After waiting half a year, UCLA’s basketball team joyfully reunites

UCLA coach Mick Cronin argues a call during a game against Washington State on Feb. 13.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin argues a call during a game against Washington State on Feb. 13. Cronin and his players met in person Tuesday for the first time since their season ended prematurely in March because of the coronavirus crisis.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Six months later, they were back together again, reunited for a team meeting unlike any in UCLA basketball history.

Players and coaches stuck swabs with tiny plastic tips up their own noses Tuesday to test for COVID-19, the disease that had ended the Pac-12 Conference tournament after one round and dispersed the team for an extended break.

Coach Mick Cronin had noticed during weekly Zoom meetings that guards Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Jake Kyman had let their hair grow but didn’t realize the full extent of the shagginess until he saw in person that the length of their locks rivaled those of dreadlocked teammate Tyger Campbell.


“Jaime and Jake, they need haircuts bad,” Cronin said. “We’ve already got one guy with long hair; Tyger’s enough.”

The Bruins had reconvened two weeks before a fall quarter that will be completed mostly online and one day before the NCAA’s Division I council is scheduled to vote on a proposed late November start for the college basketball season. The Pac-12 announced last month that none of its teams could play sports before Jan. 1, but Cronin said the hope is that rapid daily viral testing that is supposed to be in place on campus before the end of the month could accelerate the timeline.

The Pac-12’s health guidelines for return to competition did not spell out specific caseload thresholds that needed to be satisfied for teams to play, but made suggestions for frequency of testing related to the severity of community spread. Even though the most recent figures in Los Angeles County showing 58 new cases per 100,000 residents over the last week qualify as “uncontrolled spread,” according to the Harvard Global Health Institute, the new daily testing available to Pac-12 teams would satisfy the conference’s recommendations for frequency of testing under those conditions.

UCLA’s athletic director knows a lot of work remains to play football, but the Pac-12 acquiring rapid testing for the novel coronavirus is good news.

“Once we have daily testing,” Cronin said, “then you’re looking at being able to return to full-contact workouts and regular practice.”

UCLA and USC would also need clearance from state, local and campus officials to begin full practices and start their seasons.

For now, the Bruins who receive negative results as part of the testing administered Tuesday can undergo physicals and baseline athletic testing. The next step would be to start outdoor conditioning and weightlifting Monday while awaiting clearance to move activities back inside the Mo Ostin Center.

Cronin said it would take six to eight weeks from the start of conditioning to prepare his team to play in a game. The Pac-12 has forbidden teams even in areas less affected by the coronavirus to commence full-contact practices in an effort to prevent an unfair advantage.

Starting practice on outdoor courts was something Cronin said he wouldn’t do because he had suffered the knee injury that ended his high school basketball career while playing on asphalt.

“You can’t risk injury working guys out full speed on asphalt,” said Cronin, who has no cartilage left in one knee as a result of his injury. “I would never do that.”

UCLA’s Bruin Support Program has generated more than $1.2 million in only a few weeks to help cover costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Should the Pac-12 fail to align the start of its season with the rest of the NCAA, it could affect the number of nonconference games the Bruins play and what their NCAA tournament resume might look like. Cronin noted that a team piling up nonconference victories could have a significantly different record than one playing exclusively within its conference.

“It’s not going to be a normal year,” Cronin said. “So the eye test, common sense, is going to have to come into play whenever Selection Sunday does come around.”

Little victories might be the only ones the Bruins tabulate over the next few months. Being able to look each other in the eye without a computer screen certainly qualified.

“Extreme excitement,” Cronin said, “just to see each other.”