Over the course of UCLA and PAC 12 Media Day, here are the top things we learned.
10. This is Bryce's team
In his first year, Steve Alford took Kyle Anderson to the PAC 12 Media Day. He could have taken fifth year senior Travis Wear. But he took the best player, Kyle Anderson. Last year he took the only senior and clearly best player in Norman Powell. This year he took Bryce.
Now people are going to go crazy about it being Daddy's boy team. So let's read the actual quote.
And now we go into year three, the question mark of who's going to be the leader, I think Bryce is ready for that role of being -- stepping up as leader. He's kind of a born leader. He understands it.
This is going to give a lot of credence to those who say that Steve Alford is using this team to favor his son. He then goes on to say:
Isaac now has a year under his belt. And Tony has got to be that next line of bigs that can be a double-double guy, and if you look at Tony's stats, they kind of mirror the development of what Norman has had in his four-year career. Tony is kind of the next guy in line. Tony has got a tremendous personality to help with leadership, as well.
I think the combination of our three guys, Bryce and Isaac and Tony, have got to do a very good job with the leadership that Norman left us with.
So that answer, the combination of those three is not as bad. However, personally I think Senior Tony Parker should have been the choice for the press conference and to be leader.
9. The Team's Success May Depend One Player and Its Not Bryce
Jonah Bolden is being talked about as able to defend positions from 2-4. As being a difficult match up with the height and post up abilities of a power forward but the passing, vision and driving skills of a guard.
We'll see on all that, I am a bit skeptical. However this is the key:
And then having a guy like Kevon, losing a guy like Kevon, who was a double-double guy for us. In year one we had Kyle Anderson as a double-double guy. Year two we had Kevon Looney.
Looney and Anderson were double-double guys with rebounds. Can Bolden do that? Put another way, if Tony get's hurt there is Thomas Welsh. If Bryce get's hurt there is Aaron Holiday. If Bolden gets hurt behind him Gyrgory Goloman is a bad rebounder and Alex Olenski is a stretch four. There are no good rebounding four options after Bolden.
8. Steve Alford is starting to understand UCLA
Before UCLA media day which Steve Alford held on Coach's birthday, Alford hosted Nan and Michael Warren at VIPs. Steve Alford opened up PAC 12 media by talking about 50 years of Pauley.
Keep in mind when Steve Alford started his UCLA career talking about Bobby Knight. He finally gets it. UCLA had something much better than Knight.
7. Steve Alford is still whiny and clueless about the talent that comes to UCLA
Last year, Steve famously did not call a single play for Kevon Looney, arguable most potentially talented player. The year before that he would not let NBA point guard Zach LaVine play a minute at point guard. Most coaches would drool over this talent but Alford says:
I will tell you this, statistically, if you look at it, at UCLA and I don't understand the dynamic maybe, but it's not like you have to put up huge numbers to be able to be drafted in the first round or the second round even, coming out of UCLA. Zach LaVine was nine points, a couple assists a game, and he's a lottery pick. You don't have to be somebody that scores 15, 20 points to have that opportunity coming out of UCLA and Los Angeles.
Steve does not get it. No matter who the coach is, very talented players will come to UCLA.
6. Don't skip the Tony Parker interviews
Tony Parker is that rare athlete who avoids the clichés and is a fun interview. At UCLA media day, Tony commented that: "GG will always be a stick" despite his weight gain, made fun of Bolden's hair and said he enjoyed playing games because he did not have to see Steve Alford up close during games.
My writing does not do Tony justice. In an age when most player interviews have more "you knows" than interesting points, Tony is fun.
For the first time in Alford's tenure, UCLA has depth. Tony Parker is probably the fifth tallest player and according to the players we have three point guards Bryce, Isaac and Aaron Holiday.
In the interviews it came up who is going to be the "wow" player. Although the TV personality was focusing on Norman Powell's spectacular dunks last year, the year before there was Kyle's "magic" like passing from a 6'9" player. Where is the wow this year? Biq question that also goes to who is the leader.
3. Credit and . . .
UCLA plays in the non-conference #1 Kentucky and #2 North Carolina for sure and will likely face #5 Kansas in the Maui invitational. UCLA also plays #10 Arizona (of course) and #11 Gonzaga on the road. Steve Alford really fears scheduling no team and under Alford UCLA plays a very difficult non-conference schedule.
All off season we have been hearing about the consecutive sweet 16s. Finally someone asked Steve Alford about the Kentucky game:
Considering the way the game went last year with Kentucky, do you circle that on the calendar any more than you normally would?
STEVE ALFORD: I'd like to delete it. I'd like to delete it from the calendar. That was obviously a tough game for us. Really not a game, it was a tough first half. Very tough first half. I had never experienced any of that, as a coach or as a player. But really that game had an awful lot to do, I think, with our success later in the season in February and March, because it wasn't just Kentucky, we lost five games in a row in December and early January. We lost our first two conference games at Colorado and at Utah to start 0-2. And then to break it, we beat Stanford in one or two overtimes at home, to break the streak. I just give the players an awful lot of credit because there are a lot of teams and a lot of players, when you go through -- it was almost a month. It was almost four weeks of losing, let alone doing that at UCLA, there were a lot of players that would just tank it, and our guys didn't do that. Our guys got stronger, they got better, they stayed together, and I give that group an awful lot of credit for doing that because they turned a negative into a very big season -ending positive, and I think those are the experiences now going into this year that's really going to help kind of our vets coming back that can lead these younger guys, and we have these same games.
I blame Steve Alford for part of that losing streak by not emphasizing defense, having no real point guard, making Bryce the number one option, etc. But Steve Alford deserves credit as well. Most teams would have come apart and tanked after that streak. Steve Alford kept the team together for a sweet 16 finish.
But no one should ever talk about the Sweet 16 without mentioning the most embarrassing losses in program history as well.
1. UCLA Picked Fifth in Media Poll
UCLA is picked fifth by the PAC12 writers in the media poll. Of the post-Wooden coaches who made it to year three, here is what they did in year three:
- Larry Farmer finished fourth and resigned after the season
- Walt Hazzard had his best season winning the PAC 10 and going to the NCAA round of 32.
- Jim Harrick finished second in the PAC 10 and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament
- Steve Lavin finished third and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament
- Ben Howland finished first in the PAC 12 and made it to the NCAA championship game
UCLA is picked fifth, lower than any coach in UCLA history has finished in his third year. Only one coach missed the tournament and he resigned after the season.
It seems like another tough start with Kentucky, North Carolina, and likely Kansas. Steve needs a much better finish than fifth in the PAC 12.