First the prediction. UCLA was picked to finish second in the Pac-12 in the conference’s preseason men’s basketball media poll released Thursday.
The Bruins received six first-place votes with 264 total points and finished behind Oregon, which earned 288 points and 16 first-place votes. It’s the highest finish in the preseason poll for UCLA since 2013-14.
It is always interesting for me to see who Steve Alford picks for Media Day. His first year he picked Kyle Anderson; a sophomore but definitely the star and leader of his first team. His second year he chose senior Norman Powell. The soft spoken Norman Powell became not only the team’s best player but its leader. The third year was a bit of a surprising pick to me, instead of the funny and media friendly senior Tony Parker, he chose his son Junior Bryce Alford. An argument can be made that Bryce was that team’s best player, but that team was terrible and had a losing record. Next year, he chose Senior Isaac Hamilton. Not the best player but the returning leading scorer and a senior who was at UCLA for four years (although only eligible for three.) Last year, with apologies to Dimitri’s GG love, he went to the two best upperclassman, Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday. They were obviously the best players.
This year it was sophomores Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes. Wilkes would have been my pick and was the obvious choice. The inclusion of Jaylen is interesting. It seems to argue that Alford expects big things of Hands, including leadership. Some excerpts:
These two guys [Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands] are going to be instrumental in our leadership of helping these young guys understand what it’s like to play. . . . But in regard to this year’s leadership, I think Kris and Jaylen have an awful lot to do with that. Now, Prince and Alex are guys that we’re going to lean to on leadership, but when you look at guys that I think are vocal guys and have the personality to lead, these two here in this room are going to be a lot put on them.
Alford addressed the elephant in the room, the fact that UCLA only has one point guard on the roster.
Well, obviously [the injury to] Tyger [Campbell], that was a huge loss here early in the season because we thought that with Tyger, we could obviously have Jaylen on the ball and then take him off the ball; now probably what you’ll see our team look a little bit more like, we’ll still get him off the ball, whether that’s with Chris Smith or others, but Jaylen will probably take on more of a look of an Aaron Holiday a year ago where he’s initiating a lot of our offense, throwing the ball ahead, entering the offense, those type of things as our primary ball handler.
But I think he’s still going to be one of our better scorers because he shoots the ball, he scores it well
For a UCLA basketball nerd like me this is the most interesting quote of the day. A number of things:
1. I predicted it correct before the season that Tyger may start at point with Jaylen playing shooting guard. Obviously that is gone now.
2. No surprise but Alford sees Hands as a lead point guard. In other words an Aaron Holiday, not a Lonzo Ball.
3. However, it was surprising to hear the backup point may be Chris Smith. The 6’8” Smith was recruited as a guard. That said, he averaged .5 assists to one turnover a game last year. I think people sell his driving skills short. He was effective drawing fouls. But to be the backup point is a different story. If he is the backup point, Hands may need to play close to Holiday minutes.
Which brings me to the next interesting geek point. UCLA could conceivably have the following team on the floor during a competitive PAC 12 game: 7’ Center Moses Brown, 6’10” Power Forward Cody Riley, 6’8” Small Forward Kris Wilkes, 6’6” Shooting Guard Jules Bernard, and 6’8” Point Chris Smith. Are you kidding me?! That almost an average height of 6’9”!! As Alford said:
You’ve heard me mention it’s the biggest team I’ve had in my 28 years. I think we’ve got eight guys over 6’8”. . . . t I think we’re a little bit more versatile defensively in how we can guard, whether that be in zone, whether that be in man. We’re just longer, more athletic, and guys are more versatile. Our bigs can guard guards, and both Cody and Jalen are like that.
Of course Alford complains about how young the team is. For the first time he is correct. This is a young team. But man with the right coach this could be a great team.
But then there is this from ESPN:
Is this finally the season a plane does not fly over Westwood with a “FIRE STEVE ALFORD” banner?
Medcalf: Oh, the banners are coming if Alford underperforms. He has his third consecutive top-five recruiting class and he still hasn’t won a conference title. We’re always on Alford Watch, especially this season with his buyout coming down to $3.6 million compared with the $6.2 million it would have cost UCLA to fire him after last season. But Alford has the power and the talent to end the noise.
This is not one of the guys who gets UCLA. But if Alford underachieves AGAIN with this talent, he should be gone.