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UCLA undergoes biggest roster rebuild under Mick Cronin after key losses

FILE - UCLA head coach Mick Cronin directs his players against Arizona during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game March 4, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — UCLA fans will be checking their programs this season after the biggest roster turnover in coach Mick Cronin’s tenure.

Seven freshmen join just four holdovers from last season — when the Bruins reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

The newcomers are Berke Buyuktuncel, Aday Mara, Jan Vide, Ilane Fibleuil, Sebastian Mack, Devin Williams and Brandon Williams (no relation). They join returnees Adem Bona, Dylan Andrews, Will McClendon and Kenneth Nwuba, as well as Utah transfer Lazar Stefanovic.

Buyuktuncel is from Turkey, Mara is from Spain, Vide is from Slovenia and Fibleuil is from France.

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“We got talent. We got depth,” Cronin said. “We’re just young, and I know we’re an unknown to a lot of people, so it’s going to be interesting.”

The Bruins aren’t ranked in the AP Top 25 preseason poll for the first time since 2019-20, which was Cronin’s first season. They are among teams receiving votes.

The roster upheaval is due to the losses of Pac-12 player of the year Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tyger Campbell, Jaylen Clark, Amari Bailey and David Singleton — UCLA’s five leading scorers who accounted for nearly 87% of the offense. They led the team’s run to the Sweet 16 before losing to Gonzaga. The Bruins were 31-6 and won their first outright Pac-12 regular-season title in a decade.

“It’s time to turn the page,” said Cronin, who is entering his fifth season in Westwood.

UCLA opens the season Nov. 6 against Saint Francis of Pennsylvania at Pauley Pavilion. It will be the Bruins’ final season in the Pac-12 before jumping to the Big Ten.

BIG MEN

The Bruins could go with a starting lineup featuring the 6-foot-10 Bona and 7-3 Mara that would create all sorts of matchup problems for opponents.

“Me and him on the floor at the same time is going to be amazing to see, and I can’t wait to have the two of us on the floor at the same time,” Bona said.

Bona decided to forego the NBA draft and return for his sophomore season. He has rehabbed from a late-season left shoulder injury, although he hasn’t been fully cleared yet.

“I was able to get in the gym a lot, work on my right hand, improve on my form,” Bona said of his summer routine. “I think the coaches have done a lot helping me get to where I am right now, and I think we’ve made a lot of strides.”

UTILITY MAN

Buyuktuncel (pronounced buh-YOOK-tin-shill) possesses an all-around game and at 6-9 he can fill a variety of positions from small forward to center. He helped Turkey to a third-place finish at last summer’s FIBA Under-19 World Cup.

BACKCOURT

Andrews likely will step in to run the Bruins’ offense after serving as Campbell’s understudy a year ago.

“I’ve got to make sure that I’m allowing him to be really good at what he’s good at, pressuring the ball, using his speed and quickness, being able to create his own shot, probably better off the dribble than Tyger,” Cronin said.

Vide is a skilled guard with ballhandling ability who could be a major contributor.

The most experienced perimeter player is Stefanovic, who was Utah’s third-leading scorer at 10.2 points per game and second in assists at 2.7.

Cronin has been in Stefanovic’s ear at practice urging him to be more aggressive and look to score.

“I know it and I know the team needs it,” the junior guard said. “I know that my leadership role is going to be huge for us this year, and I need to step up in that area and help everybody get better.”

McClendon enters his sophomore season looking to play major minutes after a knee injury derailed his freshman year.

HEAT IN HAWAII

The Bruins will get an early season test at the Maui Invitational, which will be played in Honolulu during Thanksgiving week. They'll open against No. 5 Marquette, and then face either top-ranked Kansas or Chaminade. Other ranked teams in the field are No. 3 Purdue, No. 9 Tennessee and No. 11 Gonzaga.

Other notable nonconference games are at Villanova on Dec. 9, against Ohio State in Atlanta on Dec. 16 and Maryland at home on Dec. 22.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball