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Aday Mara, 7-3 center and possible NBA draft lottery pick, signs with UCLA

Aday Mara sits on the bench with teammates during a game in Spain in March.
Aday Mara, left, sits on the bench during a game in Spain in March. Mara, considered one of the top basketball recruits in the world and a potential 2024 NBA draft lottery pick, has signed with UCLA.
(Borja B. Hojas / Getty Images)
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After a long and sometimes agonizing wait, UCLA may have just landed its next great big man.

Aday Mara, a 7-foot-3 center from Spain who is widely projected as a possible lottery pick in the 2024 NBA draft, has signed with the Bruins, the school announced Thursday.

The announcement came one day after Mara posted on Instagram that he was leaving his Spanish professional team, Casademont Zaragoza, as part of what appeared to be a contentious separation in which the team once said it would “adopt the necessary measures” to enforce Mara’s contract.

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Mara’s decision significantly enhances UCLA’s prospects for next season given his skill around the basket as a shot-blocker, lob threat and finisher in the pick and roll. Having turned 18 earlier this summer, Mara is still developing his strength and adding elements to his game. He’s considered an excellent passer and can shoot mid-range jumpers while also playing with his back to the basket. Mara displayed all of those skills while leading Spain to a second-place finish this summer at the FIBA under-18 European championships, where he averaged 14 points on 61.3% shooting to go with 9.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.7 blocks in seven games.

“We are excited to announce the addition of Aday to UCLA,” Bruins coach Mick Cronin said in a statement. “Throughout this process with Aday, he and his family have stood firm on one thing — that they want a great education for Aday, and to see him grow as a young man at UCLA. He has tremendous size and skill and has developed a great understanding of the game of basketball. He’s a humble young man with great parents, and he’s blessed to stand at 7-foot-3 with such talent and a strong work ethic.”

Mara’s arrival will give UCLA two top-tier big men with Adem Bona returning for a second college season after his first ended prematurely because of a shoulder injury. Bona’s recovery is expected to last several months and he is not expected to play on the Bruins’ summer tour of Spain later this month to play three games. (It’s also unlikely that Mara will play on the trip to his native country unless he enrolls before the start of the fall quarter.)

With Bona back in the fold, Cronin could go with an occasional twin towers lineup that would cause matchup problems on both ends of the court given Mara’s size and the 6-9 Bona’s ability to effortlessly switch onto smaller players without getting beat.

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Mara builds upon the Bruins’ unofficial attempt to form their own European union alongside Jan Vide (Slovenia), Ilane Fibleuil (France) and potentially Berke Buyuktuncel (Turkey), who is soon expected to sign with the team. Bona also spent time in Turkey after emigrating from his native Nigeria.

The surge in international recruiting was necessitated by heavy roster turnover, the Bruins missing out on a host of top domestic targets while mining a relatively weak pool of talent on the West Coast. The man who spearheaded much of these recruiting efforts won’t be around to see the payoff after assistant coach Ivo Simovic left to take the same post with the Toronto Raptors, joining fellow Serbian native Darko Rajakovic’s staff.

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UCLA now has a six-man freshman class that also includes guard Sebastian Mack and forwards Brandon and Devin Williams (no relation) in addition to the Europeans. The Bruins also brought in guard Lazar Stefanovic, a transfer from Utah, as part of a massive roster makeover.

UCLA’s only holdovers from last season are Bona, point guard Dylan Andrews, shooting guard Will McClendon and backup center Kenneth Nwuba. The Bruins now have 11 scholarship players, two below the NCAA limit.

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