A familiar voice has returned to UCLA’s basketball practices, saving his teammates from an untold number of sprints.
“We gotta stop turning the ball over. … We have to pass the ball more. … Move the ball.”
The words came from sophomore guard David Singleton, who was recently cleared for full contact for the first time since breaking his foot in March during the Pac-12 Conference tournament.
Singleton has resumed his role as a steadying influence after committing just 12 turnovers during his freshman season. That sort of carefulness is especially valuable in practices where new coach Mick Cronin makes his players run sprints after they reach certain turnover thresholds.
A student manager tracks turnovers on sheets of paper lining the wall of the practice facility that Cronin likened to a Fernando Valenzuela strikeout board. If one team reaches seven turnovers, it has to run. If that same team commits three more turnovers, it has to run again.
“Nobody wants to run,” Cronin said. “It’s amazing what the threat of running does to athletes.”
Singleton has saved the Bruins’ legs with his heady play. He’s helped redshirt freshman Tyger Campbell and redshirt senior Prince Ali run the team as the primary ballhandlers.
“I just try to make 100% passes, good decisions,” Singleton said.
Cronin said he’s known that Singleton was a fierce competitor since watching him start the game matched up against Cincinnati’s Jarron Cumberland last season when the Bruins faced the Bearcats. To Cronin, who coached Cincinnati at the time, that meant that UCLA considered Singleton its best defender just two months into his college career.
That assessment was confirmed when Cronin later watched Bruins interim coach Murry Bartow use Singleton in end-of-game defensive situations while studying game footage of his new team.
Singleton said he felt fully prepared for the season, but Cronin indicated that Singleton was still rounding into form despite refusing to come out of his first full practice for a break.
“There’s no way he can be in top condition,” Cronin said, “but he’s not the guy that’s ever going to tell you he’s not.”
Singleton said he’s corrected some bad habits with his running and jumping technique but appeared most excited by the changes implemented by Cronin and his assistants.
“I love the defensive intensity, I just love the overall attitude of the new coaching staff,” Singleton said. “I mean, it’s really great for us and I feel like we can do some damage in the Pac-12.”
UCLA will hold a free preseason showcase at 7 p.m. Wednesday inside Pauley Pavilion as part of its efforts to build buzz for the team two weeks before the season opener.
The event that’s expected to last roughly an hour will include an intrasquad scrimmage, autograph session and shooting competitions involving students and players.
“Let’s hope the players win,” Cronin cracked.
The first 500 students to show up will receive free pizza and the first 500 fans will receive complimentary bags of popcorn. Fans can shoot free throws on the court after the event ends.
“It’s the first time we’re doing something like this,” freshman forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. said. “I’m excited to see the turnout from the fans and, you know, us getting up and down the court.”
Cronin had a divine experience recently during his first trip to VIP’s, former coach John Wooden’s favorite breakfast spot.
When Cronin arrived at the packed Encino eatery with his father, Hep, patrons rose from just one booth — Wooden’s.
“It was unbelievable,” Cronin said. “There was one seat open at the place and it was that booth.”
Cronin said the moment couldn’t have been staged because the restaurateur didn’t know who Cronin was until he introduced himself. It was a worthwhile gesture on multiple fronts.
“He comped my breakfast,” Cronin said. “It was awesome.”