Is Steve Alford the anti-Bob Knight?

For some more insight into the life of UCLA head coach Steve Alford, try this Los Angeles Times profile from 1997. Alford, then 32, was coaching Southwest Missouri State and two years away from his lone Sweet Sixteen appearance.

There’s all sorts of anecdotes in the piece, from Alford practicing his shot by tossing Ping-Pong balls into Pringles cans, to him making 218 straight free throws when challenged by a player to beat 23. Most interesting might be his relationship with former coach and mentor Bob Knight, with whom he won an Olympic gold medal in 1984 and an NCAA championship in 1987.

Alford got Knight, a man who thinks “hope” is the worst word in the English language, to tell him this: “I just want you to know how much I appreciate you. You stand for everything this program is about. I don’t think I could care about you more than I do if you were my own son.”

But Indiana’s former “Mr. Basketball” doesn’t seem to take after Knight in his coaching style. From the Times:

“I can’t be,” Alford says. “It’s not my personality. It doesn’t make him right or wrong. I would love, down the road, to say I’m a coach who can get the most out of somebody, because that’s what they say about Coach Knight.”

Alford disdains profanity and has yet to heave a chair across a court. After his Bears had lost two consecutive games this season, Alford went easy on them in practice.

“It doesn’t do any good to rip into them,” he says. “There has to be a lighter side.”

Alford has three players from Indiana in his starting lineup. Two say they chose Southwest Missouri because they saw Alford as the anti-Knight.

It’s hard to say for sure whether or not Alford will succeed in Westwood — I’m guessing he will, even if not immediately — but at least his reputation as a player’s coach is deeply rooted.