Devin Williams becomes first in what's expected to be a big UCLA recruiting class

·4 min read
Corona Centennial forward Devin Williams goes to the basket against Harvard Westlate forward Nikolas Khamenia.
Corona Centennial forward Devin Williams goes to the basket against Harvard-Westlake forward Nikolas Khamenia during the 2022 Southern Section Open Division championship game. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The first player in what figures to be Mick Cronin’s biggest UCLA recruiting class is on brand.

He’s a big.

Devin Williams, a 6-foot-9 power forward from Corona Centennial High, verbally committed to the Bruins on Sunday, providing his new team a sizable recruiting victory over fellow finalist USC.

There was a gasp among family and friends when Williams picked up a USC hat and momentarily looked like he was going to put it on as part of his Instagram Live announcement before flinging it across the room and revealing a UCLA shirt under his jacket.

The cross-town rivals also are jockeying for Isaiah Collier, a highly sought-after point guard from Marietta (Ga.) Wheeler High whose mother is from Inglewood.

Williams, a late bloomer who has been developing his skills as a wing player, can make three-pointers as well as score inside, giving him the versatility to play multiple positions. He’s been a key contributor on teams that won back-to-back Southern Section Open Division championships as well as the most recent California Open Division state title.

Williams said during his announcement that Cronin’s honest and demanding nature reminded him of his high school coach, Josh Giles, and “it just felt like home when I walked on campus and I feel like I could develop the best over there, to be the best I can be.”

Williams becomes the latest Bruin with ties to the powerhouse Compton Magic club team, joining recent alumni Johnny Juzang, Jaylen Clark and Jules Bernard as part of a steady pipeline of local talent.

“We’re always going to recruit at home first,” Cronin told The Times this summer while discussing his recruiting philosophy. Coaches cannot comment on prospects until they sign binding letters of intent.

“Southern California’s always had great high school basketball and so has the entire West Coast, so you always start at home first," Cronin said. "That said, hopefully the Big Ten will open some doors for us [with the Bruins switching conferences in 2024] and have some kids that now they can come to school in Westwood and get all the trappings of the best campus in the country and the great weather and the UCLA brand and still be able to play in the Big Ten. Hopefully that could play in our favor but we’ll see.”

Williams eventually will have plenty of company in UCLA’s Class of 2023. The Bruins have two open scholarships and could need to fill seven or more spots depending on players’ NBA decisions. David Singleton will exhaust his eligibility after this season; Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. are likely to turn professional; freshmen Amari Bailey and Adem Bona are one-and-done candidates; and there could be departures via transfer.

“It’s a big year obviously for us in recruiting,” Cronin said.

Cronin said there was not a specific number of players he was targeting but that his staff was recruiting every position with so much turnover expected.

“You can only play so many guys,” Cronin said, “and having too many is just going to lead to guys transferring, so I’m a big believer in trying to bring guys in that fit what we do. But we don’t put a number on it.”

Similarly, the Bruins don’t limit their targets at each position.

“If you find guys that you think would be a great fit for you and they have interest, we recruit them,” Cronin said. “If we get a commitment, you’re not going to recruit a guy at the same position or extremely similar to somebody committed. We play a four-guard system, so you’re going to have some smaller ones. The way we look at it, you’ve got big guards and smaller guards. But we don’t really put an X number on it.”

Other players UCLA continues to pursue include Andrej Stojakovic, a small forward from Carmichael Jesuit; Brandon Williams, a power forward from Middle Village (N.Y.) Christ the King; Ron Holland, a power forward from Duncanville (Texas); and Elmarko Jackson, a combo guard from South Kent (Conn.) School.

Depending on how they fare with their target list, the Bruins also could dip into the transfer portal and the international recruiting market. The team recently signed freshman swingman Abramo Canka from Italy with the help of new assistant coach Ivo Simovic, who has strong ties to the international basketball community.

“Right now I think you’re trying to get the guys you think can help you build your program and win,” Cronin said. “I think the transfer portal can be overrated at times, but also it can be a blessing, but you can’t bank on that because you don’t know if they’re going to be available and a fit.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.