There’s some lingering drama as UCLA approaches its basketball season opener.
Coach Mick Cronin said Friday that two of the team’s international freshmen were awaiting clearance from the NCAA. Although Cronin would not identify the players, The Times has confirmed through a person close to the situation they are Aday Mara and Berke Buyuktuncel. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly reveal their identities.
Mara’s case appears to be the most complex given his contentious separation from Basket Zaragoza, his Spanish club team.
Basket Zaragoza’s general manager, Jose Artigas, wrote in an email to The Times that the 7-foot-3 Mara remained under contract with the team, intimating that he should not be allowed to play elsewhere.
“The message that a prestigious university like this sends is that contracts between parties do not have to be fulfilled,” Artigas wrote. “I don't know what the UCLA law professors would think.”
Artigas also said Mara has had an agent since he was 15 years old and that the agent advised Mara and his family before they signed their contract with Basket Zaragoza. This summer, the team sued Mara in a Spanish court for breach of contract, seeking roughly $608,000 as an exit fee.
Cronin said he could not comment on the situation involving any of his players.
“I know other people lobby on that type of stuff,” Cronin said, “we’re working through it and I anticipate everybody being ready.”
Asked if he meant ready for the season opener against St. Francis on Nov. 6 at Pauley Pavilion, Cronin said, “Yeah, we don’t dictate timelines unfortunately, but I would hope so.”
A year ago, center Adem Bona sat out the Bruins' season opener as part of a one-game NCAA suspension regarding amateurism rules.
Mara and Buyuktuncel, a 6-9 forward from Turkey, were the last of UCLA's four international freshmen to join the team, arriving on campus in early September. They are projected as two of the Bruins’ top players as part of a front line that is expected to feature two big men on the court at the same time.
A gifted passer who can shoot with either hand, Mara is widely considered a likely first-round pick in the 2024 NBA draft.
Meanwhile, Cronin said Bona had been cleared for full contact in practice after having been sidelined since the end of last season because of a shoulder injury.
Cronin said two players were “banged up,” adding that he did not expect everybody to play in the team’s exhibition game against Cal State Dominguez Hills on Tuesday. Buyuktuncel and sophomore point guard Dylan Andrews sat out the open portion of practice that reporters were allowed to attend Friday, suggesting they were the players Cronin was referencing.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.