UCLA Basketball has a new coach, a new plan and some new faces. So, why does it feel the same? The awkwardness of this new era of UCLA Basketball did not start like the last one, but feels like how the last one ended.
On March 25, Ben Howland was fired as the Head Coach of UCLA Basketball. His firing came from a mass swell of loathing from the UCLA faithful, especially the boosters. A revealing expose by Sports Illustrated revealed bad player rapport, a disregard for players’ off-the-court antics and bits of favortism. Not to mention slow, dull, boring basketball. Among the up-tempo offenses being played around the NCAA, UCLA, as of late, has not been one of them. This is Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood. People want action, adventure and excitement. They also want a 12th banner to hang up in Pauley Pavilion. Howland simply did not do this.
On March 30, Athletic Director Dan Guerrero hired Steve Alford out of New Mexico. Alford was almost fired from the University of Iowa for the mishandling of a player with a sexual assault conviction. Instead, he accepted a job at New Mexico where he boasted an impressive 155-52 record. Although, in the NCAA tournament, he never got past the third round, which in today’s era, means he played only two games. Alford plays a motion offense, which is what Ben Howland utilized. Alford’s New Mexico team scored 67.4 points per game, 172nd (out of 346) in the nation. UCLA averaged 74.7 points last year. To me, and I am no statistics major, but if the cry was to have an up tempo game at UCLA, then why choose someone that runs a less productive offense than the last one?
UCLA AD Dan Guerrero says in statement Alford “is the perfect fit for UCLA”, brings “an up-tempo and team-oriented brand of basketball.”
— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) March 30, 2013
At this point, I am going to chalk it up to not having the talent that UCLA can draw. With UCLA being the THE top of the Elite in college hoops, kids dream of playing with those four letters on their chest. So how is the recruiting going? One thing he was known for was having good relations with his players. One notable case was former Bruin, Drew Gordon who constantly clashed with Howland in his time at UCLA. So is Alford the best guy for the job? Clearly, no. Is he the right guy? That will have to be seen. So let us be fair at this point and analyze what he has done so far at UCLA, sans coaching an actual game.
In the last month, the Bruins lost out on two big-time recruits. Jordan McLaughlin, the #4 ranked point guard in the country, chose USC and the #7 point guard in the country, Quentin Snider chose Illinois. Seriously? USC and Illinois are better destinations than UCLA? It cannot be the location so what is it? Does Alford have recruiting limitations?
For the upcoming season, Alford did land 6’7” power forward, Wannah Bail, a transfer from Texas Tech, and 6’4”, 4-star recruit, Isaac Hamilton, a transfer from UTEP. The interesting thing about Hamilton is that he was recruited by Howland, but decided against playing for the former Bruin coach. He decided on UTEP and after trying to get a release from his Letter of Intent, will “transfer” to UCLA and has already enrolled in classes. Maybe Alford does have some sway, especially in his dealings with players.
As for his first solid commitment, Trevon Bluiett, a 4-star small forward out of Indianapolis, said yes to the Bruins last week. This is definitely a great catch for Alford, as so many Bruin fans have already chastised the coach for his misses on McLaughlin and Snider. Alford was also able to hang on to Howland recruited players, Noah Allen and Zach LaVine, two solid, hard-working kids that were of the tough Howland mentality. They did end up losing Allerik Freeman, the #15 ranked shooting guard, who had flipped his recruitment to Baylor. Why? We will truly never know, but as inquiring minds, we can see what might push him to his decisions.
Less than a month before Freeman’s de-commitment, it was announced that both of Alford’s sons would be joining the new Bruin coach. Bryce Alford, “a pure point guard” and Korey Alford another guard, might not need scholarships to be on this team, but what other scholarship players actually do look for is playing time and with the addition of the Alford sons, playing time might be cut for some.
Had a chance today to sit down with Bryce Alford, who told me that he thinks he’ll be UCLA’s only pure PG; although others can play PG.
— Ryan Kartje (@Ryan_Kartje) September 12, 2013
Bryce Alford has the single season scoring record for the state of New Mexico, and averaged 37.5 points a game. Impressive, but no one will be scoring close to 40 points a game in the NCAA, especially under Coach Alford’s offense and if there is, it is not going to be a kid that was not highly recruited. But if it is, then we have a problem. So potential nepotism could play a roll this year, but it is nothing Bruin fans have not experienced before.
The word on the street was that Howland favored and used the talents of current Bruin seniors, David and Travis Wear. The thing is, he over used them just to prove a point to the other players. Time and again, the Wears would be exhausted by game’s end and those players who Howland was trying to prove a point to, well, a good majority of them completely left the program. What is my point here? Be very careful balancing this team, coach Alford.
Alford not only has to balance this team, but the way he handles the program and that leaks out into the fan base. If there is one thing UCLA fans want, is not be pissed off. But still, Alford has a wretched contract that will keep him here for a while. Well, time to show us your stuff, coach.