UCLA’s basketball team, already in flux, is facing a few more potential departures.
Junior center Thomas Welsh and sophomore point guard Aaron Holiday are both declaring for the NBA draft, the school confirmed. Neither player is planning to hire an agent, thereby preserving their ability to return to college next season. They have until May 24 to withdraw their names from draft consideration.
“Both Thomas and Aaron are doing their due diligence in getting feedback from the NBA to determine what’s in the best interest for their basketball futures,” UCLA Coach Steve Alford said Monday. “Each of these young men come from strong families with great support networks, and I want them to know that we will fully support their decisions, whichever way they go.”
The departures of Welsh and Holiday would be a crushing blow to a team already facing the loss of freshmen Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf and Ike Anigbogu. Ball and Leaf have said they would hire agents, effectively ending their UCLA careers, and Anigbogu said he would not hire an agent in case he wanted to return.
Should all five players leave in addition to seniors Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton, the Bruins would be losing seven of their top eight players as well as 95.52% of their scoring from last season. That would leave reserve forward Gyorgy Goloman, who averaged 3.7 points and 2.4 rebounds in 11.5 minutes per game last season, as the most experienced returning player.
Two NBA scouts who spoke with The Times said they thought both Welsh and Holiday should return to UCLA next season to boost their draft stock. The scouts spoke anonymously because their teams had not authorized them to publicly discuss college players. Welsh faces questions about his defense, and Holiday has not shown how he would fare as a starter since his freshman season.
“I think people want to see what he’s like when he maybe runs the team again,” one NBA scout said of Holiday. “I think a year going back might be good for him to take over that point guard spot and run it full time.”
Welsh averaged 10.8 points and a team-leading 8.7 rebounds per game last season while blocking a team-leading 43 shots. Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists while bringing an infusion of defense off the bench as the sixth man.
Neither Welsh nor Holiday is listed on most mock draft boards, but one scout said they would both have a chance to make an NBA team. Holiday has NBA pedigree because his brother Jrue plays for the New Orleans Pelicans and his brother Justin plays for the New York Knicks.
“Those guys find a way through the backdoor to get on a roster whether through a tryout or a late second-round pick,” the scout said of Welsh and Aaron Holiday, “but rarely are they guys that you’re talking about really high up.”
UCLA will plug most of its holes with a six-man recruiting class ranked No. 2 nationally. Guard Prince Ali and forward Alex Olesinski will also return after redshirting last season because of injuries. But the loss of so much experience would make the Bruins almost exclusively dependent on freshmen.
Alford told The Times last week that he was hoping Welsh and Holiday would return to guide the newcomers.
“Well, there’s no question because it’s their team,” Alford said of the upperclassmen. “Aaron’s had two really good years under his belt, Tom three really good years under his belt, so just like Isaac and Bryce and their leadership this year, that would be turned over to Aaron and Tom — Tom leading the frontcourt guys and Aaron leading the backcourt guys, so those are two obviously very important big pieces to what we’re trying to build for next year.”
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