UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin spoke to the media ahead of Monday morning’s free practice session at the Mo Ostin Basketball Center. Cronin talked about his team barbecue on Friday, welcoming Ben Howland back to Westwood, the status of Mac Etienne and Will McClendon, where he thinks the team is heading for the season and what he expects from the progression of a freshman roster. .
I saw you were cooking the other day, what were you cooking?
Trying to come up with some successes. Oh, you’re talking about the burgers. Man, it’s been a long barbecue for the team and the next thing you know I have Alex is eating, every one of his assistants is eating. So it was like 80 burgers. I couldn’t do them fast. A guy like Adem Bona, he’s two burgers at a time, they’re not like you and me. So, no, it was great, we have a new grille on the back.
So he was here?
Oh yes, that was here. Yes, such a small wrinkle, something different for the guys on Friday, coach on the grill. Nothing like a fresh burger, a fresh dog, a fresh sausage, you know? We will not let the coach Savino cook.
Pasta for him?
Yes, we’re still – he claims he can make his own sauce, but I don’t know. She still has to do it for me, forget it. Coach Ivo says he’s good with lamb chops, but we don’t buy them here.
Coach Howland visited?
Oh yeah, it looks good. See, what I’ve learned is that when you retire you seem stress-free. He seems to be in very good health, in a very good mood, enjoying Santa Barbara, very good for him. It’s great to have it back, you know? Actually, he and I go a long way back, so when he got the job here and – as I told you forever, I would be here a lot, recruiting, friends and whatnot – but when he got the job is when I was going to stay, make sure you stay awake, watching his games. Because, you know, we’re friends, so this is one. I was at the Memphis game, the Final Four, I actually sat with some people from UCLA, was there cheering for him whatever the year, maybe 2008? Yes, so it was great. He gave excellent advice for the team, words of wisdom for the team as well.
Present him a jacket?
Oh yes, yes. Those jackets are hard to find, Doug Erickson doesn’t take them off for everyone. Those are, like, locked in a safe somewhere. Doug has them where all of his coach’s wooden things are locked away. It’s hard to get one, he won’t even let me give them. Doug’s seniority, so the college letter Wooden Jacket can only have, you have to be something. I don’t know, you have to ask Doug about the criteria for that.
Ready for the season a few days before the fair?
I mean, nobody ever – coaches, we’re all paranoid, you never feel ready. But as I always tell you guys, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. College basketball is about March, not November. The boys are ready, I know. Pre-season practice is the hardest part of the year. There is a lot to teach, especially when you have eight freshmen. You know, get to the games, guys, they have to start playing, they don’t want to sit here. Coaches love practice, you know? You do not suffer losses in practice and you enjoy teaching. Games become more strategy and stress.
Do you have a starting lineup for the show?
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Um, you know me, I’d never say that, so we’ll see. It’s up to the wood no one misses the lesson or does something stupid, so, you know.
Adem is back and ok?
I predict it will play on Wednesday.
Are you still learning something new or are you surprised every day?
Yeah, I mean, I don’t put in a lot of action – when you exercise, different guys are fine at different times. You know, some guys, in 3v3, if you’re a super fast guy, you can dominate a 3v3 exercise. But we’re working on our defense, it’s harder to play 3v3 defense. So you might look good offensive. in that drill, but 5 vs 5 is a different story. Now you have to operate in smaller spaces, do more reads, it’s not just your 1-on-1 speed. So I’d say the bigger question would be yes. We will have to, as a staff, learn a lot as the season goes on because we have new guys. I would say that, as with this team, where we start shouldn’t be where we end if we can feel good. And I say this mainly because you have freshmen playing big roles and you also have two in Mac and Will who are coming out of injuries. So, you know, I predict that, you know, by February, their injuries aren’t a problem, they’re not rusty. They’ll play sooner, but how long does it take to regain their confidence, dust off, you know, all that stuff. And the freshman gets minutes where they have experience. So we’re a very different team than the last two years, as far as that piece is concerned, because we have a lot of guys who are going to be very talented guys, but those two guys could be great. I’d say our top five are elite right now, but we need those guys – those two guys in particular, we need our bench.
