Ten days ago, Jordan Adams decided to return to UCLA for his junior season, and that decision meant UCLA would matter next year. The Pac-12, for the most part, would be stuffed top to bottom with competitive teams and smart coaches. The Bruins lost two significant contributors (Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine) but returned solid producers and would import some top-shelf recruits. That package ensured little without Adams' presence. The Bruins' do-everything leading scorer was the component that would tether it all together.
Now Adams has changed his mind, a school spokesman confirmed, and UCLA is certainly something less and something undefinable as a result. The 6-foot-5 guard will enter the NBA draft after all, informing coach Steve Alford of his decision Saturday, altering course just hours before the Sunday deadline to depart for the pros. With him, the gap between Arizona and the Bruins seemed much less daunting. There were no questions about a go-to player, not after Adams averaged 17.4 points and shot 48.5 percent from the field as a sophomore. There was no question about what identity would drive the team: A veteran backcourt of Adams and Norman Powell, with well-regarded newcomers like top 15 recruit Kevin Looney caulking the gaps.
Adams leaves nothing but questions behind. UCLA returns just three of eight players who competed in 34 or more games a year ago. Powell averaged 11.4 points per game, while Bryce Alford (8.0) and Tony Parker (6.9) were regulars but role players nonetheless. So everything from here on out is experimentation for Steve Alford; he has to figure out everything about this team, including where to start.
Three top 50 recruits aren't bad as reinforcements: There is the five-star prize in the 6-foot-9 Looney, as well as rangy 6-foot-8 forward Jonah Bolden and 7-foot center Thomas Welsh. The hope would be for Looney to replicate what Anderson offered, save the ball-handling and playmaking, by scoring, stretching defenses, rebounding and running the floor. That trio is going to have to contribute immediately, and relying on freshmen isn't prohibitive to contending. It's just a dicey proposition in what could be an unforgiving league. And the entire operation is more tenuous than it would have been with a potential All-American at the head of it. Even with LaVine and Anderson departing, Adams' decision to return made UCLA a fairly big winner before the draft declaration deadline. That dynamic flipped as soon as Adams did. The Bruins aren't exactly starting from scratch, but it's close enough to be concerning.