Skip to main content

Highlighting Top Transfer Portal Options for UCLA Men's Basketball

The Bruins could have as many as three open scholarship spots on the roster this season, meaning a late search through the transfer portal is an option.
  • Author:
  • Publish date:

As currently constituted, the Bruins project to be a consensus top-10 team heading into next season, if not top five.

But that doesn't mean they should be done adding.

UCLA men's basketball currently has 10 players on scholarship for the 2022-2023 season, three under the NCAA limit. Even if guard Jules Bernard backs out of the NBA Draft pool and returns to Westwood – which seems likely, given he did not earn an invite to the combine following the G League Elite Camp – that's still two open spots.

The return of guard Will McClendon and forward Mac Etienne from their torn ACLs, plus the arrival of three top recruits and two new walk-ons, will give coach Mick Cronin plenty of bodies to fill out a lineup and run a full practice.

Still, UCLA does have some possible holes in the rotation, and the transfer portal stands as the most obvious route to adding new faces. Here are All Bruins' picks for who the Bruins should target:

F/C Mouhamed Gueye, Washington State

The Bruins lucked out last offseason when Myles Johnson left Rutgers to enter the transfer portal.

It isn't too often that a pure big man with experience as a power conference starter hits the market, and that niche gets trimmed even further when academics are taken into account.

Gueye was a top target for Cronin's 2022 recruiting class, but he wound up committing to Washington State over UCLA and Kansas and reclassifying to 2021. Gueye contributed right away in Pullman, making the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team after picking up five Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors and averaging 7.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game.

The 6-foot-11 big played 21.9 minutes a night and was part of the starting lineup in 33 of his 35 appearances. Just looking at his physical profile and production in the Pac-12, Gueye appears to be a near-perfect fit for the Bruins on paper, and he could even play side-by-side with incoming McDonald's All-American center Adem Bona in some lineups.

Interestingly enough, Gueye was in the same class as Bona at Prolific Prep (CA), so the personal connection could help UCLA gain ground with Gueye. 

Gueye has been busy preparing for the NBA Draft over the past month, but like Bernard, he worked out at the G League Elite Camp and was not invited to the official combine later in the week. If that means he's returning to the college ranks, Cronin should go all-out in his second attempt of recruiting Gueye. 

F/C Victor Ohia Obioha, Pepperdine

As previously mentioned, finding Johnson was a rarity and will be very difficult to replicate.

You can count on one hand how many experienced power conference bigs are on the market, since most of the biggest names have already committed or signed elsewhere – Iowa's Josh Ogundele is returning to the Hawkeyes, Maryland's Qudus Wahab is headed to Georgetown, Texas' Tre Mitchell is on his way to West Virginia, Kansas State's Kaosi Ezeagu has joined Sam Houston and Georgetown's Timothy Ighoefe signed with Cal Baptist.

Any number of those bigs would have been solid options, but most of them probably would have expected a lot of minutes. If Cronin wants to start Bona and play him 20 to 25 minutes a night, maybe the transfer big he's looking for is someone willing to chip in somewhere closer to 15 minutes per game.

That means possibly looking to smaller school options, searching for veterans who can eat up spare minutes and contribute as a role player rather than as a star.

Obioha played the last four seasons just up the road at Pepperdine, where he became a part-time starter for the Waves. The local prospect from Hillcrest High School (CA) saw his minutes and rebounding go up every year, and he went for 5.2 points and 5.1 rebounds a night as a senior.

Per 40 minutes, Obioha averages 12.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.3 steals for his career. The athletic, 6-foot-9 big has tools and plenty of minutes under his belt, but never averaged more than 17 minutes per game in any of his four collegiate seasons in the WCC.

Obioha would be a complementary piece in the post rotation, and a solid one at that. Between Bona, Obioha and Mac Etienne, Cronin would have some solid options to experiment with down low.

F Keion Brooks, Kentucky

According to CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein, the Bruins have been in constant contact with Brooks, even though he had previously declared for the NBA Draft.

Brooks was in the same spot as Bernard and Gueye after showing out at the G League Elite Camp but not making the NBA Draft Combine. Brooks already withdrew, though, so he is officially back on the market.

However, this is an "either, or" case – Brooks would almost certainly cross UCLA off his list if Bernard returns to school, since making room for both of them in the wing rotation would be virtually impossible.

If Cronin strikes out on Brooks and Bernard doesn't return, the Bruins could end up empty handed, but starting Jaime Jaquez Jr., Jaylen Clark and Amari Bailey as the three wings is not a bad look. The depth would take a hit, though, which is why UCLA should keep its ear to the ground on wings in the portal.

Brooks is the clearest option out there, now that he’s returning to school. Brooks was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, according to both 247Sports and Rivals, and he even took an official visit to Westwood back in August 2018.

After playing a bench role for the Wildcats as a freshman, Brooks averaged 10.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game over the past two seasons. Brooks, at 6-foot-7 and 205 pounds, hardly shoots 3-pointers and boasts an overall solid blend of paint scoring, switchable defense and athleticism.

Also, the last time the Bruins took a chance on a Kentucky transfer, things turned out alright. Without Johnny Juzang, UCLA doesn't make the Final Four in 2021, so maybe Brooks can be the missing piece to get them to a championship level in 2023.

Follow Connon on Twitter at @SamConnon
Follow All Bruins on Twitter at @SI_AllBruins
Like All Bruins on Facebook at @SI.AllBruins
Subscribe to All Bruins on YouTube

Read more UCLA stories: UCLA Bruins on Sports Illustrated
Read more UCLA men's basketball stories: UCLA Men's Basketball on Sports Illustrated