The national media is at it again. This time, it's NBCSports's CollegeBasketballTalk.com and writer Travis Hines who published "Looking Forward: UCLA, Steve Alford, and College Basketball's Most Intriguing Season" yesterday.
If you can get past Hines' descriptions of UCLA Basketball fans, it's a decent article, but Hines' characterization of the UCLA fanbase falls into the usual trap that the national media almost always seems to fall into.
Hines starts off the article discussing the banners. No, not UCLA's championship banners. He starts off writing about the banners which flew over Westwood at the end of the season this year calling for Alford's dismissal.
If the legacy of three Final Fours and coming off a conference championship couldn’t save Ben Howland, a couple of second weekends in the NCAA tournament with his players won’t be enough for Alford to endear himself to those worshipping at the Altar of John Wooden. And you damn sure can’t get trounced by USC three times in the same season.
Really? "[W]orshipping at the Altar of John Wooden"? Wow.
While we all hold a special place in our hearts for Coach, I'd hardly call that worshipping at the "Altar of John Wooden."
I don't know a single Bruin fan that holds the myth that the national media likes to promulgate that Bruin fans will find any year without a national championship as a reason to fire a coach.
He did get one thing right in that paragraph -- getting trounced by Southern Cal three times in the same season should be grounds for dismissal.
Interestingly, while he brought up Howland's three Final Fours, he skipped right over the fact that Howland's team did very little to get to the Final Four his last five seasons.
Once you get past that paragraph, though, the rest of the article is pretty fair.
He actually offers a fair assessment of Bryce Alford. He correctly points out that Bryce's "shooting inside the arc, 40.2 percent, was abysmal," calling him "a volume shooter in an era where that’s a scarlet letter." But, he fails to mention Bryce's poor defense.
Hines correctly points out that the "key to Alford's salvation" lies in Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf and he argues that "Alford has to get the [team] to coalesce, which will likely mean pulling back on his son’s prominence in the offense." That's going to be the hard part since it sure looked like Alford had lost the team by the end of the season this year.
He goes on to write about what will probably happen if things go sideways and this year's team ends up looking like last year's team.
He takes another shot at the fanbase by using the phrase "or as some would argue, the delusion" when writing about the fervency of Bruin fans. It wasn't necessary. Bruin fans want a team we can be proud of. Anyone who calls that delusional needs to rethink their expectations of any team's fans. (And, I'm looking at you, Doug Gottlieb.)
He does pay Bruin fans one compliment, even if he took a few shots earlier. He writes:
Bruins fans hold their program to as high a standard as any program in the country, and maybe as much as any group, they are loud about it.
That's a lot more reasonable. It's a shame he couldn't start of the article with that.
But, then, Hines tosses in the wildcard and national treasure -- Bill Walton. He references how Walton turned on Howland and suggests that, if Walton turns on Alford, it will intensify pressure on Alford. Again, though, he misses some of the point.
One of my favorite Walton quotes comes from Howland's last season. During a broadcast, Walton said, "If I were in charge, things would be different." It wasn't just a shot at Howland. It was also shot at UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero.
Hines concludes by writing:
A manageable buyout, a very talented but unproven roster, big expectations and a vocal, unsettled fanbase make UCLA basketball a must-watch this winter, whether it’s because it’s beautiful basketball or a wreck you can’t look away from.
UCLA Basketball may prove fun to watch with Leaf and Ball on the team. But, as someone who sat through most of UCLA's basketball games this year, it will be very hard to watch again if the team is another train wreck.
But, if the team is a disaster again, what will prove impossible to look away from will be the aftermath of the season because, if this year proved anything, it's that Bruin fans will not sit idly by while Steve Alford mucks things up.
Personally, my bet is on another train wreck.