UCLA coach Mick Cronin has great expectations this season

Mick Cronin has lived through his most magical season multiple times, revisiting every moment of every game but one.

The shot.

“I just paused,” Cronin said of his routine on Monday after having withstood the agony of Jalen Suggs’ 12-meter bench shot that sank UCLA at the end of a Final Four loss to Gonzaga. “Things that don’t matter – social media comments, bank shots halfway through. There is nothing that I will learn from watching. “

As for his team’s encore, the Bruins coach is keen to push play. Every player has returned from the unexpected run to a national semifinal, making UCLA a fashionable choice to return to the greatest stage in college basketball. Several media outlets have voted the Bruins # 1 or # 2 in their preseason rankings, which is a welcome sensation.

“Just because I’m from here,” said Junior Guard Johnny Juzang, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley and played at Harvard-Westlake in Studio City, “that the program is something the city is proud of is great . “

For the first time since arriving 2½ years ago, Cronin is expected to play with his team on the last weekend of the season. A reminder of the mission can be found in the practice facility, where a huge photo of confetti-covered players in Final Four jerseys hangs over the entrance to the pitch.

Cronin doesn’t just accept the E-Word one season after his team went from First Four to Final Four, he desires it.

“If you ask how I feel about expectations,” said Cronin, whose team won five games in the NCAA tournament as No. 11 seed, “I’ve left a place where I could easily have been the most successful coach of all time . ”Come to UCLA, of course I hug her. If I didn’t hug her, then I was doing the wrong job, folks.

“Let’s just call it what it is. You come, sit, where coach [John] Wooden seat, you better be okay with that stuff. “

There’s enough talent and depth to make Banner # 12 anything more than a daydream. The returning core, joined by a talented goalscorer in Juzang, an elite playmaker in Tyger Campbell, and a brave security guard in Jaime Jaquez Jr.

The bruins would have gone 13 deep if freshman guard Will McClendon hadn’t torn an anterior cruciate ligament during pre-season training and let him be out for the season. McClendon was supposed to assist Campbell with point guard, said Cronin, a role now split between Jules Bernard, Juzang and Watson.

Watson, a 6-8 striker from Long Beach Poly High, is easy to spot because of his incredibly long arms and a slight smile that reveals the braces. He impressed his new coach with his toughness in fighting more experienced teammates.

“It was difficult for him to deal with Jaime at first,” said Cronin, “because Jaime is only walking 100 mph continuously and is a veteran. It made him faster because Jaime has to deal with Peyton now and Peyton is very fast and he can handle the ball very well. “

With so much talent on his list, Cronin’s biggest challenge could be choosing from a number of enticing lineups. The team will be able to play fast or slow, grow big or small, win in a shootout or a defensive blow.

The 6-foot-10 Johnson, who averaged 2.4 blocked shots per game for Rutgers last season, provides the rim protection that UCLA lacked in the NCAA tournament. His presence should allow the Bruins to deploy a more aggressive defense geared towards generating revenue.

“You can build up your defense, you can lose some ball and get some easy baskets,” said Cronin, “which we really haven’t been able to do since I’ve been here.”

UCLA will also be able to use some two-post lineups with Johnson alongside returning starter Cody Riley or the reserve Mac Etienne, depending on the matchups and the Bruins’ ability to avoid the big men on offense clog.

“Cody is really versatile and can get the word out,” said Johnson, “that’s really good for him and good for me because it gives me more room to act.”

The Bruins open the season against Cal State Bakersfield on November 9th at the Pauley Pavilion. If they don’t finish the game in the Final Four in New Orleans on the first weekend of April in New Orleans, some will find it a disappointment.

“It’s irrelevant between the lines,” said Cronin of the expectations, “because if we taught anyone anything last year, your placement or ranking at the time of the tournament doesn’t matter.”

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