For the few of us who watched it live we saw an awkward Steve Alford at media day. Sometimes his answers meandered but the scary thing is it was better than his first couple press conferences. Why UCLA has to bear with a guy who needs help with the media is a question for Dan Guerrero. Good thing he vetted Alford fully, oh wait. . .
A good example of the meandering style was in answer to the rivalry question. While Mora regularly knocks this out of the park, Alford seemed to agree, then go elsewhere in response to USC-husband-of-a-model coach's comment that "If you want to play slow, go to UCLA":
"We've already labeled Kyle," Alford said. "I mean, your nickname is Slow-Mo. It's not like all of a sudden his nickname is going to change, but you'd be hardpressed to find a better player in our league than Kyle Anderson."
But Alford didn't stop there. He proceeded to defend his style of play, which might be an indication that Enfield's comment got under his skin just a little more than he was willing to admit.
"We know what our style is," Alford said. "We're going to be up-tempo. We're going to be fast-paced. Kyle would tell you how we play. If you look at the numbers my six years at New Mexico, those numbers will emulate that.
"Our worst offensive year was last year and yet we still won 29 games. It was the worst shooting year we had had in six years and yet our offensive efficiency would be ranked higher than a lot of the places you might want to dive into and look at."
What makes this worse is USC is likely to be on race to the bottom this year. He could legitimately and credibly dismiss USC in coach-speak or come back hard if he liked for the fans. Instead, Alford semi-agrees and then gets defensive. Doh!
Remember I said Alford did better. Well at least he is starting to understand a little what coaching at UCLA means:
"There obviously is pressure," Alford said. "But I would much rather be in a situation where there's pressure of success versus the pressure of not caring or trying to develop some kind of feel‑good 'this is what basketball is all about' (attitude). This is the pinnacle of college basketball. This is the best of the best. It doesn't get any better than this."
Thank you for saying that finally. Alford has been given one of the best jobs in the country by an, at best, lazy Athletic Director. He has done the easiest thing so far, not being Ben Howland, who playing for was something like never ending boot camp. No solider signs up for boot camp. Alford says he has the players "trust" and attitudes have improved. But that may more be a part of not being Howland, who even players that liked him such as Darren Collision said playing for was like "eating vegetables."
So Alford gets the last word here but more important than his mangled press conferences will be the results in March.
Under Alford, the respect for the tradition is there and the Bruins could be on their way back.
"It doesn't mean we're going to win 10 out of the next 12 national titles. That's probably not going to happen ever again," Alford said. "But it doesn't mean you don't try to attain that bar that's been raised and the level of excellence that's on the campus of UCLA. You're working every day to try to attain that."
It is about championships and a level of excellence on and off the court. UCLA is a great job; so far you have done little to deserve it. But in your defense press conferences in October don't matter at all compared to games in March. All UCLA fans will be watching to see how you hold up to that bar, on and off the court.