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UCLA Sports

Charles Barkley as UCLA’s basketball coach? Chip Kelly liked the idea, before Mick Cronin news

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UCLA linebacker Lokeni Toailoa (52) and defensive tackle Tyler Manoa (50) warm up before spring practice Tuesday morning at Spaulding Field on the campus of UCLA.
( Steve Galluzzo / For The Times )

Before the start of UCLA’s spring football practice Tuesday morning at Spaulding Field, head coach Chip Kelly asked reporters whether a men’s basketball coach had been hired yet. He even revealed who he’d choose.

“I’d pay top dollar for Charles Barkley,” Kelly said, twirling the string to his whistle around his index finger. “He’s super intelligent, he’s tough, he’s one of the 50 best players of all time and he’d be a great recruiter ... he gets my vote.”

UCLA fired Steve Alford in December and assistant Murray Bartow served as interim coach for the rest of the season.

“I know Charles is a TV guy now, but so was Steve Kerr when the Warriors hired him and he’s done pretty well,” Kelly added.

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Later Monday, UCLA announced it had hired Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin and given him a six-year, $24-million deal.

On the football field, Kelly led his team through another up-tempo practice in which the offense, defense and special teams all got quality scrimmage time. With several players changing positions, the Bruins are down to three quarterbacks — Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Austin Burton and Chase Griffin.

According to senior Lokeni Toailoa, chemistry is strong among the linebackers.

“Spring is going good, we’re having a lot of fun with this being our second year under Coach Kelly,” Toailoa said. “We’re taking the next step as far as having a team bond … the chemistry we built in the offseason is starting to show on the field.”

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Toailoa believes players are taking more initiative this spring instead of waiting for the coaches to tell them what to do.

“We went from being a coaches-fed team to a player-led team,” he said. “What I mean by that is as a whole we started taking pride in what we’re doing and taking ownership. Leaders started stepping up, other guys started following and it started with the workouts every morning. We took that ownership thing to heart and we’re one big family. Outside of here, we’re always together and we love each other’s company.”

When it comes to the linebackers, leadership is a group effort.

“It’s not really like one leader or two leaders, we all have a voice in everything we do,” Toailoa said. “It’s not like we’re the upperclassmen so you have to do what we say kind of thing. No, it’s one big brotherhood that works together no matter what. One of my strengths may be someone else’s weakness and that’s when I’ll step up, but one of the young guys might be strong at something that I’m lacking and he’ll step up and take charge of that.”

Joining UCLA’s talented linebacking corps is redshirt junior Je’Vari Anderson, who is switching from safety after being sidelined because of concussions last season.

“It’s great being out here, being healthy and being able to contribute to my team,” said Anderson, who had an interception in his first day of practice. “That’s just film study. Our coaches harp on details and that was one of them. I was in the right place at the right time.”

Anderson learned a lot as a coach on the sideline last season.

“My role was just to be there for the guys,” he said. “I matured a lot mentally. It made me appreciate football more. One day it can be taken away from you at any given moment. I’m just happy to be out here, ready to go. You can’t think about not ever playing again, you have to think about getting back as quick as you can.”

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sports@latimes.com


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