This past season, UCLA was the most entertaining show in basketball. Next season, it may be a bad Don Rickles routine. While Lonzo Ball has left, LaVar has not. He is now pinning the UCLA loss in the NCAA tournament on too many white guys:
“Realistically you can’t win no championship with three white guys because the foot speed is too slow,” LaVar Ball said. “I told Lonzo - ‘One of these games you might need to go for 30 or 40 points.' It turned out the that was the one game. Then once they get to the Elite 8, they’re right there.”
Let’s take this in two parts. Part 1, putting aside the race comment and focusing on the “foot speed is too slow” for the Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky.
I think TJ Leaf had good speed for a 6’10” power forward. He should have the ability to regularly blow by other power forwards on offense. He was one of the toughest man-to-man match-ups in college basketball last year. I don’t think his foot speed was at all an issue. As far as the comment goes, it is BS for one of the white guys, TJ Leaf.
Now. Thomas Welsh is the opposite. He is one of the slowest bigs in the Pac-12 and the NCAA Tournament. I have, for years, argued the 3-2 zone does not work with Welsh in the game because he can’t cover the corners. Welsh is also never going to be able to fill the lane on the break.
But, I think a strong argument can be made that Welsh did his job well and we lost, in part, due to Welsh being in foul trouble. Welsh tied for the lead in rebounds for UCLA (7) against Kentucky and played just 18 minutes. He score 9 points as well. Welsh is very slow (even relatively for a center) but he was not the issue.
Further, Kentucky’s starting bigs went a combined 4-14 with 12 rebounds, while Leaf and Welsh went 10-16 with 14 rebounds. I think both Leaf and Welsh were better than their Kentucky counterparts and, certainly, did not lose the game for us.
The last white guy, of course, is Bryce Alford. Bryce is also slow for his position and his defense regularly hurt us. A case can generally be made that his lack of foot speed hurt us. However, before throwing him completely under the bus, UCLA’s three starting guards went 14-31, one Kentucky guard, De’Aaron Fox, by himself went 13-20. Who covered Fox for most of the game?
On that game, I can make the case Lonzo’s lack of foot speed cost us the game. Fox drove on him all night. That said, LaVar says Lonzo was hurt:
Lonzo Ball never mentioned the hamstring injury following the loss to Kentucky and it’s unclear when he suffered the ailment. By the end of the game, he appeared to have a different gait.
“People thought he was giving up, but he popped his hamstring,” LaVar Ball said. “He said ‘I was trying to run, but my hamstring was pulled.’ But he’s never going to make excuses.”
Regardless of the truth of LaVar’s comments, there is a second problem with the argument. Yep, Bryce is slow and it hurt. Isaac Hamilton, who is African American, was also slow. Those two slow guards did hurt on defense this season. Leaf is, for his position, fast. Welsh is slow but did not hurt us in the Kentucky game. The race issue was not factually relevant to the game or the lack of speed of UCLA’s guards (one black, one white and one half-black/half-white).
However, LaVar is back in the news and that is relevant to a concern. It is one thing when LaVar is hyping, arguably, the best player in college basketball in his son Lonzo Ball. His next son LiAngelo, according to all reports, is not nearly as good. How Is LaVar going to be popping off next year if he feels that Gelo does not get enough time or shots? Will he call Steve Alford racist? Will he go after Welsh for being “white?”
This is a concern. Unless Gelo is a top option, instead of, more likely, a raw freshman. Steve Alford may be rid of the distraction of all the critics questioning his play of his son, but Alford may have a whole new area of criticism open with LaVar talking about his son.