This Friday the 2014-15 UCLA Basketball season starts and it may be a historic one, for the wrong reason.
In UCLA basketball history, I am not sure if there has been a player that is more of a lightning rod and more a subject of fan angst than Bryce Alford.
From what I saw in the exhibition and have been told, Bryce is the only guy who can play point on this team. He is the point guard and there is not a real backup. (Isaac Hamilton will try but he is more likely to help elsewhere.)
From what I have seen and been told, Bryce is the vocal leader of this team. The rest of the guys other than Tony by all accounts are pretty soft spoken quiet guys. (Tony is more of joker than a leader.)
Last but not least to many fans, fairly or unfairly, Bryce is his dad’s son and the representation of him in a UCLA uniform.
Bryce is also the team’s best shooter. People forget that last year Bryce led UCLA in 3 point percentage last season (minimum 40 makes.)
In a very real sense, this season comes down to how well Bryce plays and leads.
This is an incredible amount of pressure for anyone let alone a 19 year old.
A UCLA level Point Guard?
Is Bryce a UCLA Level point guard though? Obviously it is too early to tell. But I will try to break this down a bit using UCLA history as a guide and Bryce’s freshman season.
I don’t think I am out on a limb here to say that no one looks at Bryce and sees him in the NBA. This does not mean he cannot be a very good UCLA player, just look at Michael Roll who was All Pac 10 recently and was not anywhere near playing in the NBA. (Although not a point, Roll led UCLA in assists in 2010.)
So for the sake of this blog post, I am going to assume Bryce is not going to the pros. How does Bryce stack up to the six players who were UCLA starting point guards for a season and did not play a minute in the NBA? (For this post I eliminated all UCLA point guards who played in the NBA, even briefly such as Ralph Jackson, John Vallely, Greg Lee, and Cedric Bozeman. As well as those played before 1964.)
There are six who started at point guard for a season and have not made the NBA.
Larry Drew II
Warren was twice the "team player of the year for UCLA" , a leader and a Wooden favorite so much so that Coach says the success of the first Kareem team would not have been possible without Warren However, he was literally the only person to start for Wooden after 1964 at point that did not lead UCLA to the tournament. (Lucius Allen was the point guard over him on the Kareem Abdul Jabbar teams, although he always started.)
Niguel Miguel was arguably the biggest success of Walt Hazzard the coach. Miguel was wasted as a small forward by Larry Farmer and Hazzard made him a point guard. Miguel won PAC 12 defender of the year and "led" UCLA to an NIT title.
Cameron Dollar, likewise, was a defense first point guard and a true leader. Harrick said his "leadership qualities were off the charts." Both his years as starting point guard UCLA made the tournament getting knocked out in the first round once and going to the elite 8 the other time. Dollar is the only guy on this list to start two seasons as the point.
Lazeric Jones. Personally I feel Zeek does not get enough credit for in his one season as point guard, after dislocating a finger, basically played half a season with one hand. Zeek’s one season as point UCLA got to the round of 32.
Jerime Anderson. Technically Jerime was only the starting point guard for his senior season. He was definitely not a leader and was infamous for his off the court activities. UCLA missed the tournament his year as the starting point.
Larry Drew II set the UCLA single season record for assists. Larry was a pass first point guard who was quiet and unselfish on offense. He was a bad defender where his effort was often questionable. UCLA lost in the first round of the NCAA.
A couple things on this list. Only one, Dollar, had a good run in the tournament. With the exception of Drew, all of them either were beaten as the assist leader at least once or led the team with less than four assists (assists were not a stat during Warren’s playing days). All of them except Dollar and Drew played a substantial portion of their UCLA career at the 2 (or 3 in Miguel’s case).
Obviously this does not bode well. How does Bryce measure up on this list?
Shooting. Bryce may be the shooter of the group. I do not say this lightly. I did not watch Michael Warren who was known for his ultra-smooth game and both he and Miguel played before the three pointer. But Bryce has the best free throw percentage of the group so far at 80%. Bryce’s freshman stats stand up well to the first year stats of Drew II, Jones, and Anderson. However Bryce is best as an outside shooter as shown by the fact his three percentage was better than his two point percentage. In today’s game that could work for a two but is a bit scary in a point.
Passing. Bryce may be the worst passer of the group. Even when he was in the game with Kyle last year, he was usually the point. Statistically an assist every 8.4 minutes his freshman year with most minutes at the point which is worse than any of the others except Miguel. I will give Bryce the benefit of the doubt and rank him next to last.
Scoring. Bryce is probably the second best on this list. Scoring is different than shooting in that scoring includes free throws and points. Bryce 32 point game may be the most of anyone on this list. The most shocking number on Bryce’s stat sheet was the number of times he went to the line. His 102 free throw attempts were more than anyone else on this list in their year as starting point guard, except Mike Warren. When you shoot 80%, going to the line is a big deal. Bryce may be the second best scorer on the list next to Warren.
Defense. Bryce has poor defensive fundamentals and lacks quickness to cover a point. Dollar, Warren, and Miguel all won honors for their defensive prowess. Anderson was among the worst defenders in UCLA history his first two years but raised his defensive game to mediocre by the end as a starting point. Jones was not a good defender in his year as point guard but did have his moments. Drew may be as bad but he had more athletic ability. We had to play zone last year to hide Bryce, he is the worst.
Leadership. The big question for Bryce. Warren and Dollar were off the charts as leaders. Miguel was also very good. Jones led by example playing one-handed in pain with a broken finger and working very hard. Drew II was not a leader as he is a loner by nature but did hit some big game winning shots and was a calming influence. Anderson partied too much, took an "unattended laptop", was once suspended for being lazy, and was a walking disaster at times. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the best leaders on this list were also great defenders. Bryce is at least going to better than Jerime but that is not saying much.
What does this mean? As of now, in my opinion Bryce is a UCLA level player. Bryce does not look like a UCLA level point guard even when compared to the less talented ones of UCLA history. While this season could prove me wrong on either account, I think other things are more likely.
Whether Bryce succeeds or fails this year may all come down to whether he is a leader. Will he play smart and realize his limitations as a point guard? Will the team accept a leader who is such a defensive liability? Will Bryce step up the effort on D? Bryce may have to take the big shots and score, can he do that and keep others happy as point?
It is horrible that I have to write this and that is on Bryce’s Dad. There is an old rule that you can only have your son play for you as a coach if he is the best or the worst player. Bryce is neither.
I have always tried to live by what Classof66’s philosophy to treat Bryce as if he were just another player. That is unbelievably difficult. For example, Bryce is not the first non-point forced to play point but he is the first to do so because Dad failed to keep or recruit another or true point. Bryce may not be the first sophomore in the modern era forced into a leadership role in his first year as a starter, but he is the first one that is the coach’s son. Bryce is not the first point guard to be a crappy defender, but he has some of the worst fundamentals which is shocking for a coach’s son.
How far this team goes may be on Bryce but ultimately that is on his dad for setting him up in this situation.