Mick Cronin opened up his first Pac-12 media day cracking jokes.
“We’re still undefeated,” the first-year coach said in his opening statement. “All the pressure right now is on Dave Roberts (on Wednesday) with the Dodgers.”
The former Cincinnati coach represented UCLA men’s basketball at Tuesday’s Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day alongside redshirt seniors guard Prince Ali and forward Alex Olesinski. The Bruins hired Cronin in April, and one month out from his first tipoff in Westwood, he said he and his family are finally settling into life in Los Angeles.
“I just had, I think, six 13-year-olds at my house Saturday night,” Cronin said. “Let’s just say that I made it through. Thank goodness for pizza delivery.”
On the court, Cronin has earned a reputation as a defensive-minded coach after 13 seasons with the Bearcats. Cincinnati finished among the nation’s top 20 most efficient defenses seven times since 2011, but Cronin clarified that he did not want to run a one-dimensional team.
“The old adage, ‘If you don’t defend, you can’t win’ – well, you’d better be able to score, too,” Cronin said. “It’s not baseball – no shutouts, right – you’ve got to be able to get the ball in the basket.”
The Bruins lost their three best scorers to the NBA last summer – guard/forward Kris Wilkes, guard Jaylen Hands and center Moses Brown. The three combined for 41.3 points per game and 52.4% of UCLA’s total offense in the 2018-2019 season.
The only other returning player who averaged more than 7.6 points per game is Ali, but some incoming Bruins could help shoulder the scoring load.
Redshirt freshman forward Shareef O’Neal missed all of the 2018-2019 season because of heart surgery, but he was cleared to return to basketball in March. O’Neal and four of his teammates spent their summers playing in the Drew League – a local pickup league that attracts both professional and collegiate talent.
O’Neal scored at will in those summer matchups, but Cronin said he wasn’t too impressed.
“I’m not going to comment on summer leagues that I could probably score 25 in,” Cronin said. “Somebody showed me a highlight and the guy guarding (O’Neal) looked like he had just served me lunch.”
Cronin also spoke about how much he loves freshman guard/forward Jake Kyman’s shooting ability and how badly he wanted to recruit freshman guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. when the coach was still calling the shots in Cincinnati.
When asked about his relationship with his new players and how he plans to discipline them, Cronin said he prefers a direct line of communication.
“I’m not throwing curveballs, I don’t have a lot of tricks,” Cronin said. “I don’t have a doghouse – I don’t even have a dog. If I don’t like it, I’m going to tell you.”