Photo: Mick Cronin
By TOM SHANAHAN
LAHAINA, Hawaii – Oh, how some college basketball identities have flip-flopped the past quarter-century since Tom Izzo took over Michigan State’s basketball program during the same 1995-96, one year after UCLA won its last national title.
The great Bill Walton, who worked both the Michigan State-Georgia game and the Chaminade contest against his alma mater UCLA on the ESPN telecasts Tuesday from the Maui Jim Maui Invitational, might have jumped out of his courtside seat despite his fused ankles if he heard UCLA coach Mick Cronin’s comments.
Cronin, in his first year of rebuilding UCLA after a successful career at Cincinnati, volunteered some thoughts as he looked ahead to the Michigan State-UCLA game at 9:30 a.m. (2:30 p.m. ET) Wednesday for fifth place.
He said in during his job interview with UCLA athletic director Dan Geurrero he wanted to model his Bruins program after Michigan State.
“I told Dan in my interview that if I could do half of what Tom Izzo's done at Michigan State, that that's my goal at UCLA,” Cronin said after his team beat Chaminade. “To run a program, run it the right way, win the right way, graduate players, everything, they're about team. Guys still make the NBA. They’ve got guys all over the NBA. And their guys win in the NBA because they're taught winning in college.
“And I really did tell Dan that in the interview. There's a way to run an elite program to make your university proud, not just to win games. It's the way Coach Izzo has run his program for 25 years. So the problem is he's 25 years in and I'm six games in or seven games in, as far as building what we're all about.”
Michigan State, which entered the tournament ranked No. 3, dropped its opener to Virginia Tech 71-66 and then bounced back with a 93-85 win over Georgia.
UCLA fell to BYU 78-63 in the opener before defeating the tournament host, NCAA Division II Chaminade of Honolulu.
Cronin would rather be on the winning side of the bracket, but he said he came to Maui hoping to play Michigan State. He believes holding up Michigan State as a model is easier for his players to embrace than if he talked too much about his old job, where he was 296-146 with NCAA trips the last nine seasons.
Especially since Cincinnati beat UCLA the last two seasons, winning 77-63 on Dec. 16, 2017 at UCLA and 93-64 on Dec. 19, 2018 at home.
“I talk a lot about (Michigan State) to our team since I've got the job, because I don't like talking too much about Cincinnati and throwing it in our guys' face, because for the last couple years how we won those games.”
Cronin has said repeatedly he is trying to transform UCLA into a tougher team.
The two players he brought with him to the interview room were Cody Riley and Jaime Jacquez Jr.
Jacquez Jr., a 6-foot-6, 215-pound freshman from Camarillo, Calif., posted 17 points and 12 rebounds. Riley, a 6-9, 250-pound redshirt sophomore, finished with 15 points and six boards.
Walton, of course, won two NCAA titles (1972 and 1973) as part of UCLA’s 10 national titles in 12 years under John Wooden. But the college basketball world has changed over many times since then.
Michigan State is on its third coach in the last 51 years: Gus Ganakas, 1969-70 to 1975-76 and Jud Heathcote, 1976-77 to 1994-95 before Izzo succeeded his mentor.
UCLA is on its 10th coach since Wooden retired after the 1975 title and fourth since Harrick was fired over an NCAA scandal one season after the championship season.
“I elaborate on everything (Michigan State is) about, which is what I want us to become and we will become,” Cronin said. “It's one way or the other. One way or the other, we will become that. The question is how soon.”
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Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.
Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation.