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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

UCLA Basketball’s Mick Cronin ‘Embraces’ High Expectations This Season

LOS ANGELES – Mick Cronin knew there were expectations when he decided to leave Cincinnati for UCLA.

Cronin said of the expectations, “I left a place where I could easily be the all-time winning coach coming to UCLA, so obviously, I embrace them.”

With the Bruins just entering his third season as men’s basketball coach, and coming out of a Final Four appearance, expectations are high.

“If I didn’t embrace (expectations), I did the wrong thing. You sit where Coach (John) Wooden sat, you better be fine with that stuff.”

The team is expected to be ranked in the top three events in the country, likely to be selected to win the Pac-12 Conference, and of course, another run at the national title. The dazzling last four runs certainly helped fulfill the expectations. But the NCAA Tournament full-team return is what Westwood buzzed with just five weeks before his season opener against Cal State Bakersfield at Pauley Pavilion on November 9.

“Expectations are great. You want to sell tickets, create excitement — that’s all part of my job — it’s great for recruiting,” Cronin said. “But (hopefully) irrelevant between the lines. If we taught someone something last year, your preference or ranking doesn’t matter when it comes time for the tournament.

Only seven months earlier, UCLA was on a four-game losing streak before being given the No. 11 seed for the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins had to take on Michigan State in the play-in game before eventually defeating BYU, Abilene Christian, Alabama and Michigan. Then it all ended in dramatic fashion against Gonzaga, thanks to Jalen Suggs’ half-court, overtime buzzer-beater.

Cronin was asked how many times he had rewatched Suggs’ shot.

“Zero,” he said. “When I watch the movie, Johnny (Xujang) hits a shot to tie it up and I pause.”

Every player who took part in that memorable run makes a comeback this season. Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tiger Campbell, Cody Riley, Jules Bernard, Jake Keeman, Jaylen Clark, Mac Etienne, David Singleton and Kenneth Nuba are all back. It’s promising, but of course, nothing is promised.

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“It used to be that if you’re one of the few teams that has a high level of experience, that would be an advantage,” Cronin explained. “But now, everyone without experience goes and receives experienced people from the transfer portal. I don’t think (experience) will have the same advantage as before.”

The team also added McDonald’s All-American wing Peyton Watson from Long Beach Poly, graduate transfer Miles Johnson from Rutgers — a 6-foot-10 center — and shooting guard Will McClendon from Bishop Gorman High in Nevada. However, McClendon would miss the season due to a torn ACL in his left knee, an injury he suffered in a team workout on September 17.

“We have a lot of depth. Miles and Payton are extremely talented players,” said Xujang. “They are going to help us in a lot of ways. We are all looking forward to playing with each other.”

In ESPN’s top 25 rankings released on July 27, UCLA was ranked No. 3 behind No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Kansas. In USA Today’s Way-To-Early Ranking, UCLA is No.

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