There are a few interesting tidbits out there on the UCLA basketball team right now. First, ESPN had one of their more clueless writers opine (emphasis mine) Top 10 under the radar storylines for the upcoming season:
4. Steve Alford under the microscope at UCLA: For some reason the decision to replace Ben Howland with Alford didn't go over all that well, both nationally and in Westwood. I'm not sure I understand why. All Alford did at New Mexico the past five seasons was average 26.2 victories and win four MWC titles. Yes, he has struggled in the NCAA tournament, but his day will come. I've never been a fan of judging a coach based on one game or one loss. Either way, there are plenty of people rooting for Alford to fail. He'll receive an immense amount of scrutiny this season and it will be interesting to see how he responds. UCLA returns a good amount of talent with players such as Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, David Wear and Travis Wear. Anything less than a top-three finish in the Pac-12 will be a disappointment.
This kind of clueless reporting that feeds into the old myth that Bruin-fans-still-expect-Wooden storyline is just wrong on so many levels. Since he listed it as the fourth biggest under the radar story of the year, I will give four reasons the "decision to replace Ben Howland with Alford didn't go over that well." There are many more as well.
1. Indications are strong that we could have had Brad Stevens for the right offer. Instead it seems likely we insulted him and panic hired Alford. Maybe that is not Alford's fault but a panic hire is never one to make fans happy especially when it was an open secret Ben was gone and there was no reason to panic at the time of Alford's hiring.
2. There were many reasons for firing Ben. One was UCLA's consistent disappointment in the tournament the last five years, five seasons of not playing in the second weekend and missing the tournament twice. Remember Ben won the PAC 12 last year. Yet, if you look at the Alford hiring in the best light, he is a coach that wins during the regular season and chokes in the tournament. On paper, he is not the guy to turn around this recent record of failure in March Madness.
3. Another reason for firing Ben was he had burned a lot of bridges with high school and AAU coaches in the West. It can reasonably be argued that any coach should be able to do better than Ben in the West in recent years. Yet, Alford's approach seems to be to try to recruit in quantity across the country instead focus on the quality in the West. It is still early but there are reasons that Alford rightly remains under the gun.
4. The current UCLA team is a very talented college basketball team. Yes it has some flaws but a good coach can overcome them. For example, it is a team that seems to cry out for playing zone, another thing Ben Howland would not do. A top three finish is at best meh, while Arizona has more talent on paper, they have a recruiter not a coach. UCLA should be the PAC 12 champ again or at least finish second. Howland did not leave the cupboard bare.
Another curious UCLA matter from the past is Josh Smith. Yes, we have written about that previously here, but I want to shine a light on one point, listing of his weight. Josh Smith's weight while he was at UCLA was always listed at 305. This caused Marques Johnson to once quip whoever wrote that was dyslexic. Smith's true weight at UCLA was regarded as a state secret and never listed. Meanwhile, Georgetown has not only listed a "truer" weight of Smith but has Smith and the team discussing the number openly.
I am not sure what effect public shaming of Smith (whose weight at its worse was close to 400)by listing his "true" weight would have had but if he plays effectively for Georgetown I will wonder.
I will close with another article that lists UCLA fourth. A Kansas City preview of the fourth biggest game of the year for UM, UCLA at Missouri.
4. UCLA at Missouri, Dec. 7, Columbia
The Bruins beat the Tigers 97-94 in Los Angeles last December, but both teams figure to look a bit different this time around. While Missouri must replace four starters, UCLA will feature a new coach in Steve Alford, who replaces the dismissed Ben Howland. Still, the Bruins return plenty of talent - three starters, in fact - from a team that went 25-10 and made the NCAA tournament.
Six-foot-nine sophomore forward Kyle Anderson is a power forward with point guard skills, which should help because it looks like the Bruins don't have a clear-cut starter at the position after the graduation of Larry Drew II. UCLA has some strong perimeter players, however, as sophomore guard Jordan Adams - the Bruins' second-leading scorer at 15.3 points per game - returns, along with junior Normal Powell, a defensive ace.
In the frontcourt, senior twins Travis and David Wear teamed up to drop 38 points on Missouri last season, while 6-foot-9 forward Tony Parker, a former top recruit, figures to be better as a sophomore.
Unlike the guy at ESPN, the Missouri writer actually saw UCLA play the year before and correctly states UCLA has "plenty of talent."
Now Alford needs to recruit more talent for the future and have the talent on this year's team reach their potential. If he does not, no excuses from ESPN or anywhere else will help him.