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

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UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin says this year’s 2022-23 version of the Bruins will be different than the roster from the last two seasons, and there was no hesitation in pointing out the difference.

“There’s no question, we’re going to be a more athletic team,” Cronin said.

New arrivals Adem Bona, Amari Bailey, Dylan Andrews and Abramo Canka – albeit freshmen – will inject a heavy dose of athleticism to a UCLA team that is likely to open the season in the top 10 nationally.

“Adem’s a freak, athletically. Amari and Dylan have great speed and quickness. Abramo is a really good athlete on the wing at 6’6”. And, of course, Jaylen Clark,” Cronin said.

Adem Bona (left) listening to instruction from UCLA coach Mick Cronin during a practice session. (Jan Kim Lim/UCLA)

UCLA’s team has been almost identical the last two seasons. The only addition being Peyton Watson, who spent one season with the Bruins before being drafted in the first round of this past summer’s NBA Draft. Johnny Juzang, Jules Bernard, Cody Riley, Jake Kyman and Myles Johnson are no longer with the team.

UCLA fans can expect a lot of new faces, even ones like Will McClendon and Mac Etienne, who are returning from season-ending injuries. It sounds like a faster, more dynamic playing style is coming to Westwood, too.

“We’ll be more athletic in our ability to attack the rim on offense and our ability to pressure the ball and recover on defense,” Cronin said.

Key returners Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Jaylen Clark are athletic in their own right. Jaquez, a returning All-Pac-12 selection, is certainly known for a highlight-reel dunk and Clark might be one of the most dynamic perimeter defenders in the conference this season.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. paying his dues at UCLA pickup games

When asked about a more dynamic playing style this year, Jaquez simplified it quickly.

“I think it’s fun,” he said. “Don’t let the defense set up, get down the floor for layups and dunks. That sounds super fun.”

Bailey and Bona were McDonald All-American selections in high school, and anchor what is Cronin’s best recruiting class yet. After a quick Youtube.com search of each player, it’s easy to see how talented they are.

Bailey is a 6-foot-5, left-handed point guard who can sky for a rebound and push the ball down the middle of the floor to make a play for himself or teammates. The high-flyer certainly has a flair for acrobatic dunks. Bailey is also an elite on-ball defender.

“Amari is so fast, he can push the ball and tempo anytime he wants,” Jaquez said.

Amari Bailey is one UCLA’s top freshmen this season. (Jan Kim Lim/UCLA)

Bona is a 6-foot-10, 225-pound Nigerian-born center who started playing basketball at 13 years old. He quickly turned into one of the country’s top prospects for his off-the-charts mobility at his size.

“Adem is a freak of nature,” Jaquez said. “Super athlete. He can run, jump and stays under control.”

Bailey is projected to be a first-round draft pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, according to countless way-too-early mock drafts, including CBS, NBC Sports and ESPN.

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