As UCLA eyes national title, Mick Cronin sets a high bar for his eight freshmen

A year after Mick Cronin brought everyone back, UCLA basketball is going back to basics.

The Bruins are eight true or redshirt freshmen who have a lot to learn, no matter how many recruiting stars came out of high school besides their names. Cronin can tell overload among the newcomers by their facial expressions alone.

“You look at a guy and you can see his brain is completely blown out,” Cronin said Thursday, “and they have a hard time staying focused and keeping listening.”

Lessons must be absorbed quickly as the freshman college season may be the only season for five-star freshmen Amari Bailey and Adem Bona, who are contenders for a quick jump to the NBA. Cronin said the only way for the newcomers to make a meaningful contribution on a team with national championship ambitions is to compete like veterans.

While he’s still determining who’s the fastest learner, Cronin seems to have found his fastest player. The coach said real-life rookie point guard Dylan Andrews was the fastest player with the ball in 27 years.

Andrews will give redshirt senior Tyger Campbell his first real assist at the position since Campbell arrived on campus, but Andrews mustn’t take a backseat to anyone on defense.

“If he takes the full court, he’s a dog,” Campbell said of Andrews. “We needed a defender like that.”

Playmaking seems to be in abundance. In addition to Andrews and Campbell, Cronin identified Bailey and fellow guards David Singleton and Jaylen Clark as willing go-betweens on a team endowed with selflessness.

Dylan Andrews drives to the basket while another player defends during a game for Arizona Compass Prep.

Dylan Andrews drives to the basket during a game for Arizona Compass Prep in January. Andrews is already impressing UCLA coach Mick Cronin.

(Gregory Payan/Associated Press)

“I don’t have to force this team to do as much ball movement,” Cronin said. “We have people who can record.”

The 6-foot-5 Bailey has impressed with his ability to find teammates due to his combination of size, athleticism and view of the court. Those traits are even more remarkable considering Bailey won’t turn 19 until February, making him younger than some of the players the Bruins recruit in high school.

“He can really break down defense and he has a super competitive streak,” Cronin said. “The elite guys who can hopefully win as rookies can compete physically and their talent can replace their inexperience and he’s such a physical specimen.”

With the resilience rarely seen in someone between the ages of 6 and 10, Bona could transform Pauley Pavilion into the new Lob City. Cronin compared Bona’s competitive spirit to that of former NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Garnett and said Bona has progressed further than expected offensively because he’s ready while working with assistant coach Darren Savino, the team’s big man guru , to learn.

“I’m not going to lie,” said redshirt forward Kenneth Nwuba, “every time I train with him, I want to do what he does.”

Cronin also praised the fiery nature of newcomer Abramo Canka, the Italian swinger who recently joined the team after competing against older players internationally.

Redshirt rookies Will McClendon and Mac Etienne continue to practice with a leg brace as they complete their recovery from serious knee injuries. The hope is they will be fully settled by the Nov. 7 season opener against Sacramento State.

With so many young players, Cronin has signed Campbell, Singleton and fellow Jaime Jaquez Jr. as assistant coaches to ease the newcomers’ transition.

“This guy is untrained,” Cronin said of his message to his older players about backing up a newcomer who might be struggling, “he’s in his second week of training, he doesn’t know what he’s doing and he’s tired, he never is. He has trained so hard, he has never had such demanding coaches, he needs your help.”

Jaquez described the newcomers as athletic and defensively advanced, which could accelerate their learning curve. They’ve already infused the team with a vibrant yet humble spirit, and Nwuba picked a hip-hop term to describe their impact.

“What’s the word LA uses? Boujee,” Nwuba said. “But as a team, it’s going to be great.” As UCLA eyes national title, Mick Cronin sets a high bar for his eight freshmen

Emma Bowman is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Related Articles

Back to top button