WATCH: Mick Cronin Talks UCLA-Utah, Keeping His Team Focused

The Bruins have four games left in the regular season, with two more road games slated for this weekend at Utah and Colorado.

UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin spoke with reporters ahead of Tuesday morning’s practice session at the Mo Ostin Basketball Center. Cronin talked about his additional reactions to the bracket reveal, how special these Bruins are, how to keep his players from looking forward, Utah missing several key players, Amari Bailey’s personality and the return of Jules Bernard and Myles Johnson to Pauley Pavilion over the weekend.

The stuff you said after the game about the bracket reveal, do you get into that with the team at all?

No, gosh no. I’ll give you a funny one, since we’re on the topic of comedy. How much do you guys remember when you were 18 to 19 to 22? You don’t think like adults. Like the postgame speech was birthday cake for Amari and Jaime. Anything else I said was a waste of time, we won by 35, it was Saturday night, it was typical beautiful night in Westwood on a birthday weekend. If you think them guys were listening to anything I said, they were trying to get a shower and do exactly what I would have been doing when I was 21, and especially if I went to school here. Get outside of here and get into Westwood. I can’t imagine a better pace to be at 21 years old, the weather on this campus and everything about it, so I didn’t even talk about the game, man. Sang happy birthday to those two guys, talked about be careful, get your rest, and I went to talk to some recruits. So my point, Ben, is like they’re not – like, Dave’s an extremely mature guy, the older guys probably, but do you think that any of them watched Kansas-TCU last night? You know what I’m saying? They’re not us. I know probably fans are ‘What do you mean they don’t’ … No, they don’t read bracketology. They’re on social media.

How special of a team do you have?

Look, I try – I’m getting older and at some point, somebody said this and I tried hard with this. If you make it about the players, then it takes the pressure off of you thinking about ‘I gotta win and keep my job.’ Try to make sure you make it about them. Now, you say ‘What do you mean? You’re so hard on them.’ Well no, no, I’m the way you should be. The kids haven’t changed, the problem is adults have. So I just try to do what I think is right for them, teach them right from wrong, teach them accountability, teach them what’s gonna be required from them in the real world. But, you know, like you’re not gonna be on the team here if you’re a bad guy. I’ve had some – I mean, the guys I’ve had, like Chris Smith, for the guys that have been here, he was an unbelievably nice kid. Like, I love all my teams, you know? Now I think we have – so, on the basketball side, if that’s what you mean by special, we have – it’s like a race car, you have to have different components, right? And we have some components that match well. Like Jaime can get tough baskets while Jaylen Clark can get great defensive plays that you don’t normally see Jaime make shots in a college game that you don’t normally see. So they complement each other extremely well. Amari, great athlete. Tyger, veteran, consummate, thinking point guard. Amari, super talented, explosive guy. They complement each other well. You know, Adem, unbelievably talented young athlete. Kenneth Nwuba, big, strong, tough veteran. So you see what I – then you come in off the bench. Dylan, change of pace, ball pressure guy for Tyger. Dave, here comes the best sixth man in the country, he’s like a starter. So we get the – sometimes you’ve got a bunch of talent, but it don’t fit. So these guys complement each other well. So I think that’s why we’ve been able to – what’s our record? (23-4) So you gotta have – if everybody can score, nobody can defend, or everybody can defend, nobody can score – and you gotta have good guys.

How do you keep them from not looking forward?

