It looks like we could have had Brad Stevens as our coach and I for one would have been salivating for the next season. Shoot, even here in DC I would have donated to help pay his contract. But now, most fans, myself included, are left struggling to get excited or even care.
Don't get me wrong, I am a basketball fanatic and will be there for every game. But if we had Stevens right now I would be think the dynasty is back just a matter of when. With Alford, I am wondering if UCLA will be looking for a coach after the next than two seasons.
I say two seasons because this season will be about whether he can coach and teach. He has a team with a lot of talent but one that has flaws and does not necessarily mesh. The 2014-15 season will show the results of whether he can recruit players, especially from the west.
We will have more on recruiting in the future because right now the best that can be said is there is not much to say about Alford's recruiting.
So what does Alford have to do to make this team successful as a Coach? On one level it is easy, improve on Howland's mistakes. So briefly here are some mistakes of Ben Howland his last five years and how they apply to the current team.
1. No incidents
The most infamous moments of the late Howland years of course came via Reeves Nelson. It was more than Reeves though as there was Jerime taker of "unattended laptops" Anderson, Anthony Stover, etc. Reeves was the leader of this class. It is easy to forget that Reeves was a good college player but even his own parents said Howland should have got on him sooner.
The player on the current team to watch in this regard is Wannah Bail. I have not heard a definitive explanation of what happen with Bail leaving Texas Tech. Yes there were huge problems at Texas Tech but Bail's history is not perfect either (following story is from Bahamas Tribune):
Bail was one of 15 players or staff members to leave the Red Raiders programme under controversial head coach Billy Gillispie. He left the programme following the first summer school session, just before the start of fall practice and spent the past season at a prep school in the Canary Islands, virtually non-existent on the recruiting trail until just recently.
Bail had been a blue chip prospect on the high school basketball scene in Houston, Texas, for the past few years since he joined the Frank Rutherford Elite Development Programm. He selected to stay "in state" after being suited by recruiters nationwide and sought after by a virtual who's who list of NCAA programmes. He received offers from Houston, Arkansas, Auburn, FSU, Texas, Baylor and Kansas. He was ranked 89 out of a possible 100 points by ESPN.com, 35th among players at the position and 22nd overall in the state of Texas.
Bail left the Bahamas and attended a number of schools in the Houston area, ultimately landing at Lamar Consolidated in Rosenburg, Texas. He attended Trent Internationale School but had to transfer to Fort Bend in Austin, Texas, at the start of his senior season where he was ruled ineligible to compete in the Houston area and settled on Lamar. He played on the AAU circuit for the Franchize All-Stars and was a member of the Bahamas' 2011 FIBA Americas U-16 Championship team where he averaged 17.4 points and 14.2 rebounds per game.
That is a lot of transferring that could mean something or nothing. Bail may work out great, or he may be a distraction. Alford took him, so it is his job to make this work out for UCLA.
2. Help Players Maximize Potential
No player underachieved his potential under Howland as much as Norman Powell. It was frustrating to watch the athletic Powell become a set up three point shooter. .
Alford has a golden opportunity to set Powell free and become productive well rounded basketball player. Maybe Powell was overrated out of high school, maybe he is not that good, but no one knows for sure because Howland wanted him to be a type of player Powell is not.
3. Keep Players
One of the biggest problems with Howland was players leaving, transferring or just getting the heck out of Westwood as fast as possible.
Jordan Adams will undoubtedly be a star on the team next year. Almost as likely NBA scouts will not be that excited. Adams looks to be one of those guys who is a very good college player but not necessarily an NBA talent. While things could change radically from July, I would think that under most scenarios if Adams leaves UCLA after his sophomore season, Alford blew it.
4. Maximize Talent
The year the wheels started to come off for Ben Howland was the last season he had two future starting NBA point guards on the roster. Yet one never even played backup point guard a minute (Jermie Anderson "beat out" Jrue Holiday). Holiday of course bolted after his freshman season in a move that was shocking to Howland and UCLA has not had a true point recruit since that season.
Alford has said that Kyle Anderson and Bryce Alford will be UCLA's point guards. Not Zach LaVine. Lavine was listed as a point guard then he grew 5 inches and now is no longer considered a point. Of course this means UCLA's 6'5" guard is too big to be a point so UCLA's 6'9" NA Kyle Anderson will be one instead.
Let me translate what this really means. If Lavine was 6' tall he would be a point guard project. He has the speed and basketball ability to be a point guard. He just needs to learn the position. At 6'4 or 5 he has the basketball ability to play elsewhere immediately.
I understand that logic but as Chrissorr is fond of pointing out Bryce Alford has slow feet. So I am sure if Zach was the backup point guard and Kyle got hurt, Zach may very well have a game like Russell Westbrook's first game as a starting point guard at West Virginia when he made 8 turnovers and stunk up the place. That's just it though, like Westbrook LaVine has the athletic potential to be something special. (Note I am not comparing him to Westbrook the player. Rather I am saying he has more athletic potential than Bryce.)
I will be watching how coach Alford uses LaVine this year very closely.
5. Keep Potential Head Cases Productive
Drew Gordon was a very good college player. He was also a jerk and a head case that left UCLA because he wanted to play for a team that ran more. (Why come to UCLA under Howland then?) To his credit Alford was able to make Gordon a successful team player at New Mexico.
Let me preface the next comments by saying Tony Parker was badly misused by Howland. That said Parker has: complained often about LA (even called Westwood "fakewood"), threatened to quit multiple times, been dealing with serious homesickness issues, weight issues, a fouling problem, cost us any slim chance of a comeback in the NCAA tournament game with a stupid flagrant foul, etc.
Parker deserves a chance to win the starting center spot. But unlike high school and everywhere else in his career Parker needs to understand this will not be his team. Parker is likely a role player. He needs to work hard to get better and not whine in public when something goes wrong.
Alford needs to handle Parker so that he becomes both the best player he can be and not become a distraction to the team.
6. No Favorites
I think it was Tydides but it may have been Tasser10 who had the following comment when someone said if Arron Afflalo stayed one more year we would have won a championship: "Howland would have probably kept Westbook on the bench in favor of Josh Shipp." That summed up a problem with Howland.
Bryce may be a good college player. He may even be a good option for this team as point guard. I am willing to bet he will be better a point guard on day one of training camp than Zach Lavine. The team may be better off with him at one both ways than Norman Powell as a one on defense. But what happens when UCLA plays the ultra-quick point guards of the PAC 12 like Carson of ASU or Dominic Artis of Oregon?
The appearance of favoritism is going to be there whenever Bryce falters. Alford better make sure it is only an appearance.
Alford has to correct these problems to be successful next season. The cupboard is not bare but it is a mess. A good coach can organize it into a successful team.