UCLA Basketball: Looking at the front court after Moses Brown’s exit

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 29: Jalen Hill #24 of the UCLA Bruins reacts during the first half against the Liberty Flames at Pauley Pavilion on December 29, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 29: Jalen Hill #24 of the UCLA Bruins reacts during the first half against the Liberty Flames at Pauley Pavilion on December 29, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images) /

With Moses Brown declaring for the NBA Draft, the UCLA basketball team has a big hole to fill at the center position. Can the Bruins sustain the loss with the players they return for the 2019-20 season?

For the last week, there have been whispers that 7’1 center Moses Brown would leave the UCLA basketball program for the NBA Draft. That was confirmed on Tuesday when Brown officially declared for the draft.

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With his exit, the Bruins have a big hole to fill in the paint. As a true freshman, Brown started at the 5-spot in almost every game (he missed a game and a start due to violation of team rules) and averaged 9.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game. Brown is an athletic specimen that can dominate the paint, but he also had a few drawbacks.

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If Brown plans to enter the pros (either in America or Europe), he needs to add some weight. There were several games where he was physically out-matched by bigger, stronger and more-disciplined opponents. Brown could also benefit from a little defensive development, which he could have gotten from new UCLA basketball coach Mick Cronin, but it is what it is and the Bruins need to move on.

So how does this affect UCLA?

The most significant loss is Brown’s rebounding prowess. With his height and length, he was able to grab a lot of rebounds with little effort, especially when he was laser-focused. The brunt of that responsibility will now fall on three specific players: Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, and Shareef O’Neal.

Hill is the likely candidate to start at center. Though he only scored 4.3 points and grabbed 6.0 rebounds, he began to hit his potential late in the 2018-19 season. Hill is also a student of the defensive game, which would make him a good fit for Cronin. Adjusting his game so that he can box out, make better defensive reads, rotate and clear out the paint will help him make a jump in his development next season.

With Riley, Cronin will have a scoring big man at his disposal, but the new coach will also have him become more defensive-oriented. Riley was another Bruin that started to improve as the season went on, but he was often inconsistent. It seems likely that he will grow as a low-post scorer, but he will also take a massive step in his development if he can improve on his 4.1 rebounds per game.

The Bruins also get to utilize the talents of Shareef O’Neal who missed last season due to a heart condition which he had surgery to correct last December. Because of this, O’Neal has only recently started to get back into shape. Though the season is seven months away, O’Neal has to focus on his overall health, yet it is encouraging that he is already back on the court and working with Cronin and the Bruins.

Aside from that, when O’Neal is back at full-strength, he will bring a lot of talent. Though he will most likely play at the power forward position, he has no problem playing the perimeter, essentially making him a “stretch four.” He might be the son of Shaq and can move bodies under the basket like his dad, but he has developed a killer midrange shot that can be a dagger to his opponents.

As far as backup is concerned, UCLA still has the experienced Alex Olesinski and the developing Kenny Nwuba. With the bodies in front of him, Olesinski might not play as many minutes as he did last season, though he brings leadership and knowledge as a redshirt senior. Nwuba played even fewer minutes, but with a coach that can bring out his talents, he could become a reliable backup center.

Next. 5 Reasons Cronin Will Have Immediate Success With UCLA. dark

The loss of Brown is significant, but some things are out of a program’s control. If Cronin can bounce back from losses like this and use the tools he has on his roster, then the loss of a key player becomes even less significant.