This is a crucial season for head coach Steve Alford at UCLA.
The fan base always has high expectations, but the Bruins failed to live up to them last season, missing the NCAA Tournament with a highly talented roster.
This season, with a loaded recruiting class and experienced returning players, the Bruins are expected to compete at the top of the Pac-12 and make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately for Alford, he has already lost two players this offseason that would have been important role players.
The first was Kobe Paras, who failed to complete his conditions of enrollment at UCLA, re-opened his recruitment and committed to Creighton.
The second and more important departure is Jonah Bolden.
Bolden informed coaches on Tuesday that he plans to play professionally (SNY is reporting that he will play in his native Australia), forgoing his final two years of college eligibility.
The 6’10” forward was ruled as a partial qualifier and lost a year of eligibility in 2014-15. The NCAA was not fond that Bolden left Australia in the middle of his senior season of high school to play for Findlay Prep in Nevada.
Bolden returned to the court last season and averaged 4.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game. He has the ability to stretch floor (without much efficiency from deep), has good length to protect the rim, and is a decent rebounder.
Without Bolden, the Bruins will have to rely on T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigogu, Gyorgy Goloman and Alex Olesinski at the four slot (the latter two will receive very little minutes unless someone gets hurt).
Leaf, a 6’9″ five-star recruit from California, has great offensive ability because of his high skill level, soft hands, superb footwork, ability to knock down mid-range jumpers and effective hook shot. He’s not explosive but he has good enough mobility to run the floor and pick his spots.
The problem with Leaf is he isn’t exactly a great three-point shooter (although he can develop it), and more importantly, he doesn’t have the defensive prowess and strength to impact the game defensively like Bolden does.
Anigogu is another five-star recruit who’s primary position is center. However, at 6’10”, the California native can play next to Thomas Welsh in the team’s “bigger” lineup. Anigogu is the one player that can make up for the loss of Bolden on the defensive end. He’s long, athletic and can block shots with the best of them.
The issue with Anigogu is at the other end of the court, where he is not very effective at this point in his development. He has decent touch and an improving hook shot, but he has no range on his shot and will likely be a project on offense at the college level.
Ultimately, losing Bolden is not the end of the world for UCLA, but it’s not a positive development.
Remember this is a make-or-break year for Alford.