The low roar fills the nearly empty arena, building in intensity as David Singleton’s UCLA teammates gather around him in a loose circle.
Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
Those teammates shoved the fifth year back and forth, all clapping rhythmically, smiling all around him.
Hey! Hey! Hey!
Calming down, Singleton gets everyone ready to go 43 minutes before kick-off.
“Come on, white!” he yells inside T-Mobile Arena, referring to the color of the team’s uniform. “Come on, white!”
Another roar follows as the circle narrows, arms shooting into the air towards each other in unison. They will do it again shortly before the game begins, Singleton addressing his teammates once more.
“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, begins with a veteran man who understands exactly what he’s throwing.
No one loves UCLA basketball more. The Los Angeles native was so excited to be a Bruin that he slept on the court at Pauley Pavilion as a freshman. Showing up unannounced, he once delivered in-game used shoes to the home of a fan who had written a fan letter.
When coach Mick Cronin said last weekend that he would petition for Singleton to return for a sixth season after this NCAA tournament that begins Thursday night at the Golden 1 Center against North Carolina Asheville, he may not have I’m kidding.
The sniper isn’t just good at sinking 3s and making everyone feel good. What makes Singleton irreplaceable to those teammates who pressure him before every game is his willingness to back down.
Singleton literally shoved 6-foot-10 center Adem Bona along the baseline earlier this season, a chest shove that kept the freshman from escalating tensions with a Washington counterpart who was settling down. had tangled with him under the basket.
“I just told him, ‘Don’t talk to them, talk to us,’” Singleton said of his exchange with his teammate.
He got into Dylan Andrews’ face during a game against Arizona State after the freshman guard received a technical for vomiting after dunking a sign.
“I told him afterwards, ‘Hey, good energy, good dunk,’” Singleton said, “but keep it professional. ”
He even confronted his coach after Cronin was called for a surprise technical foul against Stanford, telling him not to commit another one that would get him ejected.
Said Cronin: “I got upset because I got an unwarranted ‘T’ from a guy I wasn’t even talking to. So I think Dave thought he was going to lose his mind.”
Said Singleton: “Coach and I know we’re playing for something bigger than just the two of us. Sometimes it gets a little heated, but I’m thankful that we have a coach who loves him so much, you know?
“I understand that I might not be the best player on the court, but I know that I can bring something to the table and if leadership is what this team needs to take the next step to win the next championship, then I will give the team leadership.”
— David Singleton, UCLA senior
Cronin returned the favor by keeping Singleton in the starting lineup after Jaylen Clark lost to a leg injury despite the coach admitting a part of him wanted to move freshman Will McClendon into that position. Her reasoning of him?
“David has been the most loyal player I’ve ever coached,” said Cronin, who is about to complete his 20th season as a college head coach and 27th overall at the Division I level.
Cronin went on to say that the trajectory of his UCLA career changed the moment he made Singleton a starter after a home loss to Stanford in January 2020.
“It changes our season,” said Cronin, whose team won 11 of its last 14 games before the COVID-19 shutdown, “just by following orders.”
The next season, Singleton returned to the bench following the arrival of star signing Johnny Juzang, and his influence grew quietly.
“He doesn’t say a word, he steps up, he helps us beat Alabama in overtime, we’re going to the Final Four,” Cronin said.
That was also the time Singleton began leading the pregame pep rally, coming up with the idea after watching Michael Jordan talk to his Chicago Bulls teammates in the documentary “The Last Dance.” Singleton uses similar phrases, yelling “I work hard now!” before adding something adapted to what he feels at the moment.
“It’s a great energy boost for the game,” Andrews said. “He always has his little pep talk with us, he tells us to stomp on these guys’ necks early in the game and if we can do that, no one can really stop us, man. So we love Dave for that.”
Increased volume is needed given the nature of the other seniors. Campbell doesn’t like to say much. Jaime Jaquez Jr., the Pac-12 player of the year, may be too good to bother anyone. Singleton doesn’t have that problem.
“I understand that I may not be the best player on the court,” Singleton said, “but I know that I can bring something to the table and if this team needs leadership to take the next step and win the next championship, then I will give the leadership of the team.”
Are you ready for some basketball?