Steve Alford bounced back from a losing season in a big way, but fell short of realizing his 2016-17 team’s potential. (Mark J. Terrill/The Associated Press)
Strengths: It’s not as gratifying as wizardry with Xs and Os, but there is no shame in a college basketball coach’s greatest strength being recruiting. Steve Alford landed three five-star prospects in 2016, but that doesn’t begin to do justice to their talent. All three UCLA freshman last season are expected to be first-round draft picks in June and Lonzo Ball could be the No. 1 overall selection. No matter how good the coach, he can’t succeed without good players. Alford is clearly gaining momentum on the recruiting front, following his best class at UCLA with a 2017 haul ranked No. 2 in the country.
Weaknesses: Alford was consistently slow to make in-game adjustments this season, showing reluctance to take risks when things were going in the wrong direction. USC flummoxed Alford with a simple zone defense in the Bruins’ ugliest loss of the season Jan. 25 at Galen Center. As UCLA’s defense reached its lowest point of the season, a 96-85 loss at home to Arizona, Alford stuck with an offensively oriented lineup while Aaron Holiday and Ike Anigbogu played just 23 and 12 minutes, respectively.
UCLA head coach Steve Alford and guards Lonzo Ball and Bryce Alford talk about UCLA’s 79-67 win over Cincinnati on Sunday in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament.
Ball led the Bruins with 18 points, seven rebounds and nine assists with only one turnover as he hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the second half that spurred UCLA to the win. Alford had 16 points (13 in the second half) on 5-for-13 shooting with three assists and one steal.
UCLA advanced to its third Sweet 16 in four years and will face No. 2 Kentucky on Friday at 6:40 p.m. PT in Memphis.
Indiana fired its coach today and UCLA’s Steve Alford is a natural candidate to return to his alma mater
The way Steve Alford fondly – and consistently – references his home state, it seems impossible for him to have no interest in coaching Indiana.
The Hoosiers are in need of a new coach after Tom Crean was fired earlier today, creating an opening at the UCLA head coach’s alma mater. Alford’s stock is peaking after a 29-4 season at the most high profile program in a coaching career with stops at Southwest Missouri State, Iowa and New Mexico before UCLA. Perhaps the only job he’d leave for is Indiana, where he was the leading scorer on the 1978 national champions.
“Obviously, that was 30 years ago,” Alford said. “I was a part of that. I stood on a stage with a great group of guys and won a national championship. It’s my home state. I played there. So obviously all that comes up, but I love UCLA. I love Los Angeles. You’re talking about arguably the greatest brand anywhere on that planet and we got things going at a very high level right now.”
Alford’s large buyout complicates things for both sides, but there is certainly a chance there will be a strong desire on each end to cut through that and make a deal.
There are plenty of reasons why the timing could be perfect for Alford to justify leaving UCLA after four seasons. His son Bryce is a senior. Lonzo Ball is sure to leave for the NBA and leading scorer TJ Leaf is a good bet to declare for the draft after one season too. Even less heralded freshman Ike Anigbogu might leave for the NBA considering his rising stock. Junior 7-foot center Thomas Welsh’s departure isn’t out of the question either. In other words, it’s possible that the entire UCLA starting lineup is on its way out.
Senior Bryce Alford says he prefers the reduced role he is playing for No. 2 UCLA
Bryce Alford feels like he can finally take a breath.
His first two seasons, the coach’s son was under constant scrutiny to prove his father didn’t unjustly gift him a UCLA uniform. Last season he was burdened with something even more stressful, trying to save Steve Alford’s job.
This season, Alford is finally playing the role he was meant for. He’s not a point guard. There are plenty of nights when he doesn’t even have to be a primary scorer. He has better defensive players around him to offset his deficiencies on that end of the floor. He’s mainly just a shooter…and the team’s vocal leader.
Alford finally seems secure enough in himself – and he has accepted that he can’t single-handedly save his father’s job – to play a reduced role. The thing he spoke most passionately about was how he perceives criticism of himself, which is detailed in this feature story I wrote about him. The turning point came during UCLA’s trip to the Sweet 16 in the 2015 NCAA tournament his sophomore year.
“The same voices that were bashing me my freshman year for playing over Zach (LaVine) or whatever it may be were the same voices that were praising me after I had a good game against SMU,” Alford said. “So I kind of saw it first hand, the same exact people that are going to bash you when you’re not doing well are going to praise you when you are doing well. That’s when I really started to realize the voices that I needed to listen to and not to pay attention to anything else.” Continue reading “UCLA’s Bryce Alford can’t forget his treatment during bad times” »