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PHILADELPHIA — The start of the Mick Cronin era has been an eventful one for the Bruins.

In year one, UCLA men's basketball turned around a sub-.500 season at the midpoint to close strong and head into March as one of the hottest teams in the nation before COVID-19 hit. The second year ended in a Final Four run, and the third boasted a team that was regularly ranked inside the top 10 and strung together some more postseason success.

The Bruins are tied for the fifth-most wins in the country since the start of the 2020 resurgence at the end of January, also ranking inside the top-12 in advanced metrics and never losing in front of their home crowd in that 26-month span.

Has UCLA turned those successful campaigns into championships? No.

But across the board, the Bruins are undoubtedly in a far better spot than they were three years ago, and title No. 12 might not be all that far away.

Ultimately, Friday night's loss to North Carolina in the Sweet 16 marked the end of a mini era – a chapter, if you will – for UCLA. Some key contributors to Cronin's first three seasons, the first group of players he coached and recruited, will surely be walking out the door.

This is actually something new for the Bruins, who have not had a player leave early for the NBA Draft since Cronin arrived. Chris Smith decided to return for his senior year after the COVID shutdown, and while he didn't play much that season thanks to a torn ACL, he was still present in the locker room and on the bench.

The core in Cronin's first season was made up of Smith, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tyger Campbell, Jules Bernard, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, plus David Singleton and Jake Kyman. Johnny Juzang and Jaylen Clark were added to the group the following offseason, and Myles Johnson and Peyton Watson represented additional reinforcements this year.

Heading into 2022-2023 – and this is using some intuition, context clues and a healthy dose of speculation – Bernard and Riley are gone. Juzang will likely try to go pro in some capacity. Someone like Kyman or Kenny Nwuba could possibly look for minutes elsewhere by becoming the first player to leave via the transfer portal since Shareef O'Neal.

There is a general feeling that Jaquez and Campbell will return, but obviously nothing is locked in yet.

The theme heading into this past season was the gang getting back together, while this coming offseason marks the first real retooling Cronin will have to do in Westwood.

Luckily for him, he's laid the groundwork for it to be a smooth and successful transition, regardless of who stays or leaves.

For one, he has a well-rounded and star-studded freshman class coming in, highlighted by combo guard Amari Bailey, center Adem Bona and point guard Dylan Andrews. Cronin had a solid track record on the recruiting trail through his first few cycles, but he also got hit by notable issues that made things tougher on him on the court.

Cronin's first commit, five-star point guard Daishen Nix, decommitted and signed with the G League after the COVID-19 pandemic started. Four-star class of 2021 prospects Mac Etienne and Will McClendon both tore their ACLs in the fall, making five-star Peyton Watson the only true addition in that second class.

So next year, not only will Cronin be adding Bailey, Bona and Andrews into the mix, but he'll also get Etienne and McClendon back. Watson and Jaylen Clark could very well come back as well, meaning Cronin will finally have a solid contingency of "his guys" suiting up. That isn’t to say that the players he’s had the last few years aren’t “his guys,” but this will be the first roster that will be built by Cronin through and through.

Should Jaquez and Campbell come back, it will be a very intriguing and high-ceiling blend of new and old for UCLA.

Replace Riley with Bona, Juzang with Bailey and Bernard with Andrews and McClendon. You lose a lot of experience, leadership, chemistry and production with those guys out the door, but as far as succession plans go, this one is about as good as you can ask for.

Those changes, even if they may be costly in some mqjor categories, could actually be a blessing in disguise for Cronin in a coaching sense.

Cronin arguably played Riley too many minutes this season, sacrificing defense in favor of familiarity. Now he’ll have two long, athletic, defensive bigs in Bona and Johnson.

Juzang was a great pure scorer, but Cronin probably used his iso shot creation as a crutch too often when drawing up offensive sets. Bernard’s length, shooting and rebounding will be missed, but he wasn’t a great fit as the Bruins’ second point guard option.

The fluidity of the roster this year was good, but carving out more defined roles and removing some level of choice from the equation will ultimately be telling on how Cronin will run things moving forward.

Addition by subtraction is a flawed concept unless someone is a total locker room poison, and that clearly is not the case with any of these departing upperclassmen who were extremely tight-knit and loved by the fanbase. The exchanges in store for the roster could end up being beneficial, though, if not in terms of talent, in terms of rotations and positional consistency.

Andrews will be the first true backup point guard Cronin has had. Bona will be their highest-flying big and truest lob, pick-and-roll and shot-blocking threat. Bailey is a true star in the same vein as Kevin Love and Lonzo Ball.

On top of all that, UCLA could easily still boast a fourth-year national player of the year candidate in Jaquez, one of the best true point guards in the country in Campbell and some real athletes and potential NBA players in Clark and Watson.

Things are changing in Westwood, that much is for sure. Would it have been ideal for these Bruins to win a title before going their separate ways? Of course.

But Cronin is here for the long run, and he has managed so far to build UCLA for both the present and future. With that mindset, this personnel, plus a clear respect for the four letters, John Wooden and the Pyramid of Success, it’s only a matter of time before Cronin and the Bruins are cutting down the nets once more.

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