John Wooden. Echoes stirring. Bill Walton yelling about whoever is the coach when it turns sour. The UCLA Bruins are a blue-blood program in history, but this university only needs a rubber duck without holes in it to get clean in the college basketball tub known as life.
Hello there, man without holes Mick Cronin!
Over the last few years, the UCLA fanbase received a raw deal. For every column think-piecing its way to whatever wrought point, discussing how unrealistic the rabid base is, there’s a large percentage of fans who just want consistency. A man overseeing the program without a checkered past; or one who isn’t solely reliant upon transcendent superstars to make a name for himself.
Those same columns on the supposed demise of the Bruins also tend to talk about the school’s lack of resources. Stuff about airplanes, recruiting with airplanes and/or fuel that goes inside inanimate objects that fly up in the air — I believe they’re referring to airplanes.
Airplanes are neat. An awesome resource to have; though it’s not as if every school in the country is allowing their head coach to fuel up the United Arcadia 666 to go see Johnny McFivestar play shooty hoops seven states over. After all, have you seen the price of airplane fuel… in 2019?
As the head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats, Cronin had a winning percentage near 67. That’s with the university having stints in a brutal Big East Conference as well as a less than great AAC (Mike Aresco voice, “The American!”). When comparing that to UCLA’s previous head coach, Steve Alford, who had a winning percentage near 66, it’s hard to tell the difference — until you remove Alford’s one true shining season, which came with Lonzo Ball transforming his stagnant offense for him.
The 2016-17 college basketball season saw the UCLA Bruins stir them echoes, as Alford “led” the school to a 31-win season. It’s certainly worth noting he led them to 31 wins in the same way a person can lead another to a cool burger joint. Sure, he or she got you to that fine dining establishment, but your pal wasn’t the one cooking the burgers and fries.
For the Bruins, it was Lonzo Ball who did the cooking. So insanely gifted he tricked NBA franchises into thinking UCLA had four other pros on the roster; TJ Leaf (eh), Aaron Holiday (ugh), Thomas Welsh (not exactly) and Ike Anigbogu (my mother taught me if I had nothing nice to say, avoid saying anything at all).
Point being, in a roundabout way, Ball was so obviously great in college, especially with hindsight available to us, he lifted Alford’s tenure at UCLA to a status it didn’t belong. Landing the youngest Big Baller Brother, merely by having a program in the right state, created this idea of Alford being a longer term coach for the Bruins.
He was not.
How do we know this? I’m glad you asked. It’s because the school let him walk. Gave him the old pink slip. Did him dirty via text message.
They did not do him dirty by way of a few letters in a text.
Anywho, that’s not entirely the point. While many UCLA fans were likely able to look beyond Alford’s wayward past, as well as his general forever-in-a-mood temperament, those qualities were eventually going to quickly implode upon the former Missouri State coach whenever he inevitably failed to obtain a quality win-loss record.
For those unaware of how this newfangled basketball fancy-math works, seven wins isn’t considered ideal. See, you carry the amount of games played (13), times the luggage, minus a Ball family member, divide that by four, stare at the sun for 32 seconds, and all of that equals Steve Alford being shown the door.
Or something. We’re at the word vomit section of this blog… maybe?
Mick Cronin, who certainly had very good players with Cincinnati, never had a dynamic, program-altering star such as Lonzo Ball. Somehow, through magic one can surmise, he still managed to never only win seven games. In fact, he hasn’t won less than 20 since his fourth year with the Bearcats in 2009-10 (he won 19). After that, it was 20-plus wins and so many trips to the NCAA Tournament he was probably forced to buy a pair of dancing slippers as most Division I coaches rent them.
Everything being equal, Cronin has his own faults. Jokes over his constant stage of rage are really no longer welcome, especially after a vascular condition forced him to miss time in 2015. Still, he’s going to rub a few people the wrong way by how he acts near the bench.
However, again, he’s never been a dude reliant upon super-duper-stars. The UCLA Bruins, a program that would preferably land a super-duper-star here and there, needs someone like that. A coach capable of winning without the very best talent in the country, specifically in a Pac-12 currently operating with the Washington Huskies as the program dominating on the recruiting trail.
The hell, indeed!
Mike Hopkins, the dude from Syracuse who was meant to take over for the nation’s favorite grumpy uncle, is not only winning and winning many times over with a school few people ever thought would, but is bringing in four and five-star players as if he had a bunch of airplanes filled to the brim with airplane fuel.
Mick Cronin might not, at least not immediately, be able to keep pace with the vaunted, dreaded Washington Huskies on the recruiting trail. That’s fine. Dandy, even. He’ll do mostly fine with whoever is at his disposal.
Then, over time, when the blue blood that courses through UCLA’s veins begins to infect his, leading to a super-Cronin of sorts, life will be gravy.
Plus, Mick Cronin is a rubber duck with no holes in it. A perfect formula for UCLA’s college basketball tub.
In summary: John Wooden. Rubber ducks. Mick Cronin. No holes. Basketball tubs. Blood that is blue. Airplanes. Fuel. Airplane fuel. Life. Think-piecing about airplanes and fuel. Lonzo Ball was more important to UCLA than Steve Alford. Good enough doesn’t mean it needs to be great.
Everyone on the same page now?
Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly a decade for various outlets in a variety of ways. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.