UCLA basketball coach Mick Cronin and Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang were neighbors who might as well have resided on different continents.
They talked on the phone every day but couldn’t make the short trip to see each other in person because of recruiting restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. So they traded addresses to see just how far apart they were, Cronin passing along his street number in Encino and Juzang doing the same for his home in Tarzana.
“The whole pandemic thing is pretty surreal,” Cronin said Wednesday evening during a teleconference with reporters. “Here’s a guy 3.2 miles away from me door to door but we’ve got to talk on the phone every day.”
Whatever Cronin said worked just as well as an in-home visit; Juzang signed a grant-in-aid with UCLA on the first day of the spring signing period, joining Rancho Cucamonga Etiwanda High guard Jaylen Clark as the newest Bruins after Clark signed a binding letter of intent.
The additions to an incoming class that already included Las Vegas Trinity International School point guard Daishen Nix, who signed with UCLA in the fall, should give Cronin a glut of talent in only his second season with the Bruins.
“There’s nothing better as a coach than having options and being able to press, being able to have depth, being able to have multiple guys that can put the ball in the basket,” Cronin said, “so that’s what I’m trying to achieve with our roster.”
UCLA has submitted a petition to make Juzang immediately eligible based on a personal family situation, and even if that fails he could get to play right away if proposed NCAA legislation intended to allow one-time transfers immediate eligibility passes this spring.
Juzang, a former star at Studio City Harvard-Westlake High, was the first recruit Cronin met with after getting the UCLA job a year ago. Juzang reclassified shortly thereafter, allowing him to head to Kentucky for his freshman season. The 6-foot-6 guard averaged 2.9 points and 1.9 rebounds with the Wildcats before entering the transfer portal with intentions of coming home.
“He always saw himself as a Bruin and leaving school early, the turmoil of the coaching change at UCLA, it was a perfect storm that led him to go away, to kind of give his thoughts on what happened, and I totally understood it and I wished him well when it all happened,” Cronin said, “but as fate has it, he’s going to get to put on a UCLA jersey that he said means a lot to him, something that he had always hoped to do as a kid.”
Cronin likened Clark’s recruitment to that of former UCLA phenom Russell Westbrook, who waited until the spring before signing with the Bruins, and said he was thrilled that Clark did not sign with anybody else in the fall before a senior season in which he averaged 18.5 points and 6.4 rebounds.
Cronin described the versatile Clark, who is a lanky 6-5, as a tough player who was a worker and a winner ideally suited for his style.
“He and I,” Cronin said, “are made for each other as coach and player.”
The Bruins have one available scholarship and Cronin said he was unsure whether it would be filled.
“You just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Cronin said, “so it’s good to always have one scholarship in case something becomes available that you think would really better your program if there’s a player out there.”