Today I watched UCLA's new coach and their old coach give interviews. To his credit, former UCLA Coach Ben Howland was classy and did what a good current or former UCLA Coach should do: paid his respects to John Wooden. He told of the honor of seeing Wooden in literally his last days.
"I was honored. . . He had whiskers, I never seen him with whisker's before. . . . Starts scratching his whiskers. Here he is on his death bed. Ready to die the next day, totally at peace and he says [Howland scratching his chin imitating Wooden in a soft voice]: ‘I feel like Bill Walton right now.'"
Howland talked about the "great experience" at UCLA and the "great people." He took a small shot at Bill Walton but he can be forgiven for that because generally he was very classy in the interview. Even if he lost his way, he understands UCLA. Without hesitation he describes how he would trade three final fours for one national championship. He concludes by telling Alford "to enjoy" UCLA.
Howland by all accounts did not like the media. His "open practices" were obviously forced. Alford to his credit opened practice yesterday and allegedly will again soon, but, on the other hand, I am almost hoping he has fewer press conferences. Alford opened his press conference like a bad politician dodging a question:
Ask Steve Alford about UCLA basketball and he'll talk about the weather.
Alford, the Bruins' first-year coach, was asked what he knows now about the UCLA job that he didn't when he was hired. His answer seemed to be something out of a Los Angeles tourism board brochure.
"I thought the weather was really good. I had no idea it was this good," Alford said. "It's fun coming to work each day. I don't worry about the rain. I don't worry about the weather."
Ugh. If he was in DC and a politician we would send him to media training ASAP. It was also painful that he talked about "we" often and never mentioned Wooden's name. I know others disagree with me but if I were Alford, I would use my Indiana roots to tie myself to Wooden. Alford it seemed said Indiana more than UCLA. In one awkward answer he listed the great basketball schools and got around to UCLA last as an afterthought.
His "we" was also about him and his staff. I much preferred Howland's "caretaker" of the program Wooden built. Please don't misunderstand me, Howland had to go. I am just saying as far as someone to talk about UCLA basketball, Howland was much better and set the right tone, at least to me. The entire 17 minute press conference is here.
As far as the basketball team, I think Alford gets that he was dealt a pretty good if unconventional hand. This is a team with a lot of talent. Alford is not worried and feels he has a solution to the first obvious coaching issue, no traditional point guard:
With basketball season and the official start of the Steve Alford era at UCLA only a month away, the Bruins will almost assuredly head into November without a clear-cut, obvious answer to replace Larry Drew II at point guard.
But in his first meeting with media since his opening press conference back in April, Alford made it clear that he's not nearly as concerned as the rest of the world is about UCLA's floor general vacancy.
The stupid Orange County Register puts the rest behind a firewall. Jack Wang hits the notes though:
Steve Alford said both Anderson and his son Bryce will play point guard. Freshman Zach LaVine will see time there too, but is more of a scoring guard. The coach then talked at length about how he doesn't like to label positions. His New Mexico team last season, for example, didn't have a true point guard either, rotating ball-handling duties between Kendall Williams, Tony Snell and Hugh Greenwood - a trio that ranged from 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-7.
"We'll play a lot of combinations in practice to see how things go," Alford said. "I'm not real worried about handling the ball and getting our offense started. I think we'll have plenty of guards who are able to do that.
Wang did not mention that Alford actually has experience with a point forward in Darrington Hobson. Hobson led New Mexico in scoring, rebounds and assists one season under Alford. I could easily see Kyle Anderson doing the latter two.
Even beyond future NBAer Kyle Anderson, this is really a team with a lot of talent. Norman Powell talked about how Alford was more personable and upbeat than the often distant Ben Howland.
"We're doing more team-building activities, which means a lot more time together," said Powell, who thought about transferring out until Ben Howland was fired. "Everybody's helping one another. The freshmen don't feel left out. ... We're closer as a family."
Another important difference may be:
Alford said he likes to use a man defense, but may test out different zone schemes given the length available on the roster.
May is not strong enough IMO. We will need zone. Alford is painful talking to the media. He was dealt a very good if not easy hand from Howland. There is no excuse for this team not doing well. While Alford definitely does not understand the press, I am more concerned that he does not understand what it means to be UCLA Coach:
Asked if there was anything about the UCLA job he has learned since his hire, Alford said: "Nothing really. It's my 23rd year. I've been doing this a long time."
Howland, shoot every coach before Alford, understood the UCLA job was special when he arrived. Alford better understand as well that UCLA is not like any other job he has previously. It is one of the very few special in college basketball. He has a team of good kids and very good players he better make it work in March and beyond. If he does, the crappy media interviews will take care of themselves.