We have talks all the time, but it’s normal for us because I talk to them about life and what I know about what they’re going through, being a veteran coach, all the time. And I’m talking to them individually, not as a team. So when we have to discuss it as a team, it’s a normal conversation for us because you have to understand everybody outside of our locker room – and I’m not judging people, because I’m a parent – parents, agents, former coaches, they’re concerned about their player, not our team. And that’s just like how I’m a parent, I go to watch Campbell Hall’s spring musical – which unfortunately, I’ll miss, I have to watch on film – I’m watching Samantha Cronin. First of all, I’m not qualified to tell you anything about it, if it’s any good. I mean, it’d be comical for me to even understand what’s going on in a theater, I have to ask the 16-year-old to explain it to me. But, you know, I’m looking at it from that lens. So I talk to them all the time about you have to be able to filter that, because people love you and they’re supposed to worry about you and your situation. But we have to worry about us if we’re gonna win. So that’s what – and it goes right to your question. Looking ahead is a waste of time. You gotta get better every day. The biggest thing – this goes back to social media and the 24-hour news cycle – is there’s an old movie with Demi Moore and Michael Douglas and I can’t remember the name of it. They kept saying there was a company and they hadn’t to solve a chip – they had a problem, but they were distracted. Behind the scenes, they kept saying ‘Solve the problem. Solve it.’ You know what I’m talking about? So I tell my guys it’s no different than why Tony Gwynn was a great hitter – keep your eye on the ball. Solve the problem, get better. Worry about getting better. If you get better, our team will get better, OK? Don’t worry about the way I talk to you, if I took you out of the game, what somebody on the outside is telling you, because now you’re worrying about all the wrong things. And it’s hard on these guys. This day and age, it’s hard. High school programs have message boards, it’s ridiculous. So you gotta solve the problem, which is constantly get better like the greatest players have always done – Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James – constantly gotta solve the problem. What is the problem that you can control? Cause even if I’m wrong and you’re right, I should be playing you more, you should shoot more, you can’t control that. Solve the problem, get better today, that’s what we can accomplish. So I try to teach them to focus on that, not officiating, not our seed come Selection Sunday. I tell them that’s for me.

Disclosure’s the movie

Disclosure. You’ve gotta solve the problem and focus on getting better, not where you’re ranked.

Did David Singleton say something to you after you got the technical foul against Stanford?

Yeah, I think he thought I was—I wasn’t trying to get a T. So I got upset because I got an unwarranted T from a guy I wasn’t even talking to. So I think Dave thought I was going to lose my mind, so he was like, ‘Don’t get thrown out, coach, don’t get thrown out.’ I was like, ‘I’m good, Dave, I didn’t even want to get that T.’ He was like, ‘Don’t get thrown out.’ The older guys who have been here, they want to win the Pac-12. Like, I always talk about, ‘Solve the problem, we’ve got to get better, we’ve got to be ready come March.’ I’m just being honest—not that we don’t want to win the Pac-12, but here at UCLA, we talk about, ‘Get better, get better, become a better person, become a better player and get ready for March.’ There’s no question that they do want to win that—it’s something they haven’t done.

Helps you this week?

When you have seniors that have a sense of urgency, that have unreal character and are good players, it makes your job easier. Look, we’ve won at Utah since I’ve been here, but we’ve struggled to score there and their wings are big, in their last five games they’ve really dominated people on the glass and that’s going to be a challenge for us.

They have two guys that look like they’re out, how does that change their…

You’ve got investigative skills, help me.

You don’t know who they are?

Well, Madsen’s been out.

Worster is the other one

I saw him down.

Unlikely to play?

That’s a shame, for him. See, you always still play five on five, though, buddy. We played a month without Amari and we lost one [game]. A lot of those were road games too, so they still get to play five on five, so it will change the configuration of the game a little bit. I mean, I saw him go down but I didn’t know how bad it was. I figured he’d have enough time to recover. Unless they announce that he’s not playing, you’ve got to prepare that he might. But it’s still five on five. Craig’s still a great coach, it’s still going to be hard to score, like I said, if you look at our wins up there, they were grinding wins. It’s not like we were able to go light it up up there.

You talked about Amari’s maturity for his age?

Well, his work ethic, you know, he practices really hard.

Flip side is he said he’s a big goofball off the court – see that side of him?

