A low roar fills the nearly empty arena as David Singleton’s UCLA teammates gather in a loose circle.
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Those teammates push the fifth-year senior one way, then the other, all clapping rhythmically, smiles all around.
Wow! Wow! Wow!
Holding his own, Singleton gets everyone ready to go 43 minutes before the warning.
“Let’s go, you!” he shouts inside T-Mobile Arena, referring to the color of the team’s uniform. “Let’s go, you!”
Another roar follows as the circle tightens, throwing their arms towards each other in the air. They’ll do it all again shortly before kick-off, with Singleton addressing his teammates.
“You know,” point guard Tyger Campbell said, “he always seems to know what to say.”
The ritual that has made the Bruins unbreakable, no matter how many players are injured, starts with a veteran announcer who understands exactly what he’s doing.
Nobody loves UCLA basketball more. The Los Angeles native was so excited about being a Bruin that he slept on the Pauley Pavilion court as a freshman. Appearing unannounced, he once delivered game-worn shoes to the home of a fan who wrote a letter of admiration.
UCLA senior David Singleton participates in pregame activities before the Bruins play Arizona on March 4 at Pauley Pavilion.
(Jan Kim Lim / UCLA Athletics)
When coach Mick Cronin said last weekend, after this NCAA tournament that begins Thursday night against North Carolina Asheville at the Golden 1 Center, that he would apply to bring Singleton back for a sixth season, he may not have been kidding.
The shooter isn’t good at sinking threes and making everyone feel good. Singleton’s willingness to bounce back is irreplaceable for teammates who push him before every game.
Singleton literally pushed 6-foot-10 center Adem Bona down the baseline early in the season, chest-bumping the freshman to stop him from escalating tensions with a Washington opponent who tangled with him under the basket.
“I said, ‘Don’t talk to them, talk to us,'” Singleton said of the exchange with his teammate.
He got in the face of Dylan Andrews in the game against Arizona State after the freshman guard earned a technical foul for being thrown by a poster.
“Afterwards I said, ‘Hey, good energy, good dunk,'” Singleton said, “”but keep it professional.”
His coach also stepped up after Cronin was called for a surprise technical foul against Stanford, telling him not to get another one that would have led to the playoffs.
Said Cronin: “I was pissed because I got a ‘T’ from a guy I wasn’t even talking to. So I think Dave thought I was going to lose my mind.”
Singleton said, “Coach and I both know we’re playing for something bigger than both of us. It gets a little heated sometimes, but I appreciate having a coach who wants it that bad, you know?”
“I understand that I won’t be the best player on the court, but I know that I can contribute something and if leadership is what this team needs to take the next step to win the next championship, then I will lead the team.”
– UCLA senior David Singleton
Cronin returned the favor by keeping Singleton in the starting lineup after Jaylen Clark was lost to a leg injury, though the coach admitted he wanted to move freshman Will McClendon into that role. His reasoning?
“David has been the most loyal player I’ve ever coached,” said Cronin, who is nearing the end of his 20th season as a college coach and ranked 27th in Division I.
Cronin said the trajectory of UCLA’s career changed the moment he made Singleton the starter after a January 2020 home loss to Stanford.
“It turns our season around,” said Cronin, whose team won 11 of its last 14 games before the COVID-19 shutdown, “following orders.”
The following season, Singleton returned to the bench when star transfer Johnny Juzang arrived, quietly growing his influence.
“He doesn’t say a word, he does it big, he helps us beat Alabama in overtime, we go to the Final Four,” Cronin said.
David Singleton has turned the hype huddle into a pregame ritual for the Bruins.
(Jan Kim Lim / UCLA Athletics)
That was also around the time Singleton started leading the pregame hype team, which he came up with after watching Michael Jordan talk to his Chicago Bulls teammates in the documentary “The Last Dance.” Singleton uses phrases like, “Hard work now!” before adding something tailored to what he feels at that moment.
“It’s a great early energy game,” Andrews said. “He always talks to us, he lets us know he’s going to stomp on these guys’ necks early in the game and if we do that, nobody can really stop us, man. So we love Dave for that.”
It is necessary to increase the volume considering the nature of the rest of the elderly. Campbell doesn’t like to say much. Jaime Jaquez Jr., the Pac-12 Player of the Year, may be too nice to get along with. Singleton doesn’t have that problem.
“I understand I’m not going to be the best player on the court,” Singleton said, “but I know I can contribute something and if it’s leadership to take the next step for this team to win the next championship, then I’m going to lead the team.”
Are you ready for some basketball?