Every single day thousands of UCLA students stream down the Hill, walking to class. Every single day thousands of students roam Bruin Walk and study in Royce Hall. Every single day thousands of students pass by the beloved Pauley Pavilion. And every one of these days, these students pass by the statue of our legendary, renowned head coach John Wooden. It leaves me wondering one thing: Can Mick Cronin fill these shoes and truly be our next Coach Wooden?
Mick Cronin was born on July 17th, 1971 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cronin has always had a love for basketball and has played for as long as he can remember. As a 5’3” high school point guard, Cronin led the city in assists, was second in three-point shooting percentage and earned all-city honors in basketball at LaSalle High School. However, after an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), his playing career was sadly forced to end. But, Cronin didn’t let this obstacle get in the way of the game he loves.
After high school, Cronin attended his hometown school, the University of Cincinnati. While accompanying his father, a coach at the University of Cincinnati, on a scouting mission to Cincinnati Woodward High School, Cronin was offered a job coaching the freshman team and serving as a varsity assistant coach. In his short tenure there, Cronin accumulated a very impressive record of 57-3, leading Woodward to three city championships. Additionally, Cronin helped develop six players who would go on to play Division I basketball. Coach Cronin was officially born.
After graduating from the University of Cincinnati in 1996, Cronin remained at the University as a video coordinator, eventually being promoted to assistant coach. Cronin worked there until 2001 and very quickly gained the reputation of being able to elevate and recruit top talent. Cronin was soon offered the job of recruiting coordinator and associate head coach at Louisville under Rick Pitino and in his first year he attracted a top ten recruiting class. By 2003, Cronin was ready for his first head coaching position at Murray State. In three seasons here, Cronin led the Racers to two NCAA tournament appearances and was named the Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year. By 2006, Cronin returned to his alma mater to be the head coach and face of Cincinnati basketball.
Cronin arrived at the scene to find a relatively depleted basketball program, with scarce recruiting in the past year. Cronin’s team was so understaffed that he was forced to recruit future NFL linebacker Connor Barwin from the Cincinnati football team to play for the basketball program. Cronin’s team may have struggled early on throughout his tenure, but he quickly righted the ship. By the end of the 2017 season, Cronin had amassed a 166–63 record, spent 45 weeks ranked in the AP Poll, and reached 6 straight NCAA Tournaments, while picking up 4 NCAA Tournament wins. During this period, Cronin’s legendary recruiting record held up once again. In the 2009-2010 season, Cronin recruited Lance Stephenson to the team, a player who had just become the all-time leading scorer in New York state high school basketball history. During his one season at Cincinnati, Stephenson was named the Big East Rookie of the Year and later had NBA stints with multiple teams. In Cronin’s most successful season as head coach, he led 6th seeded Cincinnati to a win over 3rd seed Florida State in 2012. This allowed the Bearcats to reach the Sweet 16, while recording their only ever win over a higher seeded team in tournament history. It is safe to say that Cronin left his mark on this university.
Leaving Cincinnati was a difficult decision for Cronin. On one hand, the school felt like a home to him. But on the other hand, Cronin couldn’t turn down the opportunity that he was presented with. That opportunity was to become head coach of one of the most legendary and historic basketball programs in the world. He was honored to be yet another successor to the almighty John Wooden and write his name down next to some of the UCLA greats.
In his introductory press conference with UCLA, Cronin revealed how excited, overwhelmed and thankful he was to be given this opportunity. He wasn’t sure that this day would ever come.
“Yesterday was the toughest day of my life professionally – telling the team that you love you’re leaving,” Cronin said. “I never thought I’d have that meeting, to be honest with you. I never thought that day would come, that I’d ever have to have that meeting. But, 11 National championships, having the best players, graduating elite student-athletes, all of the above is at your fingertips here. I understand it’s a tremendous challenge – tremendous challenge. But it’s also a great opportunity. And one that I was not going to pass up. Because I came from a situation obviously where I was at home. We had great success. But I had a chance to be the coach at UCLA. Let’s be honest. The chance to be the coach where John Wooden coached. This is not a hard decision. To be named the head basketball coach not only at John Wooden’s program and UCLA but to be named the head basketball coach at the world’s foremost No. 1 public institution is an unbelievable, incredible honor for me. So I’m overwhelmed a little bit. But, trust me, I’m prepared. You’ve got to embrace it. You only live once.”
