Mick Cronin’s new foil on the recruiting trail doesn’t have a name or a home base. As of now, it doesn’t even exist.
And yet it has already proved as worthy an adversary as any other blue-blooded college basketball program, depriving Cronin’s team of its best incoming player.
Daishen Nix’s decision to pick the NBA’s heavily compensated developmental program over a year or two at UCLA will cost the Bruins the nation’s top point guard prospect.
The allure of the move was understandable. Instead of schlepping his essentials to a dorm room, Nix will command a six-figure salary while training with a team of professionals. He will scrimmage against G League teams and possibly international opponents before enjoying an even bigger payday in June 2021 as a presumptive first-round NBA draft pick.
Nix became the third high school phenom to opt for this prep basketball academy, set to open soon at a location to be determined that could reside somewhere in Southern California. He joins Jalen Green, a star guard from Fresno and the possible No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft, as well as Isaiah Todd, a highly touted forward from Baltimore.
Nix had been the first player to sign with Cronin at UCLA, picking the Bruins over Kentucky and Kansas. He was considered the jewel of an incoming class that also includes Jaylen Clark, a hard-nosed guard from Rancho Cucamonga Etiwanda High.
Cronin could not immediately be reached for comment but had long gushed over the talent of his top recruit and his willingness to commit to the Bruins at a time when they had not shown they could succeed under their new coach.
“He’s just a guy that makes everybody better,” Cronin said of Nix in November. “There’s not anything he can’t do. He can score if you need him to score, he’s got unbelievable vision as a passer.”
The arrival of the McDonald’s All-American from Las Vegas Trinity Prep was supposed to trumpet the start of sustained recruiting success for the Bruins under Cronin. But Nix never even made it to campus, leaving a hole much bigger than his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame.
What was expected to be a glut of talent at guard is now just a slight upgrade over last season.
Tyger Campbell will likely maintain his role as the Bruins’ primary point guard after a solid debut season in which he led all Pac-12 Conference players and ranked second nationally among all freshmen with 2.79 assists for every turnover. That would probably leave David Singleton as the main backup at the position, with others sharing some ballhandling duties.
The Bruins’ depth could get a significant boost if Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang, a 6-6 former Studio City Harvard-Westlake High standout, was granted immediate eligibility through a hardship waiver or a proposed rule change that would allow one-time transfers to play without sitting out a season.
UCLA is also waiting to learn whether junior guard Chris Smith will return for one more college season after declaring for the NBA draft this month. Should Smith opt for the NBA, it would leave the Bruins with three available scholarships.
One possible kicker involving Nix is that he could eventually end up at UCLA — as a student. Players who participate in the NBA’s new development program are expected to receive scholarships to the school of their choosing if they eventually attend college.