Five days after defeating Wichita State — a college basketball program that doesn’t stock up on highly touted recruits — Kentucky will face an NCAA Tournament team that’s a lot closer on the recruiting spectrum.
UCLA, the Wildcats’ Sweet 16 opponent Friday night, boasts a roster with six former top-50 national recruits and three McDonald’s All-Americans, as well as one lightly regarded high school prospect who is now among the Bruins’ all-time leading scorers.
This is Steve Alford’s fourth season as UCLA’s head coach, and it’s the Bruins’ third trip to the Sweet 16 in his tenure. UCLA has not made it past this round under Alford. Kentucky is looking for its sixth trip to the Elite Eight and fifth Final Four in John Calipari’s eighth season with the Wildcats.
Here’s a closer look at how UK and UCLA match up from a recruiting standpoint (all numerical rankings are from the 247Sports composite):
By the numbers
Kentucky’s roster includes five McDonald’s All-Americans (Bam Adebayo, Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Malik Monk), plus two more top-50 recruits: Wenyen Gabriel (No. 14 recruit in 2016) and Isaac Humphries (No. 50 recruit in 2015). The Cats also have Hamidou Diallo (the No. 9 recruit in the 2017 class) on the roster, but he is sitting out as a midseason enrollee.
UCLA has three McDonald’s All-Americans (Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf and Thomas Welsh), plus additional top-50 recruits Isaac Hamilton (No. 20 in 2013), Prince Ali (No. 42 in 2015) and Ike Anigbogu (No. 47 in 2016). Ali is redshirting this season due to injury.
The other Bruins who had 247Sports composite rankings coming out of high school are Aaron Holiday (No. 55 in 2015), Alex Olesinski (No. 275 in 2015) and Gyorgy Goloman (No. 292 in 2014). Ikenna Okwarabizie was the No. 41 junior-college player nationally in the 2015 recruiting class.
The coach’s son
Senior guard Bryce Alford didn’t have a 247Sports composite ranking as a high school recruit in the 2013 class — that service classified him as a two-star prospect — and he originally signed with New Mexico, where Steve Alford was head coach at the time. Bryce followed his father to UCLA and now has his name all over the Bruins’ record books.
Going into Friday’s game, Alford has scored 1,909 points for UCLA, placing him fifth on the school’s all-time list behind only Don MacLean (2,608), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2,325), Jason Kapono (2,095) and Reggie Miller (2,095). Alford is one of four Bruins to have 1,500 points and 500 assists in his career — Darren Collison, Tyus Edney and Pooh Richardson are the others — and he’s sixth on the school’s all-time assists list.
Alford is also UCLA’s all-time leader in made three-pointers (326).
He’s second on the team with 15.6 points per game this season.
McDonald’s All-Americans Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf get the most attention for the Bruins, who are 31-4 and have their first 30-win season since Ben Howland took UCLA to three consecutive Final Four appearances in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Ball — the No. 3 recruit in the 2016 class — is projected as the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft by DraftExpress.com. He committed to the Bruins while he was a sophomore in high school.
Leaf — the No. 18 recruit in 2016 — is the Bruins’ leading scorer (16.2 points per game) and second-leading rebounder (8.2 boards per game) this season. The 6-10 forward originally committed to Arizona, then he took official visits to Louisville, Oregon, Kansas and California before ultimately committing to UCLA during his senior season.
Ball and Leaf combined for 31 points, 19 rebounds and 12 assists in the Bruins’ victory over Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Dec. 3.
The short answer: A stellar recruiting class and more Ball brothers.
Alford has put together his best class yet for next season, and 247Sports ranks the group as the No. 2 recruiting class nationally, behind only Kentucky.
UCLA’s 2017 commitments include two more McDonald’s All-Americans — point guard Jaylen Hands and versatile forward Kris Wilkes — along with power forward Cody Riley (No. 39 overall recruit nationally), power forward Jalen Hill (No. 59), small forward Chris Smith (No. 144) and shooting guard LiAngelo Ball (No. 269).
Of course, Alford has been rumored to be in the mix to return to Indiana as Tom Crean’s replacement, so he might not be around to coach those recruits.
In addition to LiAngelo Ball, the Bruins have a commitment from class of 2019 guard LaMelo Ball, who is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 3 sophomore in the country.