Steve Alford met with reporters on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming season. Video of the session is available courtesy of UCLA Athletics.
Alford began the press conference by talking about the challenges of the Bruins' difficult non-conference schedule. He claims that last year's team benefitted later in the season from the tough out-of-conference games, even though the Bruins suffered during that stretch as a consequence of being "so young and inexperienced." However, Alford feels that this year's team is more experienced, so presumably we won't witness a repeat of some of last season's embarrassing results.
"That helped us late in the season," Alford said. "This year, a little more experience will be back. These young guys will get indoctrinated to what this level's all about very quickly. I think that's a good thing. ... You get a good measuring stick of where you're at."
When asked about the "biggest unknown" heading into the season, Alford prefaces his remarks with the observation that "it's our first year with versatility." It may be that Alford meant to say that this year's team has better depth than either of his previous two UCLA teams, but it's simply preposterous to claim that the 2013-14 Bruins didn't have "versatility" that was similar to what Alford sees in his current group of players.
For example, Alford talks about having bigs that can shoot from the perimeter, but he seems to forget that the players who led the 2013-14 Bruins in three-point percentage were Kyle Anderson, Travis Wear and David Wear, each of whom averaged 20+ minutes as frontcourt players. And for what it's worth, the most accurate three-point scorers on last year's team were frontcourt players Kevon Looney and Gyorgy Goloman.
Alford also talks about having three players (BAlford, Hamilton, and Holiday) that can bring the ball up the court this season, but the 2013-14 team also had a trio of players that could play point guard (Anderson, LaVine, BAlford). It's probably worth mentioning that Kyle Anderson is certainly the most versatile player that Alford has had during his 2+ seasons in charge of the UCLA basketball program.
Finally, as much as Alford likes the prospect of playing "big-big," he seems to forget that he had the exact same option last year, and he frequently used "big-big" lineups in 2013-14. In fact, I think it's clear that the Bruins ability to play a big-big lineup effectively is more limited this season than in 2013-14 because neither of his bigs have experience playing defense away from the basket.
Here's an example of Alford's thoughts on this team's "versatility:"
I love our length. I love our versatility ... so playing three bigs across the front, but maybe 1 or 2 of those bigs can also be a guard, versus like we started the other night, where you've got Isaac and Bryce and Aaron, and you're basically almost three point guards and you're flying around everywhere and very athletic in the backcourt.
But Alford could have said the same thing in 2013-14 when he could put out a frontcourt with the Wears and Kyle Anderson, and he when he often played "three point guards" (Anderson, BAlford and LaVine) at the same time along with Norman Powell.
In other words, based on the way in which Steve Alford describes the "versatility" of this team, it's the same "versatility" that he's had since his arrival at UCLA. Most of the players have changed, of course, but what he's able to do with those players hasn't changed much at all. On the other hand, the depth of talent on this season's roster does give Alford more lineup options than last season, but that's a comparative statement that reflects poorly on Alford's roster management in 2014-15.
Alford continues by addressing the possibility of playing Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh together. Alford suggests that he wants to be able to play man-to-man defense when his two big men are on the floor together. I am very skeptical of the ability of either Welsh or Parker to play defense out on the perimeter without picking up cheap fouls, but it's an experiment that Alford seems to determined to try.
The rest of the presser focuses primarily on his first impressions of Aaron Holiday, and on the development of Isaac Hamilton and Jonah Bolden while they've been in the system. Alford praises Holiday for having "an incredible motor," and for his effort on the defensive end, which means that we may finally have a player who can be effective guarding our opponent's point guard.
Alford also briefly discusses the new 30-second shot clock, and how "soft presses" may be used to effectively shorten the shot clock following free throws and timeouts. However, given how much Alford loves the length, athleticism and depth of this year's squad, I would have thought that he'd see an advantage in using an "aggressive press" in order to push tempo.
UCLA Athletics also made available video of Thomas Welsh, Alex Olesinski, and Isaac Hamilton meeting with the media.
To be honest, I didn't find much substance in any of the trio of interviews, which I blame on some pretty dull questions by the media. However, the interviews provide some interesting insights into the personalities of the players, and for that reason alone, they are worth viewing. Please share any thought you have on these players in the comments section below.