For the first four years of Mick Cronin’s tenure, it felt like UCLA had discovered the fountain of continuity. Even as college basketball transformed amid a proliferation of transfers, the Bruins stayed together. Players like Tyger Campbell, Jaime Jaquez, David Singleton and Jules Bernard helped steadily build the program back into a 30-game winner and Pac-12 champion.
Now, all the well-known faces of Cronin’s rebuild have departed. The top five scorers from last season’s roster are gone. Just four scholarship players are returning, and reserve center Kenneth Nwuba is the only one with more than a season of playing experience in a UCLA uniform.
But instead of going hard in the transfer portal to replace departing veterans with more veterans, Cronin and his staff took a different approach. The Bruins signed seven freshmen, marking a new era for the program’s final season in the Pac-12. Former Utah wing Lazar Stefanovic is the only incoming transfer.
The strategy stands in contrast to modern roster-building norms and will test Cronin’s coaching touch as the Bruins also welcome three new assistants. As offseason player movement cycle finally ends, it’s time to start breaking down the rosters of the sport’s top programs. For this installment, we’re taking a look at UCLA and trying to decipher what its lineup could look like when the season begins. With so many new faces, this can only be considered the rough outline of a roster that will see roles and rotations settled in the weeks and months ahead.
Projected starting lineup
1. Dylan Andrews
6-2 | 175 | So.
A former top-50 prospect, Andrews gained valuable experience last season off the bench and could be a Pac-12 breakout star as he steps into the point guard role vacated by Campbell. Given the program’s influx of new players, Cronin needs Andrews to orchestrate the offense and embrace a massive increase in responsibility following the departures of several program leaders.
2. Will McClendon
6-3 | 200 | R-So.
McClendon logged 9.4 minutes in 27 appearances last season after returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for the entirety of his true freshman season. The former four-star prospect will have a chance to carve out a greater role, but that’s not a given. He was part of the rotation on the team’s overseas trip but not a significant producer.
3. Lazar Stefanovic
6-7 | 185 | Jr.
With 62 career appearances and 33 starts under his belt at Utah, Stefanovic is this team’s veteran lynchpin. The versatile Serbian does a little bit of everything and should be a steadying influence after logging big minutes in Pac-12 battles for the Utes. He played more than anyone else on the team during the Spain trip and it would be no shock if he’s the minutes leader at the end of the season.
4. Aday Mara
7-3 | 240 | Fr.
Mara is generating 2024 NBA Draft lottery buzz but remains somewhat mysterious as an 18-year-old who has faced questionable competition. A stat line of 14 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.7 blocks per contest during Spain’s seven games in the FIBA U18 European Championships this summer provide ample reason for optimism. If Cronin can figure out how to maximize Mara’s enormous frame alongside returning center Adem Bona, it could make UCLA a matchup nightmare.
5. Adem Bona
6-10 | 245 | So.
Bona earned Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors after averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 22.9 minutes per game. The former five-star prospect hit 67.5% of his shots, which ranked second in the conference. As the only returning starter, he should be in line for an offensive production jump during his sophomore season. Regardless of how that plays out, Bona’s defense is essential to this team’s success.
6-9 | 215 | Fr.
Buyuktuncel averaged 11.4 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 34.8% from 3-point range in seven games for Turkey during this year’s U19 World Cup. When he signed, Cronin noted that he is a good scorer and creator who “has also developed an identity as a defensive stopper.” Look for that versatility to help Buyuktuncel earn early minutes.
“With Jaime Jaquez having graduated in the spring, we had been searching for a multi-dimensional player with good size, and Berke fits that description,” Cronin said. “He can do it all on the basketball court.”
6-3 | 195 | Fr.
Mack ranked as the No. 64 overall prospect in the class and No. 10 shooting guard, per 247Sports. During UCLA’s foreign trip, he showed his prowess as a bucket-getter by averaging 15.3 points.
“Sebastian is an explosive athlete and has developed into an elite scorer,” Cronin said when he signed. The trick for Mack will be finding efficiency during his freshman season. Given his explosive scoring ability and the leash he was given on the foreign trip, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him steal a spot in the starting lineup.
6-10 | 255 | R-Sr.
Now in his sixth year, Nwuba has been at UCLA since before Cronin’s arrival. He’s mostly been a role player, and that’s likely to be the case again in 2023-24, but Nwuba has delivered when called upon to step up in critical moments over the years. On a team with such youth, he’ll be an invaluable leader who can provide size and experience off the bench.
6-6 | 200 | Fr.
Fibleuil played steady minutes during UCLA’s three-game foreign tour and produced mixed results. In one game, he was 4 of 6 from the field, hit his only 3-point attempt and pulled down six rebounds. But he also committed 11 turnovers over the three games. He should be in the mix to claim minutes. “Ilane has great potential as a two-way player,” Cronin said when he signed. “He can shoot and slash and he defends at a high level with great anticipation skills.”
6-6 | 200 | Fr.
Vide is a star in the Slovenian pipeline who will seek to translate his gaudy international numbers to the college game. He averaged 17.9 points in the U19 World Cup this year, though his outside shot is a work in progress. Cronin described him as a “lead guard with great size” and praised his skill in the pick and roll.
“He’s been very well-known and highly regarded on the international basketball scene, having won multiple awards in European competition,” Cronin said.
6-10 | 200 | Fr.
Williams ranked as the No. 77 overall player and No. 15 power forward in the class, according to 247Sports. Cronin described him as “a modern big man with skill and size” and lauded his winning pedigree from Centennial High School in Corona, California.
6-7 | 215 | Fr.
Williams, who is not related to Devin Williams, ranked as the No. 66 overall prospect and No. 14 power forward in the class, according to 247Sports. When he signed, Cronin described Williams as a “big guard” and praised him for his passing ability and versatility. He will not turn 18 until after the season begins, making him one of the country’s youngest freshmen after a standout prep career at New York’s Christ The King High School.