When you are getting younger players ready to get to the next level, do you encourage video study of defensive coverages or to learn the shooting technique from the best player? No matter how talented, you also want them to learn how to play together as a team.

That's the job of Mick Cronin, the coach at Montclair Prep and a respected member of a close-knit recruiting network of basketball talent across Los Angeles that includes Westchester, Fairfax, Fairfax and Sierra Canyon.

In the case of Montclair Prep's D.J. Hankins, a 6-foot-6 senior guard who has received offers from Arizona, Arizona State, USC, UCLA and Utah, Cronin has pushed him to give better consideration to UCLA.

"I've always been a fan of UCLA basketball and Mick's been great to me, and I feel that we're on the right path with D.J.," Hankins said. "I'm a Bruin through and through."

But Cronin, 49, is not alone.

At San Fernando, Dominguez coach Keith Smith, an assistant with the Lakers when Bill Walton played there, also tries to cultivate a strong relationship with basketball players looking to be developed. Smith also sees the national advisory board for North Carolina signee Omari Spellman as an added bonus in a busy recruiting schedule.

"D.J. can develop a relationship with Coach Smith and learn from him in the process," Cronin said. "I'm fortunate that I have the opportunity to do this with different coaches. It's been really helpful to me."

Cronin is the son of former NBA center Leroy "Hutch" Cronin, who is considered by many as one of the best defensive centers ever.

"He [Mick Cronin] has a lot of influence on basketball because he's a basketball icon," Hankins said. "I really trust him with the game."

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