UCLA Basketball started practice yesterday. There are three main themes that came out of yesterday. They were depth, versatility and higher expectations. The biggest news is Steve Alford feels free to play Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh together this season. (More on that below.)
UCLA has 11 scholarship players right now. If we finish the season without transfers that will be something that Ben Howland almost never accomplished. From the official release:
Nearly all of UCLA's returning players spent the majority of the summer attending classes in Westwood and taking part in summer workouts. Now, with the season just 42 days from tipping off Friday, Nov. 13, and fall quarter classes back in session, team practices are in full swing.
"Our guys did a really good job this summer, and I'm not just talking about the freshmen," said Steve Alford, who enters his third season as the Bruins' head coach. "Our returning players really took advantage of this time to get bigger, to get stronger. It's a natural progression, where the freshmen will look a little bit different once their sophomores and then sophomores like Isaac and Bryce get even stronger going into their junior seasons."
UCLA returns six of its primary eight contributors from last season's team, a group that compiled a 22-14 record and earned its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. The Bruins bring back four of their top six scorers from 2014-15 - junior Bryce Alford (15.4 ppg), senior Tony Parker (11.5 ppg), junior Isaac Hamilton (10.6 ppg) and sophomore Thomas Welsh (3.8 ppg). . . .
With the draft departures and an influx of five newcomers, the Bruins look to have increased depth this season both in the backcourt and frontcourt.
More interesting than the depth is the versatility that this team has. As Alford says:
"We know we're going to have to play a little differently with our lineups," Alford said. "We have some versatility this year that I haven't had."
That starts with Bolden, who likely replaces Looney in the starting lineup as a stretch-four, or what Alford refers to as the team's "big guard." They might also play 7-foot sophomore center Thomas Welsh alongside 6-9 big man Tony Parker, who can slide over to power forward, or vice versa.
"It's just going to be a matchup problem (for opponents)," said Parker, now a senior.
A couple thoughts on this. Every year Alford has talked about a big guard. Obviously Kyle Anderson was legitimately a BIG (point) guard. Looney was not in any way a guard. Looney was a good ball handler and passer for a power forward but he was not a guard. It is too early to say for sure but I am a bit cynical about Bolden playing "guard."
Second, I really want to see if Holiday gets a real chance to be the point guard. To me there are options at guard but I sort of doubt that Bolden is one of them.
Now on the big-big, I listened to the actual interview of Steve Alford posted by Jack Wang. Here is the follow up to the big-big lineup comment on Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh playing together.
"To get them more minutes, I'm going to have to play them together a little bit. . . . Their roles aren't going to change. It's just how we going to play defensively. Whether we can man? If we do man, who is guarding the forward. So we'll figure that out here in the preseason. Do we zone some with that lineup? Who do we play alongside of them? . . . . If we go big-big like that, we don't want to become slow. . . . Need a lot speed on the court to compliment going big big."
Now I have a couple thoughts on this. One, he said a LITTLE BIT. It stinks to have two of possibly your five best players in the same position. Two, as I have been saying all along the problem is defense. Alford gets it in his comments. It can work on offense. It is a nightmare on defense. Three, Tony is the quicker of the two but that is not saying much. Both should be close to the basket and are slow (Welsh is very slow). Four, the most interesting comment is the need for speed at the other positions to do this. That SEEMS to mean Aaron Holiday at the point with Prince Ali and Isaac Hamilton. Bryce is the slowest of that group. Will Steve go Big-Big and Bryce on the bench? This will be interesting to watch.
The former intern has a story summing up last year including the parts that Steve Alford would like to forget. However, Bryce Alford is looking ahead to bigger things than the end of last year.
The tournament success helped soften what Alford thought would be a "transitional year" last season. In many ways, it was. UCLA didn't crack the top 25 after Thanksgiving. The Bruins were 0-6 against top-10 teams and 2-8 in road games. . .
The tests will come early. UCLA gets rematches against Kentucky, which embarrassed the Bruins in a nationally televised game last December; North Carolina, which blew the Bruins out in a Battle 4 Atlantis tournament game; and Gonzaga, which defeated UCLA in December at Pauley Pavilion and again in the NCAA tournament.
Alford has said the team is already deeper in talent than it has been at any time during his tenure at UCLA. He has said the lineups will be more versatile, that the program is starting to take shape.
"Getting to the Sweet 16 is definitely something that we've loved the last two years," point guard Bryce Alford said. "But we're ready to take it to the next level."
Practice has just started but Steve Alford has the deepest team of his tenure and the first team that is one player (Tony Parker) away from being all Alford recruits. This will be a good chance to see what level Steve Alford can take UCLA.