What does Johnny Juzang’s exit mean for UCLA? Not as much as it would have last year
If all goes well, the end of one glorious UCLA basketball run could lead to the start of another.
So long, Johnny Juzang.
Hello, Amari Bailey.
Juzang’s departure for the NBA draft, which the junior shooting guard announced Wednesday in an Instagram post, clears the way for the Bruins’ next highly coveted wing player to feature more prominently in the team’s plans for next season.
That’s not to say that Juzang won’t be missed. The Tarzana native spent one season at Kentucky before returning to Southern California to help his hometown team reach the 2021 Final Four with an epic scoring spree in which he averaged 22.8 points in the NCAA tournament, including 29 in the season-ending loss to Gonzaga.
UCLA guard Jules Bernard announced on Instagram he is entering his name into the NBA draft while retaining his ability to return to college.
“Growing up in Los Angeles to then doing Los Angeles proud is more than a kid could ask for,” Juzang wrote on Instagram. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you for so much love and support. I’ll forever be a Bruin, and we’ll all remember the great moments we had.”
Juzang led UCLA in scoring in each of his two seasons, averaging a combined 15.8 points, and ranks No. 10 in school history with 174 points in the NCAA tournament despite making just two postseason trips, including this season’s run to the Sweet 16.
But the Bruins are far better positioned to withstand the loss of the 6-foot-7 Juzang than they would have been a year ago, when he returned in hopes of another trip to the Final Four.
Bailey, the 6-5 combo guard from Chatsworth Sierra Canyon High, is UCLA’s fifth-highest-rated recruit in the more than two decades since 247 Sports started ranking prospects, one spot above Lonzo Ball.
A polished scorer and passer, Bailey should challenge for a starting spot to begin next season alongside Jaime Jaquez Jr., the veteran guard who announced this week that he would remain a Bruin in 2022-23.
UCLA track and field athlete Zaylon Thomas battled homelessness in middle and high school. He’s now critical to the Bruins’ sprint and jumping teams.
Guards Tyger Campbell and Jules Bernard could also return — though Bernard said he would solicit feedback on his NBA draft prospects before making that commitment — but big men Myles Johnson and Cody Riley are expected to depart, opening a significant interior hole that could be filled by incoming freshman Adem Bona and redshirt freshman Mac Etienne.
Juzang’s leaving also makes more minutes available for Jaylen Clark, the sophomore guard who suggested he was coming back Wednesday when he tweeted “Omm This my Westbrook break out year comin up,” a reference to Russell Westbrook’s vast improvement between his first and second years with the Bruins.
UCLA’s glut of talented wing players last season led to limited roles for Clark and freshman guard Peyton Watson, who played a combined eight minutes in the season-ending loss to North Carolina. Both dealt with other issues, Clark suffering repeated concussions and Watson needing much of the season to round into form after having played sparingly during his final high school season because of COVID-19 disruptions.
Juzang becomes the first starter from UCLA’s most recent Final Four run to depart and the third player to leave, following Watson (NBA draft) and reserve guard Jake Kyman (transfer to Wyoming).
Under new coach Lincoln Riley, USC should attract a large crowd and TV audience to its spring game. UCLA to treat its game as a glorified workout.
“Johnny has been tremendous for us during his two seasons in Westwood,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said in a statement. “Johnny and his teammates helped us win seven NCAA tournament games in two postseason trips, leading our program on a thrilling run to the Final Four in 2021. Along the way, he has been a great teammate and a joy to be around every day. We will miss him.”
Widely viewed as a borderline first-round NBA draft pick by the end of last season, Juzang had hoped to bolster his stock by returning for more college basketball. But his junior season largely mirrored his sophomore one, Juzang slightly improving his passing, rebounding and defense while remaining a streaky shooter who made 36% of his three-pointers as opposed to 35.3% the previous season.
It wasn’t enough to lift him out of the second round in most mock drafts. Juzang also couldn’t recapture his scoring output in the NCAA tournament, averaging 12.3 points on 40% shooting in three games. He presumably will try to improve his NBA standing at the draft combine next month and in individual workouts with teams.
“I’m going to continue to represent UCLA and the city of Los Angeles professionally now,” Juzang wrote.
Meanwhile, the next group of freshmen will arrive inside Pauley Pavilion, eager to start their own legacy involving the four letters.
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