Jaylen Hands Could Be the Next Great UCLA Freshman Distributor
It should come as no surprise to college basketball fans that freshmen have come to possess a significant portion of the star power in the sport. Just look at this year’s NBA draft, where the first upperclassman was not selected until Duke sophomore Luke Kennard with 12th pick. So while some returning players will undoubtedly have a major impact in 2017–18 season, it’s important to get to know the new faces who may come to occupy the spotlight.
With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top 25 incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. We move to the No. 22 overall recruit, UCLA's Jaylen Hands. (Note: Hands was ranked No. 21 in the composite before Marvin Bagley III’s reclassification bumped every freshman in the country down a peg.)
What he means for UCLA’s recruiting class
The last time UCLA had a point guard this dynamic was, well, last season: Lonzo Ball. And while Hands will be joined by Ball’s younger brother LiAngelo this season in Westwood, his game actually more resembles another famous Bruin in the NBA: Russell Westbrook. His ridiculous hops and speed are reminiscent, at least, and he should fit in well with the rest of UCLA’s uber-athletic recruiting class, led by Kris Wilkes (No. 20 in the RSCI rankings), Cody Riley (No. 41), and Jalen Hill (No. 61). The trio of Wilkes, Riley, and Hill are all at least 6' 7" and 195 pounds—it’ll be up to Hands to feed them inside.
How he fits
UCLA may have lost Ball to the NBA, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Hands will slide into the starting lineup. Former sixth man Aaron Holiday should go back to starting at the point, which might give Hands a shot as the first-string shooting guard—or Steve Alford could flip them and experiment with different backcourts. He could also store Hands on the bench with the first wave of reinforcements, and let him dribble and drive and score as the leader of the second team. Wherever he ends up, there’s no doubt Hands’s strength is converting his speed and bounce into points around the rim.
Thomas Welsh is the only returning starter from last season’s Sweet 16 squad, so for the second season in a row, the Bruins will lean on production from a heralded freshman class. Wilkes is almost certain to start at small forward, while Hands and Riley will also get a crack at the first team. This year’s team won’t be nearly as proficient offensively as last season’s group, but a solid mixture of returning talent and intriguing recruits (plus even more LaVar Ball!) should all but guarantee UCLA a fifth consecutive NCAA tournament.