Steve Alford was available to the media this afternoon, but as a sign of the times, most of the regular beat reporters chose to cover the Pro Day activities on campus rather than the basketball team as it heads into the Pac-12 tournament. It can't be good news for the UCLA basketball program if the offseason activities of our football team trump the postseason tournament preparation of our basketball team.
Steve Alford opened with comments about the Mo Ostin Basketball Center, a project that is being funded in part by a $10 million donation by UCLA alumnus Morris Ostin.
Nothing excites us more around here than that.
Alford then outlined his team's schedule since the last game of the regular season last Wednesday. The team has been practicing every other day, partly to give our student-athletes an opportunity to catch up on their academic work heading into finals week, and partly to give the team a chance to get healthy.
Because Alford doesn't know which team the Bruins will face in their opening tournament game, the practice sessions have focused on self-improvement rather than game planning.
Alford describes giving the players "mental breaks in the film room." I'm not sure what that means, since the film room generally serves as one of the places that players work on the mental side of the game. Perhaps he meant to say "a change of pace" rather than "mental breaks."
Alford mentions again that because UCLA is on the quarter system, the players need time to prepare for finals. In particular he notes that eight players have exams at 8 AM before the team practices and then leaves for Las Vegas tomorrow. And, of course, there will be more finals for the players when they return from the tournament.
In response to a question about how much the new basketball-only facility will help with recruiting, Alford responds that "..it will help with everything," and "it will be huge." He specifically mentions that it will help with player development--he asserts that he's "big into player development" He also suggests that the new facility will offer trickle-down benefits to other sports programs at UCLA.
Alford is asked next about the ways in which Kevon Looney has improved this season, and he identifies two main things: improved three-point shooting, and increased confidence in his footwork and pivoting in driving to the basket. In addition, he claims that Looney is starting to understand how to use his length at this level.
Alford is also quick to credit Looney for "wanting to learn and get better."
Alford is asked about Looney leaving the program at the end of the year, and what factors will be considered in helping Looney make his decision. Alford doesn't supply any specifics; he just says that he wants to do what's best for the student-athlete.
I've always been about the student-athlete and their well-being first.
In response to a question about doing scout work versus prep work when you don't know who your opponent will be, Alford talks about the similarities between ASU and USC.
...there are a lot of similarities in the transition, backboard, dribble drive--those are their three best things they do in the offense.
He concedes that the Bruins haven't been good in transition defense, but insists that they're getting better. He blames inexperience for the poor transition defense. He also attributes our struggles in transition defense to the Bruins being a "quiet team."
Alford then remembers that both teams use ball screens a lot, and says the team is working on how they want to handle ball screens.
He notes that ASU plays man defense, and USC uses a lot of man defense (except against UCLA), so he's had the team working mostly on man offense but also on zone offense.
Alford is then asked how he keeps the players fresh, which means that the reporter wasn't listening at the start of the presser, and gives Alford the opportunity to essentially repeat what he said earlier. Tomorrow's practice, before the team leaves for Las Vegas, will be mostly shooting and non-contact work.
Alford volunteers that the team has been really sharp, especially for such a young team, and especially in the past week.
Alford admits that the team has fallen short on the road this season, but that recent road losses (at Cal and at ASU) have been close, which he sees as a sign of improvement. From my perspective, that's an awfully optimistic assessment.
Overall, I don't get the sense that Alford is confident that his team can win more than one game in the tournament. There was far more talk about potential excuses (finals week, inexperience, youth, etc...) than I'd expect to hear from a coach expecting a deep tournament run.