ESPN's Dana O'Neil has an article on UCLA that is part PR, part hope, but a lot wrong. It is frustrating; I would love an ESPN or other piece talking about say Kyle Anderson. I can honestly say without my "UCLA hat" on Kyle is one of the most unique players in college basketball today and an intriguing story.
Instead they screw up about all the UCLA details in a piece on Alford. Let me focus on four mistakes.
1. First on the hiring of Alford.
Alford was not UCLA's first choice. Or its second. The school's flirtation with Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart is well documented.
Actually no, Shaka Smart was never seriously considered. That is a myth. Shaka at times said he was considered but he was not on the short list and UCLA never offered.
Brad Stevens was considered, interviewed, etc. But after Stevens said "no" or, if more likely, insulted by Dan Guerrero's low-ball offer when Alumni (including this one) would have chipped in money to help make the difference over the UC maximum salary, Guerrero went quickly to Alford.
While only Dan and Brad know for sure what happen, it is obvious that Steve Alford was Guerrero's second choice. (Again, can't say for sure but I get the impression the search committee forced Stevens on Guerrero.)
Let me say it again, the bottom-line is Steve Alford was the second choice of UCLA's Athletic Director Dan Guerrero.
2. Alford said:
"Kids don't know Pauley from Assembly [Hall] from the Pit," Alford said. "It's a visual. They have to see it."
I now live on the east coast. Let me tell UCLA Basketball is special. When people talk about college basketball here UCLA is one of the schools you talk about. Period. I remember listening to the east coast experts discuss the PAC 12 in the NCAA tournament two years ago in their conference run down. UCLA did not make the tournament that year but all they discussed on the PAC 12 was UCLA. If I was a fan of any other PAC 12 school, I would have been ballistic. It is typical. It is why kids like the best point guard around at the end of the recruiting season last year, Philadelphia's Rysheed Jordan, had UCLA on his list last year when everyone knew Howland was going to be fired. He was considering UCLA even though they did not have a coach because it was UCLA.
There are other examples. So maybe he is technically right, kids may not know what "Pauley Pavilion" is, but any kid who loves basketball and is going to college knows UCLA.
3. This paragraph cracks me up if it was not for the fact some people may take it seriously:
It's what a coach has to deal with on the periphery. Several basketball insiders referred to Los Angeles as a "cesspool." To recruit and win in L.A. you not only have to beat out all of the other national programs knocking at a player's door; you also have to shove away the agents lining up to get his advances.
Again, just like the Pauley comment, this is technically correct, there are more agents in LA. There are also more opportunities to play with the pros in summer, arguably the best high school talent in the country nearby, more celebrities, more chances to have a unique college experience, go to a beautiful campus, have a great education, be seen by scouts, etc.
Let's compare UCLA to say another very good college basketball, Syracuse. No pro player is ever going to spend his summer in Syracuse. Most students rarely go outside during basketball season because it is so damn cold during the winter, let alone see a beach.
Scouts are human as well. Do you think insider scout types who tip off the pros are going to say Russell Westbrookis amazing, you need to draft him in the top 5 if he is practicing at Syracuse? They are not going spend time hanging around the Syracuse gym like they do the UCLA gym. Forget Russell Westbook what about guys like Matt Barnes. It is unlikely he is a pro unless he goes to a place like UCLA where Scouts see that he is a great athlete who could become a good basketball player even if he has a crappy coach.
How many great high school players have said "I want to stay near home and play at Syracuse?"
So yes there are more bad things like agents but almost ANY coach would trade that for the many advantages.
So already Alford has detoured slightly from the Wooden Way. And maybe, just maybe, that's a good first step.
Wooden was, after all, the man who memorably told a long-haired, bearded Bill Walton, "Well, you're right, Bill, I don't have the right to tell you [how to wear your hair]. I just have the right to determine who is going to play, and we're going to miss you." So already Alford has detoured slightly from the Wooden Way. And maybe, just maybe, that's a good first step.
I am beginning to hate the beard story. Most people don't understand it. They think that Wooden was some harsh disciplinarian and that was a key to his success. That is not true nor the point of the story. The point of the story is there were things more important than "winning" and that Wooden was a teacher first. Wooden was teaching Walton that he could have his beliefs (he never tried to stop Walton's countless protests although he undoubtedly disagreed on a personal level) but there was a cost and they had a place.
What the Wooden legacy means to me is not just winning, it is the pyramid and teaching. Ironically the guy I think was the worst UCLA Basketball Coach, Larry Farmer, followed and expanded on Wooden's hair and clothes rules. He missed the point and had an out of control team that was a disaster.
More importantly, you don't have to run Wooden's high post offense, have his hair rules, but you have to respect what Wooden means to UCLA.
If you want to use a more recent example use Howland. Howland came in as a self proclaimed "caretaker" of Wooden's program. Howland felt he was teaching players for the NBA. Not something Wooden would ever do but it worked for a while when he respected that he was a teacher first. For example, when he respected the players by benching an incredibly talented Kevin Love in a game against Texas for a much lesser player but fundamentally sound Lorenzo Mata-Real. Those teams went to the final four even though it may have cost them a game against Texas. It did not work when it became apparent that he was going to ride Shabazz who had no interest in playing defense over a less talented but harder worker on defense like Tyler Lamb who left UCLA with no depth when Jordan Adams got hurt in the tournament. But that team beat "Texas" for what Guerrero called a "huge win" at the time.
This is a blog and I could on forever so let me end by cutting it off here now. Dana O'Neill is clueless, UCLA is special, and Steve Alford needs to realize that he is not in Albuquerque anymore. Yes, there is some bad parts to coaching at UCLA, but the good starting with Wooden and ending with all the High School talent far outweigh it.