Pac-12 freshman of year Adem Bona returning to UCLA, guard Jaylen Clark leaving

UCLA forward Adem Bona (3) drives against California forward ND Okafor.
UCLA forward Adem Bona drives against California forward ND Okafor during the second half of a game Feb. 18 in Los Angeles.
(Allison Dinner / Associated Press)
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The last two UCLA basketball players contemplating their futures have rendered a split decision.

On the final day that players could withdraw from the NBA draft, Adem Bona pulled out in favor of another season with the Bruins while Jaylen Clark barreled ahead toward a professional career at a time when he’s recovering from an Achilles injury.

Their choices leave UCLA with just one returning starter in Bona during what promises to be a season of change for a team that also will lose mainstays Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tyger Campbell and Amari Bailey, among others.


Clark’s decision presumably means he’s optimistic that he can find an NBA team that will draft him with the understanding that he may not play next season while rehabilitating his injury. The 6-foot-5 guard comes with enticing upside after being selected the Naismith College Defensive Player of the Year, as well as questions related to how effective he will be after his recovery.

Clark’s father, Cornelius, told The Times that doctors discovered during surgery that his Achilles was unusually tight and they were able to loosen it to improve mobility.

Adem Bona didn’t start playing basketball until he was 13. The big man from Nigeria has become an important of a UCLA team that has won 13 games in a row.

Jan. 19, 2023

“They feel like Jaylen is going to be a better athlete than he was before the injury,” Cornelius said, adding that his son was ahead of schedule in his recovery and walking unassisted. While there is no definitive timetable for a return, Cornelius said the recovery window for the injury that Jaylen suffered March 4 is roughly one year.

The return of Bona, the Pac-12 freshman of the year and one of the nation’s top centers, is a huge plus for a team that could turn over practically its entire roster, giving the Bruins a known quantity to build around.

“We are all very excited about Adem continuing his career in Westwood,” coach Mick Cronin said. “Adem is a vibrant, high-character young man who we all love being around every day. He improved immensely during his freshman season, showing his toughness and love for his team by competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could.

“Adem wants to develop further, which will help him have a long NBA career, and he wisely used this pre-draft process. We are going to see great things from Adem next season, and we also appreciate his loyalty to UCLA.”


Bona could be part of a twin towers lineup if the Bruins land Aday Mara, a highly coveted 7-foot-3 center who reportedly terminated his contract with Spanish club Casedemont Zaragoza in advance of an expected move to play college basketball. Mara’s perimeter shooting could allow him to play alongside the 6-10 Bona, whose game is better suited to playing around the basket.

UCLA Bruins forward Adem Bona controls the ball under pressure from Stanford defenders.
UCLA forward Adem Bona (3) controls the ball under pressure from Stanford defenders at Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 16.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

After cutting down on a tendency to pile up unnecessary fouls, Bona was playing his best basketball over the season’s final few months. His averages of 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks did not capture his ability to impact a game on both ends of the court as a shot-blocking menace who also was a threat to convert lobs into dunks.

Bona could not play in the Bruins’ season-ending loss to Gonzaga in an NCAA tournament regional semifinal after hurting his shoulder against Oregon two weeks earlier during the Pac-12 tournament. He suffered the injury while sprawling on the court to chase a loose ball.

Bona returned the following week to play 20 minutes against Northwestern in the second round, sparking a key fast break with a block while also aggravating his shoulder on a dunk. He’s expected to be able to resume basketball activities this summer.

Being sidelined will not prevent Clark from holding another free basketball camp for kids on July 22 at Riverside Norte Vista High. Last year Clark raised $15,000 and put in another $4,000 of his own money to hold a similar camp where he gave out free shoes and paid for campers’ lunches and dinners.


A verbal commitment from Jan Vide, a Slovenian guard known for his scoring instincts, is the latest sign of the Bruins’ overseas shift in recruiting.

May 23, 2023

Cornelius Clark said his son was close to obtaining his undergraduate degree and expected he would do so even after embarking on an NBA career that seemed unlikely when Cronin plucked the lightly recruited prospect out of Etiwanda High in Rancho Cucamonga.

“Jaylen has been a winning player at UCLA for three years, and we are a better program because he chose to be a Bruin,” Cronin said. “Jaylen is a classic case that player evaluation and a player’s intangibles matter. He has had three great years in Westwood. We will miss him but we wish him all the best. Jaylen will always be a Bruin and hopefully one of the more than 120-plus Bruins who were NBA draft picks before him.”