Simply put, there might not be a more interesting team in college basketball entering the 2016-2017 season than the UCLA Bruins. After back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16 in 2014 and 2015, the Bruins are coming off a disappointing 15-17 season, yet enter this year with sky-high expectations. With most of their key pieces returning and the addition of one of the top recruiting classes in the country (one that includes Naismith High School Player of the Year Lonzo Ball) many believe that the Bruins are a true Final Four contender. That's a long way away though, and in the meantime, UCLA opened its 2017 season in the least likely place possible earlier this week: Australia. The Bruins are on a summer tour down under and they gave FOX Sports a look behind the scenes, taking us everywhere from the team bus, to the hardwood and even inside the Sydney Opera House.
Fresh off a flight across the Pacific Ocean, the Bruins began their trip at Coogee Beach, a popular swimming spot in New South Wales.
A panoramic view of Coogee Beach, where the Bruins spent their first afternoon.
After a long first day, players ate dinner together.
On Day 2, the players woke up to learn their fate for the day: They would climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge. No big deal, just a 90-minute hike through a series of short stairs to the top. Sure, everyone was harnessed, but there was nothing to fear ... right?
"Uhh, coach, this is not what we signed up for," a nameless UCLA player was heard shouting in the background.
The players made it to the top! Pictured here, junior forward G.G. Goloman shows off the view. Some of his teammates didn't do nearly as well (we'll detail that momentarily).
Head coach Steve Alford, and various members of his staff pose at the top.
Here is a good portion of the team, pictured high above the city. While they're all smiling, some admittedly didn't handle the walk up too well. Freshman forward T.J. Leaf described the walk to UCLA athletics communications director Alex Timiraos this way: "I looked straight ahead. I never looked down. If I had looked down, I probably would have puked or cried or something like that. That was really scary. But once I got past that — no, the whole thing was pretty scary. Regardless, I’m glad I did it.” However, he later added, "It was fun, even though I was still scared to death just grasping the handrails. But having my teammates around me, it was great to be able to see all of Sydney. Everyone was just having a great time. It was definitely a unique experience.”
Sadly for the players, at some point, the attention actually had to turn to basketball. Here the team is practicing prior to their first game. No. 20 Bryce Alford and No. 2 Lonzo Ball are pictured alongside coach Steve Alford.
A long day ends with a ferry ride through Sydney Harbor for guards Jerrold Smith and Aaron Holiday (pictured in front) and center Thomas Welsh in the back.
Tuesday was game day, and what better way to prepare than by beginning the day at the Sydney Opera House.
Inside the theatre, players learned about the Opera House's rich history.
And they also got a unique view inside the actual Sydney Harbor.
The Bruins' opener against Sydney University tipped off at 7:30 p.m. local time in Australia, which left the folks in Los Angeles with a brutal 2:30 a.m. PT wake-up call to watch. Here, coach Steve Alford gives out orders to his squad.
Tuesday night also marked the debut for heralded freshman Lonzo Ball in the blue and gold of UCLA. The McDonald's All-American finished with nine points and four assists in his first official game with the Bruins.
While Ball was the biggest name, fellow McDonald's All-American T.J. Leaf stole the show. The freshman had 21 points and nine rebounds in his UCLA debut.
It wasn't just the freshmen who were stars, but guard Aaron Holiday as well. The junior nearly tallied a triple double, with eight points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. He also led the team in selfie requests following the game.
The Bruins won their opener 123-76, and after the game posed for a picture with their opponents. The Bruins will be back in action later this week, and FOX Sports will have another diary to go along with it. (A major thanks to UCLA athletics, and athletics communications director Alex Timiraos for the help in putting this together.)