LAS VEGAS —
UCLA’s offense was a mess. The point guard hesitated to take open shots, the big men couldn’t score on collapsing defenders and seemingly everyone on the roster committed turnovers.
Watching it all inside T-Mobile Arena was a player who could have solved many of the problems.
Daishen Nix surveyed his future teammates from two rows behind the Bruins’ bench Saturday during their 74-64 loss to North Carolina as part of the CBS Sports Classic and felt conflicted.
Yes, the star high school point guard was eager to lead a team whose record sunk further toward .500 back to national prominence, but he also realized that there could be benefits to the pain the Bruins are enduring in their first season under new coach Mick Cronin.
“I think them going through this right now will get them tougher for next year,” Nix said, “so when I come in I won’t have to like be the leader automatically because they already played together and they know what to do in tough situations like they just had.”
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Nix is the kind of player who could spark a dramatic turnaround for a team that appears destined to miss the NCAA tournament for a second consecutive season. The senior at Las Vegas Trinity International School is a passing wizard considered by some to be the nation’s top prep player at his position.
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His passing skills evolved from being the quarterback of his football team until he gave up the sport in seventh grade. He enjoys watching YouTube passing highlights of current and former NBA players including Rajon Rondo, Jason Williams and Magic Johnson because of the way they galvanized everybody inside an arena.
“That really catches my eye,” Nix said, “passing the ball and getting the team involved and bringing the crowd into the game.”
Nix became Cronin’s first UCLA recruit after picking the Bruins over Kentucky and Kansas. He said he was attracted to UCLA in part because of Cronin and in part because of the school’s legacy of winning. During a recruiting visit, Nix said he was wowed by massive banners depicting each of the Bruins’ 11 national championships that line a hallway leading from the locker room to the court inside Pauley Pavilion.
Nix was born in Fairbanks, Alaska, but grew up in Anchorage, sparing him the 50-below-zero temperatures that his grandparents and mother once endured. His family eventually moved to Las Vegas because his grandfather had a chronic health condition and needed to escape the cold. After showing some initial improvement, his grandfather died eight months later.
Seated next to Nix on Saturday was Lakewood Mayfair High shooting guard Joshua Christopher, another prep standout UCLA covets. Nix said he was making his own recruiting pitch to Christopher as well as Jalen Green, a star guard from Napa Prolific Prep.
The more talent surrounding Nix, the easier it will be for the Bruins to replicate the kind of turnaround they enjoyed during point guard Lonzo Ball’s first season, when they went from 15-17 to 31-5.