Strengths: In his one season as a non-point guard, Alford proved his value as a specialist. He didn’t have the athleticism to do much other than be a spot-up shooter, but he proved his strength by setting a school record for 3-pointers on top of a vital role as team’s primary vocal leader. To put Alford’s shooting accomplishments in perspective, he shattered UCLA’s school record for 3-pointers in a single season by making 116, passing Jason Kapono’s career record for 3-pointers in the process. The difference this season? Efficiency. Alford shot a career-high 43 percent from 3-point range after shooting 38 percent his previous three seasons combined.
Weaknesses: UCLA’s team defense evolved into a decent unit during the final third of the season, but Alford was the most glaring reason why the Bruins needed to be so adept at help defense. Alford was the first to acknowledge he wasn’t blessed with an abundance of athleticism, but his honesty didn’t help him stay in front of his man. Defense is what kept UCLA from being a convincing championship contender and Alford was the poster boy for the problem – though there were plenty of others who contributed to the Bruins’ defensive deficiencies.
Best moment: Alford’s best moment didn’t occur on the basketball court.
It happened in the Galen Center locker when he called a team meeting at UCLA’s lowest point of the season. He flexed his muscle as a leader after the Bruins’ only two-game losing streak of the season was punctuated by a Jan. 25 loss at USC. The team meeting was often credited for the rise of defense among the Bruins’ priorities, something that revealed itself during the 10-game winning streak that followed.
Worst moment: One of Alford’s worst games of the season was the one that likely sealed the Bruins’ fate as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. In UCLA’s loss to Arizona in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament, Alford was just 2 of 12 from the field and 1 of 10 from 3-point range. His five points was the second-lowest total of the season for Alford at a time when TJ Leaf’s sprained ankle rendered him less than full strength and Lonzo Ball was struggling with a thumb injury. Arizona won the conference tournament and earned a No. 2 seed in the West while UCLA was the No. 3 seed in a South region that landed them in front of a pro-Kentucky crowd, where they lost in the round of 16.
Summary: It’s hard to say Alford didn’t maximize his potential at UCLA, where he leaves the school fifth on its career scoring list and as the only player in school history with 1,700 points and 500 assists. When he was finally displaced by a true point guard and played the role he was intended for as a senior, Alford was exceptional as a shooter, providing something every elite team needs on its wing. His defensive shortcomings were part of what cost UCLA the chance to become championship material, but he made up for some of it with leadership and moxie on a team full of soft-spoken players. His career arc is something of a marvel considering the mental toughness required for the coach’s son to prove he even belonged on a Division I college basketball court, much less at program like UCLA.
Future outlook: Alford simply isn’t athletic enough to be considered NBA material, despite his accomplished record as a shooter. Perhaps he has a chance to play overseas, but it’s difficult to picture him making a roster in a high-level league. His older brother Kory has already gone the coaching route as UCLA’s video coordinator. Alford hasn’t shed much light on his future or his desire to try and play or coach professionally.