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UCLA Basketball: Mick Cronin Hires Michael Lewis as an Assistant Coach

Mick Cronin completes his coaching staff by tabbing the former Nebraska assistant.

New UCLA Assistant Coach Michael Lewis and his family.

The 2019-2020 edition of the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball coaching staff looks to be complete, as UCLA and Mick Cronin announced the hiring of Michael Lewis as assistant coach.

I guess I should get these all in now before everyone else, but bringing in the writer behind Moneyball and The Big Short should really help the UCLA men’s team in the classroom, where things are not going so hot. But, in all seriousness, here’s to hoping the stores in Westwood have enough shaving cream in supply to support the #ChromeDomeCoachingStaff keep things looking fresh.

Ok, but really, let’s talk about Michael Lewis, basketball coach. Lewis has been coaching for the past 17 years and has worked his way up the assistant coaching ranks since 2004 when he started Stephen F. Austin University. After a year, he moved to Eastern Illinois, where he served as an assistant coach for six seasons. During his time at Eastern Illinois, Lewis was recognized as being one of the best assistant coaches in the Ohio Valley Conference, which seemed to catch the eye of one Brad Stevens, who hired Lewis to coach as an assistant at Butler in 2011. Lewis stayed with the Bulldogs for five seasons and helped the Bulldogs post 20-win seasons four times and earn NCAA bids in three of those seasons. From there, Lewis was tabbed for his first Power 5 assistant coaching gig when he joined Tim Miles’s staff at the University of Nebraska in 2016.

Michael Lewis will be joining the staff specifically to help with the offense, and there is some reason for optimism here. For example, let’s take a look at Nebraska’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings (via KenPom) before and during Lewis’s time in Lincoln.

Nebraska KenPom Offensive Efficiency Rankings

Year AdjO Ranking
Year AdjO Ranking
2013-2014 111
2014-2015 264
2015-2016 86
2016-2017 157
2017-2018 75
2018-2019 30
Note: Michael Lewis joins Nebraska staff prior to 2016 season.

After a step back in Lewis’s first year, Nebraska was able to deliver the best offensive results of the Tim Miles era during Lewis’ tenure including an impressive 30th in the country last year. But there’s also a caveat here, which is that Nebraska ran a much-slower tempo. Their adjusted tempo ranking for 2018-2019 was 238, compared to UCLA’s 17th. Considering UCLA ended last year ranked 88th in offensive efficiency, maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.

Still, while those numbers seem unimpressive at first glance, they are a reason for optimism, especially considering Lewis will have access to athletes at UCLA that he could only dream of at his other stops. The offensive growth was not limited to just Nebraska. Butler experienced similar growth (with an outlier year in 2013-2014, the first without Brad Stevens), with the Bulldogs topping out at 15th in adjusted offense in Lewis’s final year with the team.

Of course, we have to address the elephant in the room. Or rather, the angry, chair-throwing psycopath, as Lewis played college ball at Indiana under Bob Knight and began his coaching career as a graduate assistant for Knight at Texas Tech. Now, an association with Knight should not be disqualifying and I’d even argue working with Brad Stevens would tend to balance that out, but the Bruins, once again, have a former Hoosier on the sidelines. At least this one was known for his passing rather than his shooting — Lewis is second all-time at Indiana in assists. So, hopefully, he’ll be able to teach the team a thing or two about passing the ball.

Lewis, at least, seems to be embracing his new job including taking in the local culture.

The UCLA press release also officially announced that Greg Youncofski was joining the support staff as the Director of Recruiting and Player Personnel. This was something of an open-secret around campus, as Youncofski was an assistant coach under Coach Cronin at Cincinnati and was rumored from the jump to be following Cronin in some capacity to Westwood. As part of his job description, Youncofski will be in charge of recruiting, advanced scouting, and incorporating analytics into team planning. It should be good stuff.
Welcome to Westwood, Michael Lewis and Greg Youncofski!

Go Bruins!