Pac-12 freshman of the year Adem Bona withdraws from NBA draft pool, returns to UCLA

Tribune Content Agency

LOS ANGELES — UCLA’s next starting lineup will include at least one familiar face.

Adem Bona, the Pac-12 Conference’s freshman of the year and one of the nation’s top centers, will return to the Bruins after withdrawing from the NBA draft in favor of another college season.

It’s a huge plus for a team that could turn over practically its entire roster following the departures of starters Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tyger Campbell and Amari Bailey. The Bruins still are waiting to discover whether junior guard Jaylen Clark, who also was weighing his options at a time when he faces a lengthy recovery from an Achilles injury, will join Bona in returning next season.

Bona gives UCLA a known quantity to build around after a strong debut season that ended prematurely because of a shoulder injury. He also could be part of a twin towers lineup if the Bruins are able to land Spanish prospect Aday Mara, a highly coveted 7-foot-3 center. Mara’s perimeter shooting could allow him to play alongside the 6-10 Bona, whose game is better suited to playing around the basket.

“We are all very excited about Adem continuing his career in Westwood,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “Adem is a vibrant, high-character young man who we all love being around every day. He improved immensely during his freshman season, showing his toughness and love for his team by competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could. Adem wants to develop further, which will help him have a long NBA career, and he wisely used this pre-draft process. We are going to see great things from Adem next season, and we also appreciate his loyalty to UCLA.”

After cutting down on a tendency to pile up unnecessary fouls, Bona was playing his best basketball over the season’s final few months. His averages of 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game did not capture his ability to impact a game on both ends of the court as a shot-blocking menace who was also a constant threat to convert lobs into dunks.

Bona could not play in the Bruins’ season-ending loss to Gonzaga in a NCAA tournament regional semifinal after hurting his shoulder against Oregon two weeks earlier during the Pac-12 tournament. He suffered the injury while sprawling on the court to chase a loose ball.

Bona returned to play 20 minutes against Northwestern in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, sparking a key fast break with a block while also aggravating his shoulder on a dunk.

UCLA could go three deep at center should the Bruins land Mara to go with Bona and veteran backup Kenneth Nwuba.

They could have as many as nine newcomers depending on Clark’s decision.