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If he’s underperforming, UCLA’s Chris Smith wants to hear all about it

UCLA guard Chris Smith looks to pass as Pepperdine guard Darryl Polk Jr. defends.
UCLA guard Chris Smith looks to pass as Pepperdine guard Darryl Polk Jr. defends during the first half on Nov. 27 in San Diego.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

It’s the sound of silence that Chris Smith finds most disquieting.

The UCLA senior guard wants his coach to verbally push, prod and cajole him, always seeking to bring out his best. It’s a lesson that came from his father, Sean, who also happened to be his first coach.

“He always said, you know, when the coach isn’t yelling at you or isn’t in your face all the time,” Chris said Wednesday, “that’s when you should get scared because that means that he doesn’t see any potential in you and doesn’t feel like if he yells at you it will make a difference.”

Based on his histrionics, Mick Cronin definitely sees massive potential in Smith. The Bruins coach spent much of his team’s first two games with his mouth practically pinned to Smith’s ear imparting his displeasure.

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During one timeout exchange in the first half of UCLA’s game against Pepperdine on Friday, the coach and player went back and forth before Cronin offered the final word, bellowing, “No!”

UCLA’s game against Long Beach State on Monday was postponed due to COVID-19 issues on the Long Beach State team.

Message received. Smith scored 17 of his 26 points after halftime during the Bruins’ 107-98 victory in triple overtime and finished with 12 rebounds after having logged zero in that category during his team’s season-opening loss to San Diego State.

Smith said he wasn’t satisfied, realizing that he’s a favorite to become Pac-12 player of the year and has been named to the preseason watch list for the Wooden Award.

“There’s plenty more to work on,” Smith said. “Neither of those two games were the best that I have in store, so I’ve got a lot to work on, I can do a lot in pretty much every single area, but I mean, I guess I’m moving in the right direction definitely from that first game.”

Cronin said he wanted Smith to be more assertive in all phases, including scoring to help a team that often struggles in that department. As far as Smith’s NBA aspirations, Cronin said there’s an obvious deficiency.

“My quest with him is to have him be a much better defender,” Cronin said. “Block more shots, rebound more.”

Hello and goodbye?

Cronin said the proposed NCAA rule allowing players a one-time transfer without sitting out a season could turn college basketball into a free-for-all that’s even more crazed than NBA free agency.

“Imagine if in the NBA, you sign the guy to a four-year deal but he can opt out anytime he wants,” Cronin said. “That’s what we’re going to be forced to deal with in college basketball. You sign a guy to a four-year deal, but he can opt out and play for your opponents if he wants to. And you can spend thousands of dollars recruiting him sophomore, junior, senior year [of high school] flying all over America, and he signs a four-year deal with you. … But now they can just leave. So it’s going to be free agency.”

The UCLA men’s basketball team picked up its first win of the season, leaning on a barrage of three-pointers in triple overtime to beat Pepperdine 107-98.

TONIGHT

VS. SEATTLE

When: 5 p.m.

Where: Pauley Pavilion.

On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 570.

Update: The Redhawks (3-1) present a unique challenge because they are a team that loves to shoot three-pointers and grab offensive rebounds. They have taken 28.5 three-pointers per game while shooting 32.5% from beyond the arc. More impressive, they have taken down an average of seven more offensive rebounds per game than their opponents. “To have their rebounding numbers,” Cronin said, “you got to play really hard.” In its last two games, Seattle posted a 63-45 victory over Air Force before falling to Cal State Northridge 76-65.


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