot of people on one campus who are just as focused and driven in their respective fields as I am in basketball and other things,” Bailey said. “So you may be sitting next to the next Steven Spielberg in one of your classes, you know? So that’s just something that’s very admirable about UCLA to me.

“UCLA has always been like a a dream school for me, so I just had to wait and see it out, but this is something I’m totally committed with.”