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Kevon Looney

Kevon Looney is all smiles after announcing he will attend UCLA next year and play basketball for the Bruins.

MILWAUKEE — Kevon Looney hadn't called any of the college basketball coaches at the final six schools on his list.

He conferred with his parents Sunday night about his options, but then left them in the dark once he had made his decision Wednesday night

"Nobody knew except for me," the Milwaukee Hamilton senior said proudly Thursday afternoon.

So it was a big surprise when the 6-foot-9 forward reached into a rolling briefcase and pulled out the cap of the winner. To some, it was an even bigger surprise when the one Looney pulled out was UCLA's.

That meant Looney — one of the most highly recruited players to ever come out of Wisconsin — had chosen the Bruins and first-year coach Steve Alford over his home-state Wisconsin Badgers and perennial power Duke, thought to be the front-runner among his finalists.

Instead, Looney said UCLA won out over Tennessee — former Badger Tracy Webster led the recruiting effort for the Vols — as he went back and forth with the decision. Michigan State and Florida were the other finalists, but Looney liked what he saw on his trip to Los Angeles.

Kevin Looney said his son was drawn to UCLA "by the Wooden aspect," referring to legendary Bruins coach John Wooden and the legacy of excellence he left there and throughout college basketball. The elder Looney also believed his son wanted to go far enough from Milwaukee where he could "spread his wings" and UCLA offered that opportunity.

"California was a great place," Kevon said. "UCLA was a great campus, most beautiful campus I've ever seen. Coach Alford is a great coach. On my visit, I saw their team and how they bought into the system, him being new there. They have a great style of play; I can fit in.

"I like the vision that he has for them."

His decision will be viewed as a huge recruiting loss for UW, which had hoped to make Looney the second member of its 2014 recruiting class. Ethan Happ, a 6-8 forward from Taylor Ridge, Ill., gave the Badgers his oral commitment in June of 2012. 

However, Looney praised Bo Ryan and the Badgers' staff for their efforts in trying to keep him instate.

"Wisconsin was right there," he said. "Everyone knows about Wisconsin; they're a great program. I had a great relationship with Bo Ryan. He probably started recruiting me first and I thank him for that.

"When it came down to it, I felt UCLA was my best option."

That conclusion came after months of research and reflection — most by Looney himself — before he and his parents sifted through his options one last time Sunday. After that, the decision was Looney's.

Looney had hoped to announce it at a scheduled 11 a.m. pep assembly in the school's gym in front of the whole student body. Milwaukee Public Schools officials nixed those plans at the 11th hour over apparent concerns about lost class time for it and the message being sent by plans to have the assembly include the pep band and cheerleaders.

Instead, Looney was allowed to make his announcement at a scaled-back event two hours later, attended by family, friends, coaches and teammates. He was praised for the time he put into the decision. 

"He thought it through," Victoria Looney said of her son. "He had three days to think about where he really wanted to go. We left it up to him. And he surprised the heck out of us today. He seemed like he liked Florida and Duke and Tennesse. He didn't really mention UCLA.

"All of a sudden, today, wow! So I am blown away."

Former Hamilton coach Tom Diener, who left after last season for a teaching and coaching job at Cedarburg, has long maintained that Looney will blow people away at the college level. That didn't change Thursday after Looney, who averaged just over 26 points and 12 rebounds per game last season, cast his lot with UCLA.

"I was going to be surprised by any decision," Diener said. "He really kept it close to the vest. Again, they did it the right way. They took their time. They were patient. They met all the coaches.

"He would have been fine any place he went. Kevon is that good. The sky's the limit. I felt wherever he went, he was going to be fine."