Any progression you have in mind for freshmen to set a pace for them?
Here’s what I know, here’s what I know. No case is the same, no case is the same. As children learn at their own pace, they adapt at their own pace. Also, it could depend on how many minutes a guy gets. You know, more: if you can defend and bounce, without turning the ball, you will have more minutes. Therefore, your offense will improve because you are out there on the floor. It’s hard to get minutes if you get beaten for a layup every time I put you in. So it’s so varied. Like Tyger and Jaime they played the whole game, almost like freshmen. Other guys fought. It depends on the team you belong to. There are too many variables to put a mark on “Freshmen need 10 games”. It just depends, you know? We fought against the state of San Diego, it looked like Amari Bailey – coach Dutcher told me he doesn’t hunt bad shots. For example, most of McDonald’s All-Americans don’t defend and hunt shots because people tell them that’s how they have to play to get the draft, but he knows that’s not basketball. He is an experienced basketball guy, very smart. So the game of him from the ground – but that’s why it’s an aberration, as if he understands it. He understands that you can have a great game and have eight points, eight assists, eight rebounds. So, but most children don’t. Their whole self-esteem depends on how many points they get, not how many they give up. So we’ll see, it’s all going to be different, I just think a lot of them will have different rhythms and certain levels. But I know this: you have to have a bench, go back to the original. And Will and Mac, they’re not freshmen, they’re red-jersey freshmen, so keeping them healthy is going to be really important to this team in the long run, as we would like to look in March.
Will Will and Mac be able to participate in the exhibition?
Not Wednesday. The Mac is basically live, Will isn’t right now. So Mac is ahead of Will. But the Mac won’t play on Wednesday.
Is this the best defense you had at UCLA?
Well no. Too many freshmen. It’s hard to be good on the defensive with the freshmen, but that will be our goal: to be that. You know, you have to try every day. Coach Dutcher and I blame the assistants for the scrimmage. You know, we’re supposed to be these defensive gurus and it’s like 89-87 or something. Like, what were you thinking, how did it happen? So I don’t know. But we are sure to try. Again, is this how you get there? And with this team, you have several guys in the middle. As you play defense, what’s your best chance to stand up and be a great defensive team, you know, your covers: low post, one on one, low post trap, the way you play the pick and roll, what are they your strengths, what you have to hide, you know, a lot of coaching is being able to hide the weaknesses on the defensive, so we’re learning, we’re not sure about everything yet, that’s why I think it’s going to be a work in progress. It is also development, again, our bench, great teams, they suffer strength or a better way to put it is, the guys playing, there is no backlash on the defensive, you don’t have to put a boy in it is a responsibility because you you are talking about if you are a top-10 team beating another top-10. So, however, if you are playing with inferior opponents, you will not be exposed.
Any of the freshmen ahead of schedule in this respect?
It depends. The difference is that the fan schedule, your schedule, and my schedule never align, right? The society we live in today, everyone will want the show we go out on and look like the ’95 Bruins who played in Seattle on Wednesday night and it won’t. One thing I’ve been trying to talk to the guys who are my friends in the industry because I haven’t had, I mean Tyger and those guys played, and I tried to tap into Tyger and Jaime when they started out as freshmen is, how do you make it simple for them? Because no matter how much you work with them every day, it’s not second nature to them, so the two things we try to do are pretend that our older kids haven’t played with freshmen, Tyger and Jaime haven’t played with freshmen, so that they have to be vocal and help them at all times – it’s a new thing for this team. Secondly, how can I simplify things for freshmen, as simple as possible, I should say, so focus on: ‘Watch the ball as best you can, we will cover or change for you if you get lost or come across difficult plays, but don’t get beaten by dribbling and boxing. ‘ Now, I know it sounds really simple, but it’s not. Because trying to teach them to protect eight million reproductions is difficult. You know, it’s things that take years before it becomes second nature, so take care of the ball and protect it and play with some physicality, so it’s up to the elders and it’s up to the coaches to make it as plausible as possible.
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