It could be a farewell followed by a welcome back.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a goodbye. All three players might return next season because of additional eligibility granted every player in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin said Thursday that Singleton was the most likely of the trio to return, should he be accepted into graduate school, but no decisions have been made.
Some of the Bruins are expected to be more willing participants in the festivities than others.
“Cody doesn’t like the limelight,” Cronin cracked, “I might have to push him out there.”
Graduate transfer center Myles Johnson already participated in senior festivities while at Rutgers and has another year left in his graduate engineering program, providing an opening for him to return if he wanted to do so.
“Obviously, my hope is he’ll play again next year,” Cronin said of the big man who has fortified the team’s interior defense.
This will be UCLA’s first senior night in front of fans since they bid farewell to Prince Ali and Alex Olesinski in the final game of the 2019-20 season. Chris Smith was honored before an empty arena last season at a time when fans were barred because of the pandemic.
It figures to be an emotional occasion before a sold-out crowd Saturday, given how Singleton, Riley and Bernard have helped revive the UCLA basketball brand under Cronin. Last season, the Bruins advanced to their first Final Four in more than a decade, and the team has been ranked as high as No. 2 this season.
Riley, a redshirt senior, is the longest-tenured member of the team and has been the leading post presence for more than a year. Singleton has been a part-time starter and steadying influence off the bench known for making timely three-pointers. Bernard has blossomed into a scorer and standout perimeter defender.
“These guys are obviously a big part of restoring UCLA to an elite program, obviously all three of them, monstrous parts of it, and so I’m sure it will be emotional for them, a big night and I hope they enjoy it,” Cronin said. “You obviously want to win the game so you have great memories of your senior night, so it all kind of ties back to that.”
With every scholarship taken, the Bruins will need three players to depart after this season to make room for incoming freshmen Amari Bailey, Adem Bona and Dylan Andrews. Junior guards Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr., as well as freshman guard Peyton Watson, are candidates to leave for the NBA draft, and there’s always the possibility of someone entering the transfer portal given the widespread movement of players in college basketball.
See you Saturday?
Cronin said Juzang, the team’s leading scorer who has missed the last 2½ games with a sprained right ankle, was essentially a coin flip to play against the Trojans. Juzang sat out the game between the rivals last season at Pauley Pavilion because of another ankle issue.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.