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UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin talked the reporters about the Bruins’ upcoming game against Colorado, his improved athleticism and what it takes to be a vocal leader.

DAVID SINGLETON

Defensive-oriented practices?

They were intense but they were fun because we knew we were getting better. We know defense was a weakness the past few games, whether we won or lost. So we've just been focusing on that, going hard, challenging each other. And it was fun in practice, just getting better with my teammates.

What was coach like in those practices?

Coach, he always keeps the same intensity. It's very intense, but he pushes us to make us better. So we don't really, we don't really take it personally. At the end of the day, he's trying to help us, he's trying to make us better players and a better person.

Carry that going forward?

The defense? We're just trying to get better practice by practice, game by game. It's up to us, so we'll see what happens with that. My hope is that we learn from our mistakes and you just keep getting better. We don't want to plateau seven to eight games into the season, we want to get better.

Looking a lot more explosive, offseason training?

It was just a bunch of band work...it was more mental and a bunch of band work. I've been exercising and I've been working hard, I hired a couple of trainers so I've been trying to...diet, nutrition, sleep I've just been on it, trying to push myself. I just want to be the best possible player for the team and help just contribute and to be my best self. I take my role very seriously on the team no matter where it is, I just want to put myself in position to be the best.

More midrange back in your game?

I think it's both. I have to be able to get there, have to be able to train my body, and I just have to get used to it and trust the work that I've put in all offseason. My trainer always tells me, 'Trust your work, trust your work' so I've been trying to open up my game because I feel like the midrange and 3 will be a huge weapon for me in opening up and scoring ability and making plays for other people.

Layup line dunks?

We test our vertical from time to time. My overall average has gone up naturally. So I just take that very seriously and I just take it day by day and I do some extra work after practice to keep my body in shape. I know my body well and I've gotten the college regiment, I'm a senior so I know what to expect. So I try to push myself even more and get myself extra rest and extra recovery before games to keep that going.

What's your vertical at now?

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On average, it's probably like 19, 20, 21 something like that.

Pregame hype huddle?

It's kind of spur of the moment. I try and feel the energy of our guys in that's based on what I say to them. But I try to get us hype and get us motivated and ready for the game. It doesn't matter who we're playing, naturally, we're going to be more motivated, more fired up, more locked in than others. But I try and keep it even keep with the team. I feel like it's my job to get us ready for no matter what game. Because there's upsets for a reason. So, I just try and keep us even keeled and motivated for every single game.

How did you get that role?

I just took it on. I noticed last year, nobody was really doing it. So I just wanted to be the energy guy to get us going, the hype guy. I'm already a loud person as it is, so I just get us going and I'm the most vocal whether I'm right or I'm wrong. I just try to get on everyone. Because when you hold people to a certain standard, you have to hold yourself to that standard as well. So that's what I try to do to everyone. I try to say...I'll even tell Tyger, tell him to do this, I'll tell Tyger, I'll tell everyone just try to ask them what they see, what they feel and I try to give them advice.

What do do say when you break the huddle?

I got it from The Last Dance, I say 'Hard work now,' and I say something after to get us going. It gets us going, it gets us hype, because I just remind them, the game rewards hard work, it rewards effort. Coach always says 'The tougher team wins' so I remind them, we have to work harder than the other team every time we step onto the court. That's the type of culture I want to bring to this team.

Always been a vocal leader?

I've always been a vocal leader. We have great players on our team, so whether I'm able to do what they're doing or not, I always tell them 'Be your best self.' I'm not afraid to say it, I'll yell at them, I won't cuss at them, I try to understand where they're coming from first, and I try to hold them responsible. Because at the end of the day, they know that I'm trying to make the team better, I'm trying to make myself better. We all have the same goal, so they listen, we'll talk it out, but I've always been that vocal leader that keeps him to a standard.

Evan Battey?

Evan and I, we went to elementary school together. We grew up, we lived in the same neighborhood for all our lives. That's my best friend, that's my brother. I hang out with him all the time in the summer, we workout sometimes together. That's really my best friend since diapers.

After a stroke, how nice is it to see him back?

I sent him two large paragraphs, because I wasn't...he lived in Villa Park, he moved out there but I sent him two large texts. The first time I saw him after I just gave him a big hug. It was at a tournament at Westchester High School, I almost cried, I hugged him and I was just saying 'I'm proud of him for keep going for keep pushing it.' Because we always talked about playing at the Division I level, so to play against a best friend like that...it's amazing for him to power through that. It's an amazing story, I'm really proud of him and I just love him like a brother. 

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