Q: Why is our basketball team so wildly inconsistent this year?
A: The Bruins aren’t very good on defense, which I’d attribute to both the abilities of individual players as well as lackluster coaching. That puts them in a bad spot whenever they fall into scoring droughts; we saw that against USC, when every second-half comeback attempt died because the Trojans responded with quick, easy points. UCLA’s offense has also become very dependent on Bryce Alford’s shooting. When he’s not hitting baskets, everything else bogs down. When he is, however, it’s a difficult team to stop.
Q: Looking ahead to the 2016 season the roster should be filled with talent. What do you think the starting five will look like after T.J. Leaf and Lonzo Ball make it on to campus? If Ball ends up starting, which current guard do you see Coach Alford moving to the bench?
A: Since no one on the team looks NBA-ready, let’s assume that none of them makes a bad decision to turn pro early. In that case, I’d expect the starting lineup to look something like:
C — Thomas Welsh, Jr.
F — T.J. Leaf, Fr.
G — Isaac Hamilton, Sr.
G — Bryce Alford, Sr.
G — Lonzo Ball, Fr.
Since there’s no way Alford will send his son to the bench — and since Hamilton will also be a senior — Aaron Holiday in a sixth man role probably makes the most sense. But I could also see a scenario where Hamilton becomes the leading scorer of the second unit.
Q: Is Steve Alford the new Steve Lavin? Inexcusable to lose to Andy Enfield’s team. USC seems on way better footing than UCLA.
A: He and Lavin have had very similar starts to their respective UCLA tenures, so I think the comparisons are fair so far. (The name and the hair obviously don’t do anything to counter that.)
Q: We know Jaylen Hill and Jalen Hands committed to UCLA. Who else is UCLA targeting for its 2017 basketball class and do we have a good chance with any of them?
A: Next big target is four-star recruit Cody Riley, the 6-foot-7 power forward at Sierra Canyon in Chatsworth. Bruins in good position, but he has also has offers from Kansas, UConn, and others. Lonzo Ball’s younger brother, LiAngelo, is also committed to the 2017 class.
Q: A few guys didn’t show up this season that had a lot of buzz at one point: Najee Toran, Alex Van Dyke, and Steven Manfro. What does next year have in store for them?
A: Of the three, I’d probably be the most optimistic about Alex Van Dyke. I thought he was about two or three years away when he first arrived on campus, and he’s now entering his third year in the program. Not sure why UCLA put him on the field in 2014, though; he burned his redshirt without making a catch.
The staff hasn’t done NaJee Toran any favors shuttling him back and forth between offensive and defensive line, while Steve Manfro missed all of 2015 with a shoulder injury. Not sure what’s in store for either of them.
Q: Who do you see as our best receivers for next year?
A: Really hard to say. The pecking order looks wide open, with lots of unproven talent that should make for a very interesting spring. Darren Andrews is the most productive returner after his breakout in 2015 (42 catches, 429 yards), but can he double that workload as a true No. 1 target? Can Mossi Johnson recover fully from another major knee injury? Younger players like Stephen Johnson III and Austin Roberts are almost certainly due for bigger roles. Not sure what to