UCLA freshman Zach LaVine is officially one-and-done.
The 6-foot-5 guard will forgo his remaining eligibility and enter the NBA draft, his father Paul told this newspaper. After averaging 9.4 points for the Bruins in an uneven season, LaVine is still projected to be a potential first-round pick due to his athleticism and high ceiling.
The Bruins’ 79-68 loss to Florida in the Sweet 16 on Thursday captured his season well. LaVine scored five points over 75 seconds in the first half, pulling UCLA to within two on a three-point play; he did not score again, missing all three of his shots in the second half.
Few think Zach looks pro-ready right now, something not even Paul would argue. However, the larger point of contention is whether or not he would develop effectively with another year at UCLA under coach Steve Alford, particularly if he comes back as a reserve.
Paul LaVine said he’s heard enough feedback from NBA scouts and personnel, and believes Zach — who turned 19 this month — would be better off long term if he leaves school.
“They love him,” Paul said. “They’re picturing him at 22.”
In Zach LaVine’s first month, he averaged 14.2 points, shot 50 percent from beyond the arc and was good for a SportsCenter highlight nearly every time he flew toward the rim. In 14 of his last 18 games, he did not score in double digits.
But LaVine’s camp was dissatisfied even through the early streak, which they credited more to an unsustainable shooting percentage than Alford’s guidance. They argue that LaVine should have been entrusted with more ballhandling duties with the second unit, building on the skillset he showed off as a four-star recruit at Bothell (Wash.) High.
Instead, Alford groomed his son Bryce as the point guard. This was not an unreasonable move: Bryce was named to the all-conference freshman team and became the first UCLA freshman to score more than 30 points in a game since Don MacLean in 1988.
But Bryce Alford’s 31-point game against Oregon in February also came with a role reversal. Late in that loss to the Ducks, he and LaVine essentially switched backcourt roles, freeing up Alford for a flurry of 3-pointers as stars Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams served a suspension.
LaVine finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists. A small sample size, yes, but it was easily his best showing of the season.
Even if LaVine had decided to come back, he may not be in line for a more significant role. The Bruins lose their starting point guard in Anderson, but should return Adams (who was exploring the option of going to the NBA) and shooting guard Norman Powell. Five-star recruit Isaac Hamilton will also be eligible to join the backcourt after sitting out this past season.
“It’s like a marriage,” Paul LaVine said. “If it doesn’t work out, you get a divorce. I don’t blame anybody.”
Zach’s godfather, Marvin Carter, credited Alford with coaching up the Bruins through their late-season run, but said he remains disappointed that his godson was left “in limbo” — rarely even given enough feedback.
“He’s done a great job getting the players to compete,” Carter said of Alford. “I just wish Zach had more of a chance to compete.”
On a list of top-100 prospects, ESPN’s Chad Ford lists LaVine at No. 27 as a point guard, though one that could be most effective as a combo scoring guard off the bench.
“He has a future as a pro, but he’s so far away right now,” Ford wrote earlier this week.
“Every year he spends at UCLA after this one is a waste,” Carter said. “It really is.”
Follow the Inside UCLA blog.
See video of Zach LaVine.