UCLA men's basketball guard Jules Bernard and guard/forward Peyton Watson were the two players selected to speak with reporters Tuesday before practice.
Bernard talked about Watson and guard Jaylen Clark emerging as key young pieces this season, while also sorting through the importance and impact of playing in front of fans. Watson talked about his own personal growth and the trust that he has tried to build between him and his teammates.
Impressions of Clark and Watson development?
They work hard in practice every day. They bring a lot of energy. They are two guys who are extremely competitive and want to be great and we can see that their work is opening positions to do great things and help us on the floor. Jaylen, he brings a lot of energy on the court defensively. Offensively, cutting, things of that nature, being a strong guard. And then P-Wat, he's young but he's talented and he's confident. And he does a lot for us. And I think his length really helps us not only on the defensive end, but being a guy who's that tall who can move like he can on the offensive end, it helps a lot. Those two have definitely been working hard and helping not only doing well at practice, but seeing the translation into the games.
Jaylen 11 points in first half against OSU – surprised?
He's a great player, and he knows how to be in the right positions. He's been working diligently on his shot. We've sort of as a team, as coaches, we want him to be more confident shooting, and he's definitely shown more confidence in his jumper and taking it when it's open. And he's knocking them down. He's always been a great driver, great cutter off the ball. Whenever you can play off the ball like he does it's easy to put points on the board.
Excited for fans Thursday?
Yeah, it'll be nice. But we're always prepared – fans or not. We're just excited to be playing during these times and playing with our teammates and stuff like that. Especially coming off two or three weeks not playing. We're just excited to be out there playing, no matter if we have fans or not. But it definitely helps, get the energy up in the building. We're super excited to be out in the mountains playing against some good teams.
How far you from finding your groove?
We know that things take time. We had a great finish to the year last year, and we added some new pieces. We've also been dealing with injuries and stuff this year. Just trying to mesh and fill those holes of when people are injured and things like that. It's caused some time for us to get back into the groove of things. And then obviously, we had two to three weeks off for COVID. But I think just getting back into shape. That was one of the big things that we focused on going into the tournament: being one of the best teams in shape that was going to be in the tournament. If we could run and have the depth that we have as a team, that would be vital to us winning. And we saw that in the tournament. Guys came off the bench and really produced. I think just getting back into that type of shape and just getting more time under our belt with the group of guys that we have. Adding in Peyton, Myles and guys having bigger roles, I think that's definitely important. But it'll take time. We know that. We're just day by day, game by game just working and trying to get to that point.
How does it feel to contribute more and more? Comfort level with team?
It means a lot to me. I love to produce, I love to impact winning. That's my main thing, I just want to help our team win and continue to have a successful season. So I've been working day in and day out, just getting more comfortable with the college style of play. Working my butt of in practice, really pushing myself and other guys. And I think that it's really shown here in these past couple of weeks in my practice performance and that's translated over to the game.
Favorite block? How much part of game?
I don't want to say I have a favorite yet. I probably do, but I just want to wait until I get some more under my belt and then maybe I can decipher from there. But I love blocking shots because I feel like it brings energy. Also, it allows my team to trust me on defense. They know that they always have somebody back there that's willing to put their body first, meet the defender face to face and kind of just go up and make a play. And that's all I try to do. And I just want to let my teammates know that they can trust me in those help positions.
Veteran players accept you, bring you in?
Oh for sure. I think so. Once again, I'm just going to go back to how big that trust is. Since the beginning of practice over summer, I've tried to set the tone defensively. Just to let everybody know that I'm serious and I'm here to win off tops. I know there was a lot of hype behind my name and all that stuff, but as soon as practice starts, as soon as the games started, it was all about 'forget all of that' for me. It was like, I want to mesh with my teammates, build chemistry, make sure they know they can trust me and vice versa.