UCLA's Adem Bona declares for NBA draft and bids farewell after two seasons

UCLA forward Adem Bona (3) dunks over Oregon State during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament Wednesday, March 13, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
UCLA forward Adem Bona dunks over Oregon State during the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas last month. (John Locher / Associated Press)

After two seasons in which he established himself as a shot-blocking menace who was as easygoing off the court as he was relentless on it, Adem Bona is moving on.

The UCLA sophomore center announced Friday on Instagram that he was declaring for the NBA draft as part of a farewell message in which he thanked his coaches, teammates and fans.

“These past 2 years have flown by,” Bona wrote. “Basketball has given me such an amazing opportunity to make memories with people I will cherish forever. But this is only the beginning. I’m so excited to see where this game is going to take me next.”

Bona’s departure probably will prompt coach Mick Cronin to target a replacement in the transfer portal even if freshman center Aday Mara decides to return next season. The Bruins have added Louisville guard Skyy Clark and USC forward Kobe Johnson and now have three scholarships available.

Read more: Keeping it in the UCLA family, Adem Bona wins Pac-12 defensive player of the year

UCLA is believed to be courting forward Eric Dailey Jr. (Oklahoma State) and guard Dominick Harris (Loyola Marymount), among others in the transfer portal. Now the Bruins will presumably seek a skilled center as well.

Widely expected to spend only one season in college, the 6-foot-10 Bona returned for a second season after hurting his shoulder in the 2023 Pac-12 tournament and aggravating the injury during the Bruins’ second-round NCAA tournament victory over Northwestern.

After becoming the Pac-12’s freshman of the year, Bona was named the conference’s defensive player of the year as a sophomore while averaging 12.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. His 115 blocked shots rank sixth on the school’s career list.

“Adem has been tremendous to coach over the past two seasons,” Cronin said in a statement. “We are so thankful for his unselfish time as a Bruin. He’s a humble young man with a big heart, and he has been a fantastic teammate. Adem is going to be an unbelievable player as he continues to get reps and keeps working on his game.

“We believe that he’s just scratching the surface, in terms of his potential and his ability to really thrive on the court. He has worked very hard in our program and has made significant strides on both ends of the court. We love Adem and we will always be here to support him in his basketball journey.”

Read more: Mick Cronin says UCLA's disappointing season is '100%' on him

Many mock draft boards have projected Bona as a second-round selection, a reflection of his sustained inability to avoid foul trouble as well as subpar rebounding numbers for a player his size. Unless he spends his entire rookie season with an NBA team, it’s likely that Bona could have made more in name, image and likeness money by returning to UCLA than he will make if he signs a two-way contract that involves spending significant time in the G League.

It’s a gamble Bona was willing to take by making a big wager on himself.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.