Thomas Welsh is a coach's dream. He does whatever you ask in practice and after practice.
"I haven't seen anybody more interested in being coached," said assistant coach Ed Schilling. "He's always coming up to us, ‘How can I get better? What do I do now?'
Aaron Holiday may not be as "coachable" but no will ever question Aaron Holiday's work effort:
In his first open-gym session on campus, Aaron Holiday harassed the ballhandler with a one-man full-court press, like a fly on sugar.
It was a lot to handle, especially for a pickup game.
Later, at UCLA's first team practice, Holiday swarmed the ball again, starting from the first minute, for the full 94 feet, for the entire session.
"I haven't said a word to him," UCLA Coach Steve Alford said. "He does that naturally. And he does that the whole time."
Welsh and Holiday are the two players who no one will ever question their effort. They are the heart of this UCLA team.
In UCLA's best win last year, the best player was Thomas Welsh. Against Kentucky Welsh was nothing short of amazing. Playing the most minutes for him in a non-overtime game, Welsh was the leader for both teams in rebounding 11 and points 21. He was 8-11 from the field and he also had a season high 5 free throws. Welsh was the stud of the game against Kentucky of all people.
Aaron Holiday's best game is harder to pick and the one I choose he barely gets mentioned in the stories of the game. However against Arizona he was a key in holding Arizona's staring backcourt to 10-29 shooting while having three steals, 6 assists and 15 points. The game will be remember for Bryce's step back three for the win but without Aaron UCLA would have lost to Arizona that night.
ALFORD's USE OF THEM
Last year one of the biggest problems on defense was playing Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh together at the same time. When your roly-poly big man Tony Parker is the faster and quicker player, you are in some trouble. Worse was when Alford put the two together in his 3-2 zone as the down low wings. It is not possible for Welsh to get out to cover a wing in the corner. This is one of the reasons just SC killed UCLA last year because of good outside shooting bigs like Bennie Boatwright. Welsh can only be a five. Unlike others on defense, effort is never an issue for Welsh. He is just not gifted with speed even for a big.
On offense Welsh is unique. Going into this season UCLA's best singly play may be the pick and pop with Bryce Alford and Thomas Welsh. This killed Kentucky. Welsh is the king of the 14-16 footers. That said when you have two of your guards shooting less than 40% from 2 point land, your 59% shooting Welsh should get a lot more shots. Alford should have called a lot more plays for Welsh. Welsh shot the least of the five starters.
His grade for his use of Welsh is D. (F on defense, C on offense.)
Aaron Holiday is one of those guards who maybe should shoot a little less from 2. It always shocks people that the best three point shooter on UCLA last year by percentage was Aaron Holiday. How did Holiday shoot 42% from 3 and only 38% from 2? Simple. When Aaron took a three it was under control, in the flow of the offense, and not rushed. Often time when Aaron shot a 2 pointer it was rushed, under pressure and out of control.
Aaron has the ability to be a good shooter as shown by his three point percentage. He is often out of control as shown by his leading the team in turnovers.
Steve Alford tried Aaron at point guard. In our three early season losses with Aaron logging big minutes at point, Aaron had 6 assists and 13 turnovers. Aaron looked like a point guard and is the best point guard defender on the team, he was not ready to be one last year.
Alford gets credit from me for trying Aaron as a point guard early last year but no blame for moving him off the ball. Alford use of Holiday last season B+
Welsh may get pushed for minutes some by Ike Anigbogu. Ike is a better athlete but raw. It was interesting in the Masters exhibition to see Welsh bury some low post hooks. Welsh needs to play big minutes until Ike comes back. Welsh should never again to be a wing in the zone. He also must be a top offensive option for UCLA.
Holiday is going to come off the bench and be the most watched player. He is definitely the backup point guard this year to Ball. However, that may only be 4-6 minutes a game as every season the point guard has led UCLA in minutes under Steve Alford (Kyle Anderson in 2013-14 and Bryce Alford last two years.)
The big question is how many minutes will hw get elsewhere. The last two seasons Bryce has averaged over 36 minutes game and Hamilton 34.6. While some are going to fall back on we "have more depth this season," I am not sure that is enough for Steve Alford to bench his seniors many more minutes. Really Aaron may be looking at 14-16 minutes a game at guard. That seems obscene for the team's best defender and arguably best athlete. Remember this is a team that plain old stinks on defense.
Last year Alford's goofy idea to get the best players on the court was to play two centers in Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh. This year the goofy idea may involve Holiday in a lineup we saw at the end of the game against Masters: Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton, Lonzo Ball, Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh. This small ball is more likely to succeed than Big-Big but to me at least it would seem to be better to keep Holiday on the floor as a the Malcolm Lee-Aaron Afflalo style lock down defender. We'll see.
At the end of the year we may again be questioning Alford's decisions but we won't be questioning the effort of Welsh and Holiday.