Cronin’s first year as head coach was off to a shaky start, however he was able to eventually turn it around. The Bruins went on to win 11 of their final 14 games, en route to a second place finish in the Pac-12. Once again, the basketball community took note of Cronin’s coaching abilities as he was awarded Pac-12 Coach of the Year and NABC District 19 Coach of the Year honors. The Bruin’s ended the season as one of the top rebounding teams in the nation and had three straight victories against ranked opponents, giving the UCLA fanbase a taste of what was yet to come. Furthermore, one of the most promising aspects of this season was seeing the player development that is capable in the hands of Cronin. Chris Smith earned the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player of the Year award and Tyger Campbell’s safe, smart and reliable basketball performances were encouraging to see after his freshman year ACL injury. Cronin and his fiery demeanor made it clear in his debut season, the future is bright.
Cronin’s second season served as a complete revival of UCLA basketball. He led the Bruins to a 22-10 regular season record, but, after a disappointing Pac-12 tournament the Bruins finished fourth in the conference. Luckily enough, UCLA was granted a play-in game to the 2020-2021 NCAA tournament, allowing Cronin to make history. Cronin became one of five coaches to lead their team to all 10 of the past NCAA tournaments, joining the elite company of Mark Few, Tom Izzo, Bill Self and recently retired Roy Williams. This tournament run proved to be historic, as the Bruins went on to upset Brigham Young University (BYU), Alabama, Michigan and eventually suffer a heart-breaking, buzzer-beater loss to Gonzaga.
In a press conference after this legendary run, Cronin had a message for the nation as he declared that UCLA basketball was finally here to stay.
“Nobody picked us,” Cronin said. “Nobody believed in us. And that’s how we like it.”
Cronin and the UCLA basketball team are hungrier than ever to show the world what this basketball program is made of. And, after last season, they are starting to get the recognition that they deserve. Keeping in theme of Cronin’s elite player development, UCLA had a trio of selections to the year-end All-Pac-12 team in 2020-21, including Tyger Campbell (first team), Jaime Jaquez Jr. (second team) and Johnny Juzang (second team). Juzang was arguably the nation’s biggest breakout star and is ready to run it back this 2021-2022 season under Cronin’s tutelage.
Cronin is entering his third year as The Michael Price Family UCLA Men’s Head Basketball Coach, with a cumulative coaching record of 406-196 (.678 win percentage), in the Bruin’s most highly anticipated season in recent memory. Entering the season as the nationally ranked number two seed, UCLA had an electric overtime victory over 4th ranked Villanova, proving to the nation that the Bruins mean business. UCLA will look to dominate the Pac-12 this year and hopefully compete for a national championship in March. A highly anticipated final four rematch between UCLA and Gonzaga is right around the corner this Tuesday, as UCLA looks to rewrite the history books and steal away that number one ranking in the nation.
This UCLA basketball team is full of depth but also possesses elite scorers and lockdown defenders. The Bruins are serious contenders this year, but this reign will look to continue years down the line under Coach Cronin’s guidance. Cronin has the team playing a quick paced offense this year, spreading the wealth around and getting their various sharpshooters as many looks as possible. On the other side of the ball, Cronin has the team playing aggressive defense, featuring more full court-press than previous years. The team’s movements and rotations are looking strong and all signs point to NCAA success. Cronin is strategically utilizing his large inventory of weapons, making UCLA one of the more, if not most, dynamic and lethal teams in the conference and nation.
While hopes are high for this season, Cronin’s elite recruiting and talent development paired with the love and care he has for each player should enable the Bruins to be a basketball powerhouse for years to come. He has fostered a unique basketball environment here, one in which will certainly attract future stars down the line. Cronin has turned the likes of Johnny Juzang, Tyger Campbell, Jaime Jaquez Jr, and Jules Bernard into elite college basketball players. Who’s to say what he can accomplish with 5 star recruit Peyton Watson this year or 5 star recruits Amari Bailey and Adem Bona next year? While winning is starting to become synonymous with his name, Cronin’s hallmark recruiting abilities have reestablished this basketball program, and established it with the intentions of longevity. Last year’s Final Four run was very exciting, but Cronin knows his job isn’t done yet. He yearns for that 12th National Championship and he has the weapons and basketball expertise to bring it home to Westwood. Maybe one day he can get a statue right next to John Wooden, because Cronin and UCLA basketball alike are here to stay.