No, he is young. But he flips the switch when it’s time to compete, yeah, he definitely flips the switch when it’s time to compete. You know, like all young guys they’ve never had to pay attention in scouting report as long as you have to at this level, to every detail. Jaime talked to, we were talking and eating lunch—and we always eat after practice outside, it’s really rough here in Westwood, you know, we eat outside and it’s 70 degrees at 1 o’clock after practice and Jaime was talking about how his time’s coming short and as a freshman the first couple of months he thought he was terrible and he didn’t know if he’d ever play. He goes, ‘I turned it over, you were all over me, I thought I stunk, I just played at a high school where it was easy’ and then where he’s at now and he was just talking about, ‘You’ve just got to push through it,’ it’s hard and it’s just such a big jump for kids to this level, from the expectations than just go play. That’s an adjustment. You know, Amari flips the switch and plays really hard.

How’s Kenneth looking?

He was moving better yesterday, so I have hope, but until he can do live play, so we’ve got two days to figure it out.

What did you think of Mac last week?

You know, Mac struggled, are you talking about his play?


There’s been days – it’s real interesting. Dave, he’s had this perpetual sinus thing—like, I had it for three weeks after Christmas and I thought I’d never get rid of this cough and this poor kid, he needs an NIL deal with Kleenex. I mean, it’s just been an unbelievable battle for him, so there’s like literally days where he can’t breathe, he’s got it so bad. But he played through it. I’m going to tell you the best thing about Mac in the Cal game, if you noticed, I was trying to run a play for Mac late in the game, he completely aborted it and was running around trying to get Russ a shot. So that will tell you about our team; he was just focused on getting Russ a shot. Of course, Russ blew it. The whole place was about to go nuts, Russ – I’m just messing with you. At least he got the free throws. But that’s about Mac. So again, it’s tough for a kid, I liked that he took two face-up shots that he’s really good at, they didn’t go in but he makes them in practice all the time, so I want him to take those, that’s his shot. You don’t get to see it as much because you’re not in here all the time, and he took it, so I was just happy that he took those shots.

Think the kids are enjoying the moment right now?

I tell them to, I’m big on that. What I tell them is you can’t let the noise and the outsiders shoplift your experience, you can’t let the outsiders shoplift your experience by constantly telling you it should be about, you know, you’re not shooting enough or you need to transfer or you need to go in the draft. You need to have as much fun as you can right now, as much fun as you can right now because like the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, when he did talk to our team, told them, he said that’s the easiest question—guys said, ‘What was the best experience you had in basketball?’ Jaylen Clark asked him that and he said, ‘That’s the easiest question I’ve been asked all day. Playing at UCLA.’

Myles pick up the deflections bone after the game?

Well, Amari got it, So Amari was hyped, I think that was his first high deflections [signature]. He was running for the bone we’ve got in the locker room, so.

Saw Myles and Jules at the game?

Oh, yeah, immediately. Myles’ jeans were way too tight for a guy that big, you know, Jules is such a great guy, his sister’s out of Riverside, I think, playing volleyball, so we were talking about that, but back to your question, though, they’ve got to enjoy it, you can’t let other people because it’s the best time they’ll ever have playing basketball because the NBA’s about drama, contracts, very few guys having fun up there. Society of the miserable millionaires. It’s unbelievable, really crazy. Society of the miserable millionaires. We have some great former players here, every one that’s come to talk to the team tells them the same thing, every one. Now, I don’t tell those guys what to say, this is the best time you’ll ever have, and not only is it because college basketball, you’re with your buddies and you’re playing to win, you’re not worried about all this other stuff that goes on with them in that society, but you’re also getting to do it here, you know, where 340 days a year the weather’s perfect and you’re walking around campus and Michael Douglas is liable to be walking his dog past you on the way to class. I mean, not only is it college basketball but look where you’re going to school, so you’ve got to enjoy it. … I don’t know if he’s bringing Jaime in here, like Jaime is literally depressed that it’s going to be over, that’s how much he loves being here. Now, he’s probably had enough of me, which I understand—I get enough of me at times—but he like really, he really said, ‘I would spend five more years [here] if I could.’ I said, ‘Well, NIL’s not big enough.’

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