Kris Wilkes Should Be an Impact Player Right Away For UCLA
It should come as no surprise to college basketball fans that freshmen have come to possess a significant portion of the star power in the sport. Just look at this year’s NBA draft, where the first upperclassman was not selected until Duke sophomore Luke Kennard with 12th pick. So while some returning players will undoubtedly have a major impact in 2017–18 season, it’s important to get to know the new faces who may come to occupy the spotlight.
With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top 25 incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. We move to the No. 20 overall recruit, UCLA's Kris Wilkes. (Note: Young was ranked No. 19 in the composite before Marvin Bagley III’s reclassification bumped every freshman in the country down a peg.
What he means for UCLA’s recruiting class
The incoming Bruins are loaded with length, with four players standing 6’ 7” or 6’ 8”. But it’s Wilkes, a small forward from Indianapolis, who is the most highly touted among them, as UCLA’s second-highest ranked recruit (behind guard Jaylen Hands) and No. 20 overall nationally. While his 194-pound frame may be in for some bulking, Wilkes gives this UCLA class an athletic, versatile scorer with ample room to grow and develop further as an all-around player, especially as he adds size. Wilkes should give this class another instant-impact player.
How he fits
Wilkes seems likely ticketed for the three spot in UCLA’s lineup, where he will be pushed for minutes by fellow freshmen Chris Smith (a similarly built wing from Texas) and LiAngelo Ball, who by now needs little introduction. Minus the combined 44.2 points per game averaged by the departed Bryce Alford, Lonzo Ball, and Isaac Hamilton, coach Steve Alford will be looking for new sources of scoring. Wilkes has shown himself to be an adept scorer in and around the paint as well as attacking the basket in transition. He should get the chance to showcase that early on, especially playing off Hands and returning point guard Aaron Holiday.
While much of the attention out west may be lavished upon Arizona and USC, the Bruins will continue contending in the Pac-12. Holiday and Hands will be a combo that can control games and set up scoring opportunities for the Bruins’ cadre of young forwards and returnee Thomas Welsh, a senior 7-footer who shot 58.5% from the field last season. Lonzo Ball may have catalyzed the Bruins’ quick turnaround from their dreadful, 15-win 2015-16 season, but the program will continue its momentum in his wake.