2019 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Media Day: New head coaches aim to bring their winning ways to Cal, UCLA, WSU
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Three new coaches are making their way into the Pac-12 men’s basketball footprint in 2019-20, and they all have one thing in common – winning basketball games at multiple stops.
UCLA head coach Mick Cronin is the biggest name and has had the most success out of the group, taking Murray State to two NCAA tournaments in three seasons before moving on to Cincinnati and leading the Bearcats to the big dance in each of the last nine seasons. With 365 wins in 16 years, he has the most NCAA Division I victories of any active coach under the age of 50 (he’s 48).
“Professionally, if you’re going to make a move, and you get to sit in the chair that John Wooden once sat in, it’s an unbelievable opportunity [to coach at UCLA],” said Cronin, who also noted that going to a place that gave his 13-year-old daughter Samantha a lot of opportunities was also a major factor in his decision to make the move.
Cronin’s Cincinnati teams were known for being hard-nosed and a tough out come the end of the season despite the Bearcats producing just two NBA draft picks in Cronin’s tenure (Lance Stephenson in 2010 and Jacob Evans in 2018). Mix in the fertile recruiting grounds of Los Angeles, and Cronin figures to put himself in a position to have a lot of success in Westwood.
“[It’s] a chance to recruit the best players and best student-athletes,” Cronin said. “UCLA affords you the opportunity to recruit the best of the best.”
Kyle Smith has won where it has been very tough to win in recent years. The new Washington State head coach went 101-82 in six years at Columbia, winning a school-record 25 games en route to the 2016 CIT championship, before producing 20-win seasons in all three seasons he was at San Francisco. It was the first time in 40 years that the Dons had won at least 20 games three years in a row. He’s confident his winning ways will travel with him to Pullman.
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“It’s been done there before. There have been guys that have – going back to Coach [George] Raveling, Coach [Kelvin] Sampson, most recently the Bennett duo,” Smith said. “You build a program – guys with great attitudes, great work ethic- guys that really want to be there… That’s kind of been the key at the other places we’ve been.”
Smith has made a name for himself in the college basketball world for his use of analytics and data, which has been called everything from “Nerdball” to “Data Raid.” Not every staff charts a player’s makes and misses from each spot on the floor during an April workout like Smith’s.
“It’s our way of evaluating, getting our internal efficiency ratings. The things that we value, what we do, and guys that do well in it, they’re going to get their opportunities to compete and play,” he said. “[We’re] being very transparent with our guys and showing them what they have to do to get better and what they need to do to get on the floor.”
While Mark Fox didn’t win an NCAA tournament game in his nine years at Georgia, he is only coach in program history to record three straight 20-win seasons and four 20-win seasons overall. The new Cal head coach preceded his stop in Athens by winning three outright WAC regular-seasons titles at Nevada and taking the Wolf Pack to the NCAA Tournament in three of his five seasons in Reno.
“[Cal is] an institution with incredible academic clout, and I think that’s an advantage for us in the big picture,” Fox said when asked about what he liked about the Cal job. “I think obviously the league and the tradition of this league and the power that it has on this side of the country was attractive to me and then certainly Cal has had some really bright spots in our history and people care about basketball at Cal.”
Fox is widely regarded as being a high-integrity guy, having been the former chair of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee and a member of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Ethics Coalition.
Getting praise from someone like Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is a nice plug as well. “Mark is a great coach, and an even better person. He is someone that is committed to operating with the highest of integrity in leading a basketball program,” Stevens said in a Cal press release. “Cal hit a home run.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller, the dean of Pac-12 coaches in his 11th year, feels that the addition of Cronin, Smith and Fox make this the best batch of Pac-12 coaches he has seen during his time in Tucson.
“We have three really good coaches entering our conference,” Miller said. “I think each of them is very prepared. They’ve had success at other stops. You look at Mark Fox – he’s been in the SEC for a decade. He’s seen a lot of things and had some really good success and teams.”
“The one that I know the most is Mick because he was at Cincinnati when I was at Xavier, and those teams at Cincinnati played the game with great effort… And Kyle, I think what he’s done at San Francisco speaks for itself.”
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