UCLA's Kenneth Nwuba announces he will return for a sixth season

Count Kenneth Nwuba in. He’s coming back for a sixth season.

The UCLA redshirt senior big man announced Friday on Instagram that he will return after his role dramatically increased over the shorthanded team’s final few games. Nwuba had one year of eligibility remaining similar to other players granted extensions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After making a ceremonial start on senior night, Nwuba also started against Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament championship game and against North Carolina Asheville and Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament after Adem Bona was sidelined by a shoulder injury.

Nwuba played admirably, nearly helping the Bruins beat the Wildcats before scoring a career-high 10 points while making all four shots during a rout of Asheville in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. A week later, Nwuba and fellow backup Mac Etienne struggled against Gonzaga counterpart Drew Timme, who scored 36 points and grabbed 13 rebounds during the Bulldogs’ 79-76 victory over the Bruins.

Bona has not announced whether he intends to return next season in the wake of a shoulder injury that could require a lengthy rehabilitation.

But Nwuba’s decision provides some continuity for a roster in flux. Though junior guard Jaylen Clark declared for the NBA draft earlier this week, freshman guard Amari Bailey and seniors Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell have not said whether they intend to return to use their remaining eligibility.

Mostly known for his defensive presence, the 6-foot-10 Nwuba logged career highs across the board last season, averaging 1.3 points and 1.7 rebounds in 12.5 minutes per game.

Nwuba’s career has followed an unusual path. He played in 17 games during the 2018-19 season before redshirting the following season to develop upon the arrival of coach Mick Cronin.

Nwuba received some national airtime for his celebratory dancing as part of the Bruins’ run to the Final Four in 2021 while working his way into becoming a more prominent part of the rotation. His defense during a 20-minute appearance against Michigan in which he grabbed five rebounds during a regional final was critical to UCLA pulling out a 51-49 victory.

If all goes well, there will be a last dance next spring.

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