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UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell was speaking with a matter-of-fact attitude during media availability via Zoom Tuesday afternoon when he emphasized the shape he needs to be in to play faster this season. What seemed to be no big deal to him, was certainly news to media members.
“Coach (Mick Cronin) wants to run a lot more and get the ball up (the court faster),” Campbell said.
Freshman Jaylen Clark’s words were even more clear – and somewhat surprising.
“We’re playing extremely fast this year,” said Clark. “We’re looking to score in the first eight seconds of the shot clock.”
Mick Cronin followed up Campbell and Clark’s remarks by confirming the goal of faster play, but not to an extreme as Clark put it. Cronin chuckled when he heard what Clark said.
“We’re going to pick up the pace,” Cronin said. “We have the depth to do it. But you gotta get stops to run. Stops with defense.”
Clark, a standout from Etiwanda High, is receiving high praise from Cronin and teammates for his defense.
“He’s probably the best defender on the team,” said Campbell. “He’s going to help our team this year.”
Clark said most of his time in practice is spent guarding Jake Kyman and Jules Bernard during scrimmages. The concept of a stout defense that leads to transition (easier) baskets isn’t new, but Clark’s first impressions could help that goal and earn him significant minutes this season.
“Jaylen is a premier, elite defender,” Cronin added. “Not a day goes by he’s not stealing a pass and goes down and dunks it.”
Doesn’t get easier than a dunk.
The Bruins are roughly one week away from their season opener at San Diego State on Nov. 25. The team played its Blue vs. Gold scrimmage Tuesday morning in an empty Pauley Pavilion, a feeling the team will have to get used to until local health guidelines allow spectators (family or fans) to indoor events.
Our team ran through a Blue vs. Gold scrimmage this morning … felt great to be back in Pauley Pavilion, but it’s not the same without our fans.
We’ll miss you in Pauley, for now. Please know we can’t wait to have you back.
— Mick Cronin (@CoachMickCronin) November 17, 2020
The Pac-12 had to cancel football games due to COVID-19 outbreaks in each of first two weeks of competition. The UCLA football team played an impromptu game against California on Sunday at the Rose Bowl after its scheduled matchup against Utah was canceled. It’s a prime example of how quickly a schedule – or opponent – can change any given week.
As the season approaches, Cronin’s anxiety over the team’s readiness is matched by vulnerability of the season.
“You wonder about all the things you’re working on in practice; what’s going to happen when you play against a team like San Diego St., who’s so well coached,” Cronin said regarding the basketball. “So, there’s anxiety of how it’s all going to look when we play somebody else.”
Cronin also was concerned about the current state of the NCAA season starting given the recent surge of COVID-19 cases, especially in Los Angeles County.
“It’s almost surreal with all this going on,” Cronin said with a deep exhale. “Are we actually going to play a game? Knock on wood we just get to game night. Get the most unusual season in our lives started. We have to test three times a week and on game day.”