Bumped. Great analysis. - BN Eds.
Warning: What you are about to read may make you angry, depressed, resentful, or irritable.It is highly recommended that you print out this post so you can read it without having the urge to smash the screen of your computer, tablet, or phone. The following is my honest take on the sad status of the UCLA's men basketball program.
First of all, for those that don't closely follow UCLA basketball recruiting, this is a huge hit that will have repercussions for the 2015 class and perhaps longer. For those not up to speed, a top PG recruit from Southern California just released his top 10 list of schools and while Arizona, USC, and even New Mexico made the cut, UCLA did not. You heard right:
UCLA did not make the final 10 of a blue chip point guard from Southern California while $c and Arizona did. Haven't we heard this before? What is going on? What does this mean for the program?
Let's start with some background information first:
UCLA absolutely needs a true PG recruit to come in and play immediately. The last true PG recruit from a HS that committed to the Bruins was Jerime Anderson back in 2008. That was a long time ago. Since 2008, under Howland, the Bruins did get some sort of quick band aid solution in the form of JC transfer Lazeric Jones (LJ) and 4th year transfer Larry Drew III. Even so, in order for UCLA to become elite again, it will require an elite playmaker running the offense. Banking on getting a one or a two year transfer to come in and run the offense effectively is a recipe for disaster. Some years you may hit it big with an LJ and other years you will be SOL. At this point in time, with the anticipated departure of Kyle Anderson, we will likely have Bryce Alford playing the point because Alford has been unable to gain a commitment from a UCLA level point guard to date for the 2014 season. In other words, we are SOL for next season. Our main targets went to Gonzaga (Josh Perkins who was reportedly a UCLA lean under Howland) and the other to the basketball powerhouse across town (Jordan McLaughlin from the same HS of Darren Collision).
Summary in short: We need a point guard ASAP for the 2014 class, but it's look more and more likely it won't happen.
Now, let's dive into the meat of it.
As the recruiting season for the 2014 class winds down, the 2015 class is now taking center stage as the fall signing period is only eight months away. So far, Alford has a big commitment from a top high school point guard in Aaron Holiday. Yes, this is Jrue's younger brother. Currently, Aaron plays the point guard position in HS. Great! Awesome! So does this mean our pg woes are over now? Unfortunately, no.
Even though Aaron Holiday is a highly ranked pg in high school, he is projected to ultimately be a shooting guard based off his current skill set. While he does take the ball up the court in his HS games, he is a "shoot first" guard and not a passer that sets up plays. That isn't a knack against Holiday because UCLA will also need a shooting guard, but it's becoming pretty clear now that UCLA will still need an elite PG recruit in 2015 since Alford struck out on one in 2014. Right now it may be a stretch for Holiday to develop into a true meaningful pg. It just seems that he is much more natural in the 2 instead.
Summary in short: Aaron Holiday, while currently a pg in HS, projects to be a shooting guard as of now at UCLA. Alford still needs a commitment from an elite pg.
With next year's crop of big men coming in, the backcourt won't be growing at all. In fact, it will likely be shrinking. It's already well known that Kyle Anderson will be entering the draft this year, so there goes our MVP playmaker in the form of a "point forward." Jordan Adams will likely return along with Bryce, Norman Powell, and possibly Zach Lavine. The rumors are that Zach is thinking about leaving for the draft this year but let's assume he comes back. UCLA is now without a true point guard in 2014. It will likely be situation where Lavine, Isaac Hamilton, and Alford share the responsibility. Not ideal, but the only option at this point. The backcourt gets even thinner in 2015. It's very safe to assume that Lavine and Adams will be gone by then and Powell will have graduated That leaves three shooting guards, Isaac Hamilton, Bryce Alford and Aaron Holiday, in the backcourt only. As you can see, depth is a concern right now for the perimeter. There should be a starting pg and a backup pg as well. So instead of having two pg on the roster, Alford is struggling to get even one pg recruit to commit for this class. This does not bode well for UCLA in the near future.
