Back from a hip injury, Michigan freshman Ben Cronin expects big things this year
Ben Cronin stepped on the court this summer in Syracuse, N.Y., just cleared to play basketball again after a hip injury forced him to redshirt his freshman year at Michigan.
Standing on side of him was DaJuan Coleman, one of the country’s best young high school prospects in the class of 2012.
Syracuse Select AAU director Shawn Pudney figured it’d be a good test for both players. He expected Coleman to be a problem for Cronin, who hadn’t played basketball in a year.“Ben wore him out,” Pudney said. “He wore DeJuan out. Then Ben came home again that summer and played against him one more time along with (Colgate center Nick Pascale) in pickup. I had David Simmons, who goes to Central Connecticut, Cronin, Pascale and six or seven other college guys in the gym that all played for me in the past five, six years.
“Ben looked like he had developed more than anyone else in the gym over that small span of time.”
That was before Cronin went through Michigan coach John Beilein’s well-known preseason track workouts. It was there that Cronin made big strides. The 7-footer ran the mile in under six minutes and finished the preseason in the best shape of his life.
“My legs are in the best shape they’ve been in in a long time,” Cronin said. “I’m sure it’s going to turn over on the court where I guarantee I’m going to be a little more explosive than I’ve ever been. And my endurance is going to be better because of the track, so I’m really excited about where I’m at.”
Cronin is what Beilein looks for in a big man. He’s intelligent. He has good passing skills, something demonstrated during Saturday’s open practice when he found cutting players from the high post.
He’s also demonstrated the ability to shoot three-pointers - something Beilein’s most well-known big man, former West Virginia center Kevin Pittsnogle, was known for.
That’s something dating back to Cronin’s days at Henninger High School and Syracuse Select.
“In high school, I could shoot the three’s and I could make them but I could score a lot easier inside so it was like ‘Give me the ball here because I’m going to score here,’” Cronin said. “We played a couple teams where we were either up a lot, so I got the chance to pull a couple things out of my bag, or when they had bigger players and I had to step out a bit I played pretty well.
“ But when I played AAU, I had a really good chance to shoot a lot and I shot well in AAU. When you’re playing that, everyone is really big enough and playing at that kind of level.”
Cronin couldn’t remember the tournament, but after his junior year he played in front of Beilein and made three three-pointers. That game, he said, was when interest in him picked up.
It shouldn’t come as much surprise Cronin ended up at Michigan. He’d known Beilein for years, back when the Michigan coach was the head coach at Division II LeMoyne.
Before Cronin and Beilein had discovered each other on the recruiting trail, Pudney went to Beilein to learn his offense because he figured it’d be a good fit for his 7-footer.
“As soon as Coach Beilein and Ben got to meet each other, quite frankly, I think the recruiting thing was over,” Pudney said. “I think Ben entertained Buffalo, Syracuse the other five, six schools on his list but in his heart, when push came to shove, I don’t think it was anywhere other than where Coach Beilein was.
“If Coach Beilein had gone to San Diego State, I think he would have followed him there. Seriously.”
When Cronin arrived at Michigan he got hurt and is now returning to basketball shape. Cronin knows he’s not there yet. So does Beilein.
But both seem confident that it is coming, although Beilein is concerned about Cronin’s propensity to pick up fouls, a common problem for young post players.
“He’s in a struggle right now to get his quick-twitch type of things back that you lose when you’re injured,” Beilein said. “He can pass, he’s big. He’s just got to still learn ‘I’m two feet from the basket, just hook it in.’
“He’s got to get a little bit of his bounce back. He doesn’t have his bounce. But he can pass and he can rebound.”