Why Mick Cronin’s gamble on talented international freshmen is a smart bet for UCLA

(Photo: Getty)

Numbers to know: Averaged 11.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.6 blocks for Turkey in seven games at the FIBA U19 World Cup.

The scout: Buyuktuncel is a straight-up stud. The 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward has all the tools to be an impact, high-major player from Day One. Buyuktuncel is a savvy offensive connector who can play any role for any team. It all starts with his lefty jumper. Buyuktuncel has the size to rise up over anyone, and he’s a big-time, high-volume shooter who is very comfortable running off screens and firing. Buyuktuncel is a willing driver who can get downhill and finish through contact, and he’s got a really impressive mid-post game. Buyuktuncel can operate as a floor-spacing sniper, but Turkey used him as an effective screener in its win over Team USA in the FIBA U19 World Cup third-place game.

Charting Turkey’s 13 possessions against Team USA where Buyuktuncel was used as a screener:

  1. Buyuktuncel misses wide-open 3-pointer.
  2. Buyuktuncel attacks an overly aggressive closeout and calmly drills a clean 17-foot jumper.
  3. Buyuktuncel drains an open 3-pointer.
  4. Buyuktuncel dishes a dime for a dunk.
  5. Turkey misses an open 3-pointer.
  6. Turkey misses an open 3-pointer.
  7. Buyuktuncel earns two free throws and converts both of them.
  8. Turkey turns it over.
  9. Buyuktuncel splashes an open 3-pointer.
  10. Turkey’s point guard glides for a layup after Team USA’s help defender is late to recover because of Buyuktuncel’s shooting gravity.
  11. Buyuktuncel converts a layup.
  12. Turkey misses a wide-open 3-pointer.
  13. Turkey’s point guard converts tough layup. Team USA’s help was late again.

That’s 18 points on those 13 possessions with just one turnover. 1.38 points per possession? That will play all day, every day. 

This read is just masterful from Buyuktuncel. He had just hit two buckets off this action, so Team USA’s Cody Williams (a five-star, Colorado signee) flies out to him. But Buyuktuncel doesn’t panic at all. A well-timed pass-fake gets Tennessee beast Tobe Awaka leaning just a tad to open a passing lane for a dunk. Smart, easy and unselfish offense.

That unselfishness is a key part of Buyuktuncel’s game that can’t be ignored. He’s a talented bucket-getter, but the secondary creation is very real and very deadly. 

Buyuktuncel’s value increases because he’s a legitimate asset on the defensive end. He racked up his fair share of blocks and steals, but Buyuktuncel is more of a team defender who can switch onto all five positions and hold up well. He’ll fit into UCLA’s defensive system like a glove. He’s not a Jaylen Clark-like stopper, but Buyuktuncel can do a lot of the same things Jaime Jaquez Jr. brought to UCLA’s defense. Buyuktuncel will stick his nose into the fan defensively and brings it against anybody.

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