UCLA’s Adem Bona declares for NBA draft, preserves eligibility

The Pac-12 freshman of the year may or may not become a sophomore at UCLA.

Adem Bona’s status remained in flux Wednesday after the rapidly improving center announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NBA draft. Coach Mick Cronin disclosed shortly thereafter that his top post player would preserve his college eligibility for next season while seeking feedback about his professional potential.

Evaluations of Bona could be complicated by the shoulder injury that prematurely ended his season and prevented him from playing in the Bruins’ final game, a 79-76 loss to Gonzaga in an NCAA tournament regional semifinal. Bona is not expected to work out for NBA teams as he continues his rehabilitation, according to one person close to the situation.

But his enormous upside was clearly evident over the final months of a season in which he established himself as a defensive menace who was one of the country’s fastest big men. The 6-foot-10 Bona led the Bruins with 57 blocks while making 67.5% of his shots, the second-best percentage in the Pac-12. He also averaged 7.7 points and 5.3 rebounds while nearly eliminating his early season tendency to get in foul trouble.

Immediately winning over his coaches and teammates with a buoyant demeanor, Bona also became popular with fans who watched him join in a group hug with team managers after every home game. But there are aspects of his game that could benefit from a second college season. His mid-range shooting was spotty, and his moves around the basket were only starting to show promise by the end of the season.

“We will support Adem through this process with the NBA,” Cronin said in a statement. “He’s still in school and he will retain his eligibility. He is rehabbing daily from his shoulder injury. Adem is one of the best young people who I’ve ever coached, and I’m excited for him. This is part of having great players in your program. We will support him and Jaylen Clark as they navigate through this process.”

Bona becomes the sixth UCLA player to declare for the draft, joining Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tyger Campbell, David Singleton, Amari Bailey and Clark. Bona and Clark are the only ones with remaining eligibility who are preserving the option to return to college. Like Bona, Clark will not be able to work out for NBA teams because of the lower-leg injury that is expected to sideline him until at least December.

Bona hurt his shoulder diving for a loose ball during a Pac-12 tournament semifinal against Oregon, forcing him to miss the next 2½ games. He returned to play against Northwestern in the second round of the NCAA tournament before reaggravating his injury while absorbing contact on a dunk late in the game.

Barring the arrival of reinforcements, Bona’s departure would leave UCLA thin in the frontcourt, with only reserves Mac Etienne and Kenneth Nwuba currently on scholarship. But the Bruins are pursuing highly coveted Spanish prospect Aday Mara, a 7-foot-3 center who could easily play alongside Bona as part of an occasional twin towers lineup should Bona choose to return.

UCLA could add further reinforcements through the transfer portal. They may or may not be necessary, depending on Bona’s decision.