UCLA made arrangements for this Australia trip a while back no doubt in part to give Jonah Bolden a trip home as a reward for committing to UCLA. Yet, Bolden "turned pro" before this happen. It is strange to be in Australia without our Aussie.
Here at Bruins Nation a debate erupted as who was to blame. Was it Alford's fault or Bolden's? I am one who generally agrees with Bruinette88's point that we should always err on the side of protecting the player and Steve Alford is ultimately responsible for the program. However, I also see Texas' point on Bolden's "exit interview" not smelling quite right.
What is the truth? Well, to be honest we will never know the whole story but I will try to put together some of the pieces from news and my sources, as well as making a few educated guesses. As you read this post don't quibble on my "facts" but vote at the bottom and give your reasons in the comments if you like.
Steve Alford continued his risky recruiting strategy when he recruited both Jon Octeus and Jonah Bolden for the 2014 season. The 2014-15 Bruins desperately need a point guard and depth at forward. Put another way the 2014-15 Bruins had the worst bench to start a season in UCLA memory; no guard depth and no real bench. With Octeus and Bolden, they would have a real experienced point guard starting, reasonable depth at point (Bryce is okay as a backup point), the best athlete coming off the bench (Bolden) and Hamilton giving UCLA a good backup guard/wing. Instead, Noah Allen an undersized four is the backup guard. The should-have-redshirted Gyorgy Goloman is the best player off the bench but he can't rebound or do much else other than pass as he is too young and weak. Welsh was always going to take a while to be ready and he did improve as the season went on but he was not ready to start the year and should have been an eighth man as he can only play five. GG even plays three as well as four.
Alford's second mistake was Octeus. He was unable to get into a grad program. How could Alford not understand UCLA's academic standards? Alford's first mistake was going for the risky with the NCAA Jonah Bolden. Bolden was an amazing athlete that had almost unlimited potential. But all the schools knew there was a very good chance the NCAA would not accept his classwork and not allow him to play. In a sense, UCLA got him easy. This would be a fine gamble if this the tenth or eleventh man, but Bolden was slated to be the seventh man and a key part of the rotation.
And I don't care what you think of Alford overall, this was a colossal and disastrous failure. UCLA in 2014-15 had no bench. The effects of this are more than the obvious ones seen at the games. In practice, point guard Bryce was matched up with walk-ons. In other words, every day in practice Bryce was matched up against a lesser athlete, something that never happen in the games. The second team couldn't beat a good Division III team. (Compare this to the first Aussie game where ninth man sophomore Alex Olesinski was better than anyone on the other team.)
UCLA goes through a disastrous nonconference season in which they are frequently embarrassed. The lack of any bench is a part of this. Late in the season they climb on Norman Powell's back and sneak into the NCAA tourney where they make some noise and get to the sweet 16. But back to Bolden.
So Bolden attends UCLA for a season without playing or practicing. Despite not being formally with the team, Steve Alford must be keeping tabs on Bolden and hear some of the rumors.
Shockingly GG is named starter at four. I like GG as his basketball IQ is high and he works hard. However, his starting is a matter of concern. GG does not have pro athletic ability like Bolden. Then GG gets hurt. So now it is definitely Bolden's time to shine.
Bolden is suspended for the first game. Think about this. You have not played one competitive game at UCLA in over a season and finally you have a chance to play. And you are suspended.
UCLA is forced to play Tony Parker as a four against a Monmouth team that plays four guards. Parker fouls out and the-should-be-redshirting three/four Alex Olesinski takes the last non-desperation shot with 10 seconds left and UCLA down 1 in OT. UCLA loses.
I have no doubt Bolden cost us this game with his suspension.
But it is more than that. Alford goes for the risky strategy of big-big. (Okay, this next sentence is pure opinion, I think playing four really hurt Tony Parker. Parker was a mess at the seasons end. Parker was always only a five. Back to "facts.") The strategy works some games but does not work others. Alford has no faith in Bolden.
Yet, Bolden continues to show his potential. He wins the UNLV game for UCLA. UNLV is up 9 early to UCLA and UCLA is really struggling to break their press and stop UNLV. Bolden comes in and helps breaks the press and, more importantly, completely confounds UNLV at the top of the zone, UCLA goes on 32-13 run to turn the game around. Despite his outstanding performance Bolden in the stat sheet is 0-3 with just one rebound (but four assists). He did it with defense.
Bolden next best game, the other game he won for UCLA, was against then #20 Gonzaga. Parker was getting torched by Kyle Wiltjer, Bolden comes in for 30 minutes and shuts Wiltjer down. Bolden goes 2-7. He is out of control on offense but a stud on D.
Bolden shows his athletic ability on defense and that he is undisciplined and out of control on offense. He shows no range, yet some ability to post, great handles for a big, good passing skills, etc. Bolden shows he has potential but no discipline and/or little sign of coaching. Depending on how you look at it, Bolden is tried at three, four, stretch four (a favorite position of Alford), etc. You can also argue that Alford waited to start Bolden until after Leaf was committed.
Bolden does not declare for the draft and plans on staying at UCLA. The staff keeps talking up TJ Leaf. Rumors continue to swirl around Bolden. Bolden then is rumored to be gone. While others can argue, the timing and other seems to say that it was an academic issue. Bolden even has a chance to fix this during summer school. He fails, bolts and declares himself pro. He blames Alford, in part, for not letting him play three. This seems ridiculous as Alford did give him a chance at three and other positions. If this were the basis of his decision it would have been made in April not July.
Unlike the last two years, Alford has an alternative to Bolden in starting a freshman stud that is more to his liking (a legitimate stretch four: TJ Leaf) and a decent backup (GG is stronger, more experienced and bigger now, it takes most bigs time to be ready to play at the PAC 12 level).
The Bolden case shows the failures of Steve Alford but a small reason for optimism if you are so inclined to think that way. Bolden was a recruiting failure in 2014-15 that left UCLA with a huge hole on the bench. Bolden is part of a trend of Alford to recruit people who will not be eligible academically which continued this year with Kobe Paras.
Alford had a year to figure out that Jonah Bolden may be a talented with "issues." He did not and still relied on him in 2015-16.
But he also failed to turn the corner with Bolden. A selling point for Alford was the Drew Gordon case. Gordon was a very talented UCLA player who was also troubled. Gordon was worse than Reeves Nelson for perspective on how big a problem Gordon was. Yet, Gordon became a good player under Alford at New Mexico after transferring from UCLA. Gordon was a success at the end of college. Bolden never became more that a talented athlete at UCLA.
However, at least this year Steve Alford figured that Bolden could not be relied upon. As a ninth man, Bolden makes sense. He could be great or a bust. You have to be ready for the bust side of things. After two years of relying on Bolden, Alford finally was ready.
And the bust is in Australia, just not with UCLA.