Busting Brackets

UCLA Basketball: Why Kobe Johnson is the most important team transfer for 2024-25

Stanford v USC
Stanford v USC / Meg Oliphant/GettyImages

These Bruins had great success in recent seasons, including that Final Four run in 2021, but last year was a major youth movement. Nearly every piece of Mick Cronin’s rotation was an underclassman and there were definitely growing pains. UCLA won just 16 games and finished under .500 in their final campaign in the Pac-12. Life doesn’t exactly get easier as new members of the Big Ten.

While talented forward Adem Bona is now in the NBA, the Bruins return Dylan Andrews, Sebastian Mack, and Lazar Stefanovic, their other three double-digit scorers from last season. There are also a number of moving pieces both coming and going from this roster, with Cronin and his staff quite active in recent months.

The Bruins added a laundry list of talented pieces, notably nabbing Tyler Bilodeau from Oregon State, Skyy Clark from Louisville, Eric Dailey from Oklahoma State, and William Kyle from South Dakota State. However, it’s Kobe Johnson, the small forward transferring from USC that really floats to the top.

A native of Wisconsin, Johnson started for the Trojans in each of the last two seasons, establishing himself as a positive presence on both sides of the ball. Despite USC’s struggles this season, Johnson still put up 10.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. His shooting numbers took a slight step back, but Johnson was among the Pac-12’s best in steals and earned All-Defense honors for a second straight year.

The Bruins added a lot in the offseason but Johnson’s addition really stands out. He’s a player that UCLA has seen up close multiples time and he brings that veteran experience that the Bruins were lacking last season. He’ll secure one of those starting gigs in the frontcourt and instantly becomes the best defensive player in this lineup, and that’s certainly something they didn’t get from Clark or the other young pieces.

However, it’s important to manage expectations, especially with a player like Johnson. He makes his mark as a savvy defender. You’re not going to expect 20 points a night from him, but you can expect a couple steals and some inspired play both on and off the ball. UCLA will still lean heavily on returning players like Andrews and Mack, but adding Johnson into the mix helps everyone, especially coming off career-bests in assists.

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This great defender stayed put in Los Angeles but now helps UCLA transition into the Big Ten, back in a part of the country that Johnson knows well with Milwaukee as his hometown. Is he the piece that can elevate UCLA into a real contender for the Bruins next season? What will that first season look like in the Big Ten and can Johnson take a step forward on the offensive side too?