One of the largest freshman classes in UCLA basketball history has added its final piece.
The addition of Turkish forward Berke Buyuktuncel, who signed with the Bruins on Saturday, gives coach Mick Cronin a seven-man freshman class that should help plug the team's considerable needs after turning over practically most of its roster.
Center Adem Bona, point guard Dylan Andrews, shooting guard Will McClendon and veteran big man Kenneth Nwuba are the only holdovers from last season, when the Bruins reached the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 before losing to Gonzaga. They will be joined by the freshmen plus Lazar Stefanovic, a transfer guard from Utah.
Standing 6 feet 9, the left-handed Buyuktuncel (pronounced BER-keh buh-YOOK-tin-shill) is known for an all-around game that includes a developing jump shot and array of crafty moves to go with energetic defense. Given his size and versatility, he fills a position of need on a guard-heavy team.
Buyuktuncel was named to the "All-Star Five" at the FIBA Under-19 World Cup this summer, where he made 34.8% of his 3-point attempts and 86.7% of his free throws while scoring 19 points in a victory over the United States that secured a third-place finish for Turkey.
"Our program is very excited to be adding Berke this season," Cronin said in a statement. "He has established himself as a versatile forward with tremendous talent. Not only can he create for his teammates and score, but he has also developed an identity as a defensive stopper. Berke has become a well-known, highly-regarded international prospect."
Buyuktuncel will join fellow European freshmen Aday Mara (Spain), Jan Vide (Slovenia) and Ilane Fibleuil (France) in addition to Sebastian Mack, Devin Williams and Brandon Williams (no relation).
Competition for the starting lineup figures to be robust, with plenty of options at Cronin's disposal. Does he go with a twin towers lineup of Mara and Bona because of the matchup problems that would create or use a more traditional rotation to ensure that one of the big men is always on the court?
Andrews, a sophomore, appears to be the early front-runner to start at point guard but could be pushed by Vide. Fibleuil, Stefanovic, McClendon and Mack could be interchangeable at the shooting guard and small forward positions. The Williamses and Nwuba figure to back up Mara and Bona, with Buyuktuncel likely filling a variety of roles from small forward to small-ball center.
Clarity on the rotation could start to emerge later this month when the Bruins play three games against international teams as part of a 10-day trip to Spain. Bona is not expected to play as he continues to rehabilitate the shoulder he injured late last season. Mara and Buyuktuncel are also likely to sit out before enrolling for the start of the fall quarter in September.
Whoever Cronin picks to play heavy minutes early next season, he will have a lineup packed with talent but inexperience. It might be time to bring back the Brubabes nickname that once belonged to the UCLA freshmen before they were allowed to compete on varsity.
But make no mistake: UCLA will likely go only as far this season as its youngest players take it.