Summary in short: The backcourt will be bare in 2015 unless Alford can recruit point guards.
Enter: Justin Simon. In the last year, his stock has blown up. He went from visiting schools such as San Diego State and San Jose State in his high school sophomore year to having offers from Arizona, UCLA, Kansas, and Louisville in his junior year. This local product even said that UCLA was recruiting him the hardest just two months ago. So why did he just cut UCLA off his list of finalists?
Was it because of Aaron Holiday's commitment and he didn't want to commit? Nah, he still has Arizona on the list and they have Tyler Dorsey (another pg recruit Alford lost to Arizona) coming in the same year and PJC coming in this year.
So what was it that made Simon cut UCLA off his list? I don't know. That's what makes this so puzzling. This exact scenario has already played out already just last year and it shows no signs of stopping. Maybe it's because opposing coaches see the minutes Bryce is getting and they're telling the recruits that they will have to compete in a no win situation against the Coach's son. Or maybe it's because Steve Alford isn't a closer. Or maybe the recruits realize he's not an elite coach. Whatever the case may be, this is very troubling because now Alford will likely have to go national to obtain a pg recruit this deep into the recruiting cycle because the point guard class is very weak in the west for 2015. Remember when Alford struck out on Perkins, McLaughlin, and Jackson-Cartwright last year and had to place all of his chips on a late battle for pg recruit Quentin Snider from Kentucky? Well, that didn't play out well but it seems to be that Alford is going in the same exact direction again.
Summary in short: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
By now, it's pretty clear that UCLA will likely not pick up a 2014 pg recruit. While there is still plenty of time in 2015 to pick up a point guard, my confidence is now dropping quickly that Alford will be able to pick up the elite pg it needs to be successful. In year two of the Alford era, a realistic expectation is to see improvement from the previous season since the returning players will have a greater grasp of the plays, general playing experience, conditioning, etc. Also, all the players coming into the program will now be handpicked by Alford. He is finally getting "his players" in the program. With that being said, it's not unrealistic to think that more wins next season along with a real shot to win the conference is within the realm of responsibility since improvement is to be expected. We saw it with Mora and Howland in their year two. We will expect the same from Alford. However, when I do a quick eyeball test and I see the personnel that will be on the court next season, I believe that it's very likely we will be a 4th place or worse team with the potential to have a losing record. You may be thinking:
"A LOSING RECORD IN HIS SECOND YEAR? BUT HE IS BRINIGING IN A TOP 10 CLASS NEXT YEAR! How??"
Yes, according to many scouting services, Alford is bringing in a top 10 class. However, a top class won't automatically result in automatically a better team. All you need to do is take a look at Kentucky's "all time greatest class ever in the history of the universe" freshman class and see how they are performing against pre-season expectations. We need to keep some expectations in order for them. It's important to remember they are just freshman and will be adjusting to the college game. While we eventually expect big things from them, especially Welsh and Looney, they likely won't be putting up insane numbers just yet. While they have amazing potential that can be realized with the right coaching, it's a bit premature to expect them to come into their freshman season and dominate. The Kevin Love's of the world are rare.
While the class is ranked high, as noted before, it doesn't fulfill the point guard needs. Imagine buying a car and not having all four wheels attached at the time of purchase. That's pretty much the situation that UCLA hoops is in due to Alford's inability to land a true pg. Also, without a true pg running the offense next year, and no Kyle Anderson to fall back on, expect our quick offense to start slowing down. If you want any indication of what it will look like, just watch the next game when Kyle sits on the bench and Bryce is running pg. Pretty bad, right? The offense comes to a halt and will typically struggle to score against a team that shows any type of perimeter defense. With Bryce running the point next season, even with an improved front court, it won't mean much if he can't create openings and open looks for his teammates. It could very well get ugly next year when in reality, Alford should be improving from his first year results.
Summary in short: Next year's record could be much worse than previously thought.
I know there is a lot to digest here, but I wanted to bring up some of the big takeways that I've been witnessing the last few months. Agree? Disagree? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.