UCLA basketball blends youth and experience in new-look team
LOS ANGELES — Thomas Welsh wastes no time. The senior center walks from the film room straight to the side of the court at Pauley Pavilion and begins his pre-practice stretches. Many of his teammates meander around the court, casually shooting a few baskets before settling onto the floor with their foam rollers and resistance bands. Two freshmen, Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, are among the last to get into position.
After a brief flirtation with the NBA, Welsh decided to return to Westwood. With a slew of highly regarded freshmen, UCLA needed the 7-footer back for more reasons than one. Welsh and junior Aaron Holiday provide necessary leadership for a team trying to balance youth with experience while hoping to improve upon last year’s Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament run.
“For me as a senior and having gone through so many good times, so many bad times, I think I know what’s expected of a championship-level team,” Welsh said Wednesday at UCLA’s media day on campus. “I just try to lead by example, show them the ropes, just give them a feel of what college basketball is like because none of them have gone through it yet.”
The freshmen are just getting accustomed to the long practices. Wilkes, a 6-foot-8 McDonald’s All-America guard, used to practice for an hour or two in high school. The Bruins go for three. And it’s hard work too.
“A lot of up-and-down things, five-on-five, it’s not just a couple of drills here and there,” he said. “And you gotta play hard too because everybody here is good.”
UCLA has less than one month until its season opener against Georgia Tech in Shanghai. The Bruins have six nonconference games against Power 6 conferences teams, only one of which is in Pauley Pavilion: a rematch of last year’s NCAA second-round game […]