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UCLA Sports

Uncertainty lingers for UCLA basketball team even after season’s end

UCLA guard Chris Smith, center, is among the players who will be deciding soon whether he’ll declare for the NBA draft or return for his senior season.
UCLA guard Chris Smith, center, is among the players who will be deciding soon whether he’ll declare for the NBA draft or return for his senior season.
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

Whether he was working from his Encino home or his office inside the Mo Ostin Center, UCLA basketball coach Mick Cronin’s daily routine would have been nearly identical this week.

“I’m doing the same thing here I would be there,” Cronin said during a telephone interview Tuesday from home. “Watch film and call recruits and try not to go crazy.”

That last part is the biggest challenge. There is no shortage of worries or uncertainty amid the novel coronavirus outbreak that ended the college basketball season prematurely almost two weeks ago and shows no sign of abating.

Spring quarter starts Monday, but the only thing known is that all classes will be held online. Cronin said he was waiting to find out what sorts of basketball activities or workouts or team meetings would be allowed, if any.

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“Is it going to be, ‘Stay out of the gym, stay out of the weight room?’ ” Cronin asked. “Are they going to keep athletes shut out? I don’t know.”

Longtime UCLA broadcaster Josh Lewin has found ways to utilize his talent while the sports world is on pause because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some players who hail from Southern California had returned home for spring break this week, Cronin said, while others remained in their Westwood apartments. Cronin said he and his coaching staff had not developed in-home workout plans for players should they be banned from team facilities.

“Right now, to me, we need to all just be worried about the pandemic,” Cronin said. “There’s plenty of time for basketball. Right now, I just want to get the information to my players once UCLA makes a decision as far as how we’re going to proceed starting next week.

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“As far as working out at home and things of that nature, I’m reading the same things you’re reading — they don’t need to be sharing basketballs with people. I’m surely not going to encourage somebody to do something that’s going to cause them to get the COVID-19. That’s the last thing I want to do.”

Cronin wasn’t able to hold formal meetings with his players because of the quick dispersal at the end of the season but said, “I have no indications that anybody wouldn’t be coming back right now.” Junior guard Chris Smith, recently selected the Pac-12 Conference’s most improved player, is among the players who must decide whether to declare for the NBA draft or return next season.

Spring recruiting has continued as normal because all of the state high school tournaments that were canceled would have concluded anyway. That means Cronin and his staff are sending out videos while texting and calling prospects. Where things get complicated is for recruits who want to visit campus before making their decision.

“They can’t make visits and they’re on hold,” said Cronin, who will have at least two more scholarships to give for next season. “To me, I feel for them — the kid that he’s looking to make a decision or maybe he needs to take a couple of visits.”

Club basketball tournaments scheduled for late April have been canceled, denying coaches opportunities to further evaluate prospects. If those events are not made up later in the spring or summer, it could lead to a conundrum for coaches and players alike.

“You’re going to have to offer guys that you haven’t seen as much as you would have normally seen,” Cronin said. “If we can’t go out and watch these guys play in April and May, and you were waiting to maybe give a kid an offer that you saw more in person, what do you do now? Do you pull the trigger based off the film you’ve seen?”

Conversely, prospects could be forced to choose colleges without having all the information they want.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin has been selected the National Assn. of Basketball Coaches District 19 coach of the year, it was announced Monday.
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“This thing could go dark for a while and guys could end up having to make decisions based off no visits,” Cronin said. “Or other guys could choose to wait it out.”

Cronin also continues to monitor the transfer portal for players who might fill his available roster spots.

“The question is, do you need that player? Is that something you need?” Cronin said. “Are they the right fit and are they even talented enough? You have to research that.”

Cronin snuck in a little basketball Monday, making 92 of 100 free throws on his backyard court. He also has a chipping area to practice his golf swings and a nearby elliptical machine.

OK, so maybe this isn’t entirely like being in the office.

“I try to take any look at the positive side to everything, you know?” Cronin said. “This isn’t what I wanted to happen for me to have a chance to recharge my batteries, but that’s what I’ve been using it for.”


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