Last June, Zach LaVine became UCLA’s first commitment of the 2013 class. A standout scorer at Bothell High, he was named Washington’s Mr. Basketball and also rated the No. 44 player in the country by Rivals.com. Sophomore guard Jordan Adams already praised LaVine as one of the top five athletes he’s ever played with.
We sat down and talked a bit about his game, his decision to stick with the Bruins despite a coaching change, and the state of UCLA’s dorms.
Q: What’s your impression of the team and how you fit in?
We’re going to be a lot of fun. What I bring is a scorer, athletic, can dribble. I do whatever coach needs me to do. We’re already a pretty close team. We’re all friends with each other, joke around. We’re going to be really good. Me and Noah (Allen) are roommates right now. Wanaah (Bail)’s right across the hall. We’re all in a little triangle right now.
Q: How are the dorms?
Naaah. The dorms are … the dorms, I mean, they’re all right. But for right now, we don’t got AC or nothing. It’s just for the summer because then we get our singles coming up, our regular dorms that have everything that we need. For right now, it’s like a six out of ten. Five out of ten on some days. I’ve got about six fans in my room though. My stuff stays cold.
Q: I’ve heard a lot about how good an athlete you are. Has that always been your style of play?
Actually, most people don’t know about my athleticism. A lot of people I’ve played with see me as a scorer and a shooter. I’m still fast and everything like that, but then, when they see me dunk, it’s like ‘Oh, damn.’ I’ve got, I think a 47-inch vertical or something like that. It’s something I work on but it’s definitely my game. Go show my athleticism, jumping ability, speed, quickness, but I’m also an all-around player as well.
Q: Was that something that blossomed a little later?
More toward my junior year, I started getting a lot more athletic. My sophomore year, I wasn’t growing into my body at all. I was about 5-10, 150. I was more of a shooter, scorer. Toward my junior, senior year, I definitely got more athletic going toward the hole, getting contact, finishing above people.
Q: Did it help your game that athleticism came a bit later rather than sooner?
It helped me both ways. My dad worked on my skill work first. I was always a good athlete, but my athleticism really came when we started working on my jumping ability and my core. It put my game to a new level because I was able to do so many things.
Q: Could you get still dunk before that growth spurt?
Sophomore year, I could dunk, but it was just like fast-break dunks. I was a fast-break dunker. But then, junior year, I started going to the hole and just rising on people. It was different.
Q: What did it feel like the first time you dunked on someone?
The first time I dunked on someone, I didn’t even notice I dunked on someone. I drove baseline, I went up with one hand — I didn’t even see the defender come out — and I punched on him. And then when I watched the replay — someone had it on camera — I really got like half of his body. After that, I was like “OK, that’s nice.” … My real, chest-to-chest poster was junior year. Yeah, that was a good feeling. Coach called timeout. Everyone was like “Ohhhhhhhhhhh!”
Q: It seems like right now, there’s a point guard competition between you and Bryce Alford. Is that a spot you want to play, or are you comfortable playing shooting guard, combo guard?
It’s whatever coach (Steve Alford) wants me to play. I know I’m going to be playing some point guard. Me and Bryce are going to be playing point guard. I’m also going to be playing a lot of shooting guard. With my size right now — I’m 6-5 — he said I’m going to be playing a lot of different positions. Maybe the three. I can score the ball. I can pass the ball. I can dribble, facilitate. Whatever the coach needs me to do, I’ll be doing it.
Q: Do you see yourself as primarily a scorer?
I’m a shoot-first point guard is what most people see me as. But I feel like I can do it all. If you need me to go out there and facilitate, I can do that as well. But definitely, I’ll shoot the ball.
Q: When did you first become aware of UCLA growing up?
My dad grew up in San Bernardino. I always knew the surrounding areas, USC, UCLA. I started really liking UCLA, like my sophomore year. Sophomore summer, I got offered. They were on my mind. Something clicked and I wanted to go there. After coach (Ben) Howland got fired, I still had that connection to UCLA.
Q: Back when Howland was still recruiting you, what was he saying and what did you like about his program?
A: My main goal is to go to the NBA, and he’s put so many guards in the NBA. He said my skill work and stuff like that, he could develop me into one of the players that goes to the NBA. I also saw the team we had last year. I didn’t know coach Howland would get fired, but they had Kyle, Jordan, and they just won the Pac-12. I was like “OK, I can come here and fit and contribute.” … It wasn’t the shock, but when he got fired, it was just like, “OK, I’ve got to change up my mentality a little bit, let me rethink what I’m going to be doing.”
Q: How long did it take for Steve Alford to call you?
A: After he was hired, it was about, less than a day. He called, told me he still liked me. He’d seen me play before, and he’d definitely like me to come here. … I never did talk to him (before that). He’s a real cool dude. I like the way he coaches. He’s funny as heck. He jokes around a lot. He has a good philosophy and he knows what he’s doing.
Q: Did you know anything about Steve Alford before UCLA hired him?
A: I knew he came out of Indiana as an All-American. He went to the NBA. Other than that, I knew he coached at New Mexico. I never actually saw them (the Lobos) play. I heard (about) them, seen them once or twice on ESPN because they were winning a lot.
Q: When did you decide to stay at UCLA?
A: When coach Howland got fired, I thought about what I wanted to do with what school I wanted to go to. I had a lot of different options as well. But I still liked the surroundings. I have a lot of family down here, San Bernardino. I had a connection with the school, and I still liked it. … By that time (that Alford called), I was pretty set. I had about two days where I was wondering what I should do. …
I had other schools such as Gonzaga, UW, Arizona, Louisville, Memphis. I had all the schools that were still recruiting. Even though I committed, I knew the NCAA would let me out of the commitment after coach Howland left. But I didn’t even really think about transferring. I just thought about the new coach coming in, and how he would like me. Once he called me and said that he liked me, it was over.