LOS ANGELES – UCLA faces a rebuilding year under Mick Cronin and the young Bruins are busy adjusting to their new coach’s ways.
Different drills, different philosophies, different schemes, different personality.
The Steve Alford era is a distant memory for a team that finished 17-16 and missed the NCAA Tournament last season. Alford was fired at the end of December, shortly before Pac-12 play began, and assistant Murry Bartow took over the rest of the way.
“Last year didn’t really go too well,” senior guard Prince Ali said Thursday. “I could have done a better job of leading this team. I’m trying to be more vocal, trying to do things the right way from jump and just get this ship going.”
Cronin was hired from Cincinnati in April after a long coaching search. He’s learning his players at the same time they’re figuring him out.
“The guys’ attitude and effort has been tremendous,” he said. “I’m a big believer that is 70 to 80 percent of the battle.”
Cronin hired a new staff to work with a team that lost 7-foot-1 center Moses Brown and guards Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, all of whom left early for the NBA draft. Brown and Wilkes went undrafted, while Hands was taken in the second round.
After going against each other in practice, the Bruins will scrimmage Friday against an unnamed Division I team.
The starting lineup remains in transition.
Ali and forward Alex Olesinski are the only seniors who played major minutes last season. They’re joined by six sophomores along with redshirt freshmen Tyger Campbell and Shareef O’Neal, son of NBA great Shaquille O’Neal.
Campbell is aiming to be the starting point guard, although an ACL tear forced him to miss last season.
O’Neal returns to the team after undergoing heart surgery that also kept him out last season.
The only player not healthy is guard David Singleton, who is coming off a foot injury and can’t go full-speed yet. As a freshman, he shot 47% from 3-point range. He could join Campbell in the backcourt.
The Bruins were picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 in a poll of media. They were 9-9 in league play last season.
Junior guard Chris Smith called the media selection “realistic.”
“We know what we have here and we know what we have to do,” he said. “The past two years I feel like I’ve underachieved as a person here and as a player here, and as a team we have, too. People shouldn’t expect us to be doing super-well when we’ve shown that we have a lot of things to work on.”
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