There are rumblings that UCLA forward Jonah Bolden is ineligible to participate in the 2016-17 season. If true, it would not be the first time the 6-foot-10-inch Australian was forced to sit out by the NCAA. The four-star recruit was ruled ineligible after transferring during his senior year in high school from Australian Homebush Boys to a Las Vegas prep school.
Bolden’s absence would deliver a huge blow to Head Coach Steve Alford’s plan to revamp the Bruins defense. UCLA ranked outside of the top 100 in total defense last season; something Alford vowed would never happen again. He was planning to lean heavily on Bolden, whose athleticism allows him to guard almost any position on the floor.
Bolden would be a redshirt sophomore this season. Last year, he averaged 4.6 points and 4.8 rebounds.
Adding to the Bruins’ woes, UCLA guard Prince Ali is expected to miss time after injuring his left knee. The sophomore is recovering from a surgery to repair a torn meniscus and will be reevaluated in four months.
Ali struggled with consistency last season, but did show glimpses of brilliance. The highlight of UCLA’s year was Ali’s emphatic dunk to seal the Bruins’ upset victory over then-No. 1 Kentucky.
Alford will be counting on the Bronx native to improve his shooting percentages and provide much needed support off of the bench.
Ali arrived on UCLA’s campus rated as one of the top-30 players in his graduating class. The six-foot-three guard averaged 3.9 points per game during his freshman campaign.
Pressure Is Building
Coach Alford is feeling the heat. Last year marked UCLA’s first losing season since 2010. The Bruins’ performance was so bad that Alford took unprecedented action and gave back the contract extension that he signed two seasons ago.
In the process, he wrote a letter to fans and alumni, assuring them that better days were on the horizon. Indeed,betting sites trends show that the Bruins are expected to compete for the Pac-12 crown.
The possible loss of Bolden and Ali will make solving UCLA’s defensive woes much more difficult to solve. When both athletes are in the lineup, it allows the Bruins to play at a faster tempo and attack opponents on both ends of the court.
Alford was hoping to add depth with the addition of four players in UCLA’s ninth-ranked recruiting class. However, one of the recruits, six-foot-six shooting guard Kobe Paras, has withdrawn from the university after failing to meet academic conditions of his admission.
The bright side of losing Paras is that the other three players are all ranked in the top 25 of last year’s senior class.
The jewel of the class is six-foot-five-inch Lonzo Ball. During his senior season, Ball led Chino Hills High School to a 35-0 record and the California state title. In addition, he was named Mr. Basketball USA, Naismith Prep Player of the Year, and USA Today Boys Basketball Player of the year.
T.J. Leaf, ranked No. 16 in the nation, was expected to push Bolden for playing time. The Foothills Christian High School graduate had originally committed to Arizona, but the six-foot-nine power forward changed his mind at the last minute.
Much like Bolden, Ike Anigbogu is a long, athletic talent. The six-foot-ten forward is considered to be an elite shot blocker and rebounder.
Ingredients to Win Now
After losing only one contributor from last year’s team (Tony Parker), and adding arguably the best recruiting class in the country, Bruins fans will be expecting great things in 2016-17.
Coach Alford believes in this group and has accepted the challenge of turning the program around quickly by returning his contract extension to the university in exchange for a one-year deal.
UCLA’s fate will be determined by how well its young players perform. Alford will need to ask much of them very early in their careers—especially if Bolden and Ali are unavailable.
Tags: Jonah Bolden, Prince Ali, UCLA