Father Hep: Cronin’s father is delighted with UCLA’s run to the Final Four | Sports

Father’s Day has come early for Hep Cronin this year. It was actually more like Father’s month.

The 79-year-old father of UCLA coach Mick Cronin became an unlikely celebrity during the Bruins run to the Final Four. CBS and Turner cameras focused as much on the older Cronin as they did on his son during the games.

The cameras will be on Hep Cronin again on Saturday when UCLA takes on Gonzaga for a chance to play in the national title game.

“I wouldn’t be here without him,” said Mick Cronin after Tuesday’s 51:49 win over Michigan, which brought UCLA into the first Final Four since 2008. “It was tough because I wanted to hug him.” or say hello to him or friends but i can’t but that means we win. “

The cameras zoomed back in on Hep Cronin for the first time in more than a year during UCLA’s first four-man game against Michigan State and after the 86-80 win in extra time when father and son saw each other for the first time – albeit through a railing separated.

Ever since that game, Hep’s celebrations, fist pumps or throwing his face mask after Alabama made a 3-pointer to force overtime during the East Region semi-finals have been a must.

“Everyone said it went from Sister Jean (of Loyola Chicago) to Father Hep. I didn’t expect it, ”he said. “I’ve been walking up the aisles and people I don’t know ask me to take a picture. I wonder why they want me “

Dan Cronin, Mick’s older brother, said he saw his father have more fun being in the spotlight as the tournament progressed.

“When people call him Father Hep, he just starts giggling. He loves it because everyone goes straight to him, shakes his hand and introduces themselves, ”said Dan Cronin.

Dan Hoard, who announces the University of Cincinnati football and basketball games, remains a close friend of the Cronin family and said he was also amused that Hep was becoming popular with UCLA believers.

“He’s become a rock star,” said Hoard, who was at the game on Tuesday. “These young UCLA students said, ‘There he is. There is Mick’s father. ‘You know at this stage in his life that it was really cool. “

What most people may not realize is that Hep Cronin is also very good. He played baseball in Cincinnati before winning more than 400 games as a high school basketball coach. Some of those wins were with Mick and Dan at Cincinnati LaSalle.

Cronin was also a scout for the Atlanta Braves. His reviews of David Justice and Hall of Famer Chipper Jones were primary reasons for drafting it. Cronin said he received calls from Dayton Moore, general manager of Kansas City and former Atlanta GM John Schuerholz during the Bruins tournament run.

Hep was also there when Mick got his first coaching opportunity. They were looking for a high school game when one of the coaches saw Mick and offered him a job as a college assistant and freshman coach. From that opportunity, Cronin rose to become video coordinator and later assistant at Cincinnati, Rick Pitino’s top assistant at Louisville, and then head coach at Murray State, Cincinnati, and UCLA.

“You just feel good for your father because so many people have lost their fathers and grandfathers in these COVID times. Reaching and sharing the Final Four with him this year meant a lot to our family, ”said Dan Cronin.

After Hep Cronin retired from coaching, he was a mainstay of Cincinnati’s program, watching his son’s exercises and games while he was available for advice. He went to LA for 12 training sessions and 14 games during Mick’s first season at UCLA last year but couldn’t this season due to the pandemic.

Hep and Dan weren’t the only ones to ride during the tournament. Cronin’s sister Kelly was at all of the games and Mick’s daughter Sammi will stay with the family during the tournament. There were many close friends and former players in the stands during UCLA’s win over Michigan.

Saturday’s game isn’t the only exciting event this weekend. Hep, who passed on his love of horse racing to his sons, was in Keeneland on Friday when the circuit opened their spring get-together. The family will spend some time on a track in Indiana watching the Kentucky Derby prep races from around the country before heading to the game.

Mick had expected to keep an eye on Santa Anita on Saturday. But a filly named Brilliant Cut, in which he holds a minority stake, has been scratched from her scheduled start at the Santa Anita Oaks.

The Bruins will be long shots against the undefeated Gonzaga. But when the game is over, Hep Cronin likes UCLA’s chances of causing a stir.

“We have a formula, we plan very well and we can only hope that it will work again. But we’re playing against a team that looks like it could be one of the best teams in the last 25 years, ”he said. “At least we were in position. If you tell me the score is 50-50 and there are six minutes to play, I’ll take it. We’ve played every game like this for the past 10 games. “

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