UCLA men’s basketball opens at No. 8 in AP preseason poll

The UCLA men’s basketball team will open the 2022-23 season ranked No. 8 in the country, according to the Associated Press’ Top 25 preseason poll released Monday morning.

It’s the second consecutive year UCLA has opened the year ranked in the top 10. The Bruins were No. 2 in the AP’s 2021-22 preseason poll. The program had not been ranked that high since being slotted No. 2 in 2007-08, coming off back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2006 and 2007.

“We’re undefeated,” fourth-year coach Mick Cronin said to the media on October 6. “I love this time of year.”

It’s not surprising to see UCLA in the top 10. All-Pac-12 selections Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell return for their senior seasons, along with three other players who were part of the Final Four team two seasons ago and last year’s Sweet Sixteen appearance. The Bruins finished No. 11 in the AP’s final poll after falling to eventual champion North Carolina (73-66), which comes into this season No. 1.

This year’s team will include head coach Mick Cronin’s best recruiting class yet, highlighted by two McDonald’s All-Americans in guard Amari Bailey and center Adem Bona. Abramo Canka is a 6-foot-6 wing and Dylan Andrew is a shifty point guard who is already garnering high praise from Cronin.

“Dylan (Andrews) is the fastest guy I’ve coached with the ball in my 27 years in college,” Cronin said.

UCLA’s Amari Bailey, Adem Bona highlight what Mick Cronin calls a ‘more athletic team’

It sounds fun because the talent is apparent. But there’s a flip side to having six first-year freshmen (two non-scholarship) and two redshirt freshmen (Will McClendon and Mac Etienne).

“The interesting thing with freshmen is they’ve never practiced this hard or this much,” Cronin explained. “You can look at them and see their brain is completely fried. It’s hard for them to stay focused and keep listening. How to practice and pay attention is a major league skill.”

UCLA has an exhibition against Concordia University Irvine at Pauley Pavilion on November 2.

“It’s a lot of teaching. I’ve been in major teaching mode,” Cronin said.

Cronin’s toughest challenge will be bridging the gap between the veterans on the team and the new, talented players. Even Jaquez and Campbell refer to the freshmen as “young guys.”

“Jaime and I were talking about that a little bit,” Campbell said of the influx of youth. “I remember when I came in (as a freshman) and we thought we were on top of the world.”

In that reflection, Campbell said he thought about what he would’ve told himself if he was coming in as a freshman now. It’s the same thing he’s telling the newcomers before his senior season.

“To be patient. The young guys come in and want to make a play every single possession, but you have to move the ball and play within the team. Do what the team needs and play your role.”

Jaime Jaquez Jr. paying his dues at UCLA pickup games

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UCLA’s trip to Las Vegas will likely be included top 25 matchups. The Bruins will face Illinois (preseason No. 23) on Nov. 18 before playing the winner of No. 5 Baylor and No. 18 Virginia on Nov. 20 at the T-Mobile Arena.

A month later, the Bruins will take on No. 4 Kentucky on Dec. 17 in New York at Madison Square Garden.

Two other Pac-12 members were voted into the preseason poll. Arizona is No. 17 and Oregon is No 21. USC received three votes.

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