It’s not like they’re toppling the best teams in the country (Wait for it…UCLA plays at No. 1 Kentucky on Saturday!) but these are major conference opponents that pushed the Bruins to provide answers to some significant questions. Most notably, could freshmen Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf answer the bell in close games? The answer is an unequivocal yes. Continue reading →
It’s not an exaggeration to say Steve Alford helped himself more than any college basketball coach in the country with the one significant opportunity provided to him since the debacle that was last season.
The UCLA coach didn’t just pull in a good 2017 recruiting class over the last week, he landed the consensus No. 1 group in the nation (rivals, scout, espn and 247sports each ranked UCLA No. 1).
For the coach with 4/9 odds to return to his team next season, Alford just gave Dan Guerrero five good reasons not to let him go, chief among them 6-foot-8 Indianapolis guard Kris Wilkes, who Alford gushes about in the video above. It’s not uncommon for incoming players to be released from their letters of intent should the coach that signed them be fired. UCLA brought in a pair of five-star players, two four-star players and the lone three-star recruit is the first of Lonzo Ball’s two brothers bound for UCLA.
UCLA was working on both classes at the same time considering its 2017 recruiting haul includes high school teammates – and in one case, a blood relative – of each of the three players from the 2016 class. Most importantly, the caliber of talent is similar too.
The headliner is freshman T.J. Leaf’s former teammate, point guard Jaylen Hands of El Cajon Foothills Christian, rivals.com’s No. 26 prospect. Ike Anigbogu’s former running mate in the front court at Corona Centennial High, Jalen Hill, is the espn.com’s No. 50 recruit and Lonzo Ball’s brother, LiAngelo, is a 3-star shooting guard from Chino Hills High. Chatsworth Sierra Canyon power forward Cody Riley, scout.com’s No. 30 prospect, is the fourth member of the class and one of the best rebounders in the country.
If last night’s exhibition game is any indication, the UCLA basketball team is going to be fun to watch. How many victories the new-look, fast-paced Bruins will augment their entertaining style with is very much to be determined.
But Lonzo Ball alone may be enough to begin to fill Pauley Pavilion again. The freshman point guard (14 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists) was must-see in every facet – he had a spectacular block, a tip-dunk, and was on both ends of ally-oops, to name a few highlights. “I think you saw a little bit of how much Lonzo can impact the game in every single way,” senior Bryce Alford said.
But it was classmate T.J. Leaf who led the dunk-fest with four authoritative throw downs. The 6-10 freshman was hardly overshadowed with 19 points and 12 rebounds in just 20 minutes.
For the second time in as many meetings with the media prior to the season, UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford was asked about the public letter he wrote following last season, an apology for the fourth losing campaign at UCLA since John Wooden retired 41 years ago.
In his response on Friday at Pac-12 media day in San Francisco, Alford referenced Wooden himself, citing the expectations at UCLA created by a man whose accomplishments are unmatched by any coach in the history of college basketball.
“Coach Wooden raised the bar at UCLA,” Alford said. “That bar was raised a long time ago in Westwood by a guy that won a bucket-load of games and a lot of championships and established something that, quite honestly, hasn’t been established anywhere else in the country. So when that bar is that way, there’s expectations. When you don’t meet or come close to those expectations, we talk to our players all the time, there are going to be consequences.”
Alford made clear the consequences to which he referred included his voluntary return of a one-year contract extension through 2020-21, information in the letter he penned after losing the final five games of last season to finish 15-17. Continue reading →