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UCLA Basketball: Parker Talks Baseball, Running, and Leadership

Steve Alford discussed the scrimmage with San Diego State, Friday's season opener against Monmouth, and his freshmen, but Tony Parker stole the show with his brand of "funness."

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday is the day of the week when Steve Alford and the Bruins meet with the media, and this past Tuesday was no exception. As I've mentioned previously, I'm not a fan of these press conferences. The reporters typically ask predictable and dull questions, and Steve Alford rarely responds with anything particularly informative or entertaining.

Thanks to UCLA Athletics for making available video of the press conference.

Alford is first asked about Steve Fisher's assessment of freshman Aaron Holiday's performance in the scrimmage against San Diego State. For reference, Fisher had said this:

"Holiday was sensational. He was by far the best player on the floor."

Alford tones down the praise slightly, but confirms that Holiday had a good outing:

"He played awfully well, at both ends. He gives us a lot... He has a very good motor that's contagious."

Alford goes on to say that he's excited to see how his three guards--Bryce, Isaac, and Aaron--mesh with a variety of two-big combinations, which makes it clear that we are likely to see a lot of three-guard lineups.

A reporter follows with a question about the Bruins' opener: "What have you seen from Monmouth on film?" To his credit, Alford talks generally about the problems of preparing for openers because game tape isn't available, but it unfortunately veers into a discussion about team identity. Alford insists that he doesn't know his team's identity yet, which I have to admit I find puzzling:

We don't know our identity yet. People are asking "what's your identity?" You have no idea; we haven't played any games.

It seems to me that the way in which the players perform helps to define a team's identity, but the core of a team's identity reflects coaching philosophy, the skill sets of the players, and the ways in which the coach puts those skill sets together. Of course every team is a work in progress, and it makes sense for a coach to make adjustments over the course of the season as he learns more about the strengths and weaknesses of his team. But to insist that he has "no idea" of his team's identity strikes me as equivalent to saying that he has no coaching philosophy, no clue about his players' talents, and hasn't yet devised plans to make his team successful.

For what it's worth, Alford does seem to know a bit about Monmouth based on the coaching philosophy of his counterpart:

Coach Rice... I've known him a long time... They play very fast. They want to play extremely uptempo. We like uptempo play.

The next topic is Alex Olesinski, and how much playing time he may get. Alford seems genuinely pleased with Olesinski's performance in practice, in the exhibition game, and in the scrimmage. Obviously that's good news, but as Alford points out, although GG's injury has given Olesinski opportunities, his performances in games will determine his playing time.

When asked if Olesinski was recruited with the idea that he'd be able to contribute right away, Alford replies "you always recruit that way." That makes a lot of sense, but the rest of his answer sounds like something worthy of Steve Lavin:

"We wanted a big with size. Kind of like I talked to Coach Savage about it--in GG we had the righty, and with Alex we get the lefty, so we can throw a righty at you, and then we can pick and pop and throw the lefty at you. He just gives us some versatility in that forward position because both he and GG really have a good understanding of how to play, they're great passers, they've got a great skill set, and they can stretch the floor and shoot the three."

Apologies to those who don't want to read any criticism of Steve Alford, but Alford's response is just gibberish. To begin with, "bigs" come with "size" by definition. And as far as having a left-handed version of GG, how does that enhance "versatility at the forward position?" If the goal is versatility, wouldn't it have made a lot more sense to recruit a player with a different skill set? Duplication isn't the key to versatility.

The press conference gets back on track with a question about Prince Ali. Alford notes that Ali is behind after missing a fair number of practices due to injury, but Alford is confident that Ali will catch up. A follow-up question asks Alford to compare Ali to Norman Powell. Alford describes Ali as being athletic and explosive like Powell, though less powerful. Alford also states that Ali is a scorer and a pretty good shooter, but implies that Ali, like most freshmen, needs to improve defensively.

Fortunately, the player interviews (again, courtesy of UCLA Athletics) are far more interesting.

Aaron Holiday is up first. He impresses me as calm and confident--good qualities in a freshman point guard. I like the way he talks his role with the team, and it reinforces my view that Holiday is the key player this season.

Thomas Welsh is the second player interviewed. He talks briefly about how much he learned from his summer experience playing for the USA basketball team under a "great coaching staff" led by Sean Miller. Interestingly, Welsh is asked about how he and Parker match up defensively when they are on the court together, and he confesses that Parker has "for the most part" been the one to match up with the 4. That strikes me as the better option, although I still think it's an experiment likely to fail. I hope I'm proven wrong about this, but I'm dubious that Parker can play effective defense in space--I think the most probable outcome is Parker picking up cheap fouls, and the Bruins having to sit their best low post scorer on the bench.

Tony Parker is last but definitely not least. As usual, Parker steals the show with his signature interview style. When a reporter accidentally calls him Thomas, Tony jokingly answers as he imagines Welsh would. He coins the word "funness." He uses a question about senior leadership to discuss the World Series and the Royals. He talks about how Aaron Holiday, the "energy bar," keeps him running. It's Tony being Tony--he's relaxed and makes the conversation fun.

In closing, let me gently remind everyone that Friday marks the beginning of a long basketball season that will undoubtedly see more heated debate in the Bruins Nation community about Steve Alford. Please remember that we are all UCLA fans. We all need to make a good effort to treat our fellow community members with respect whether or not we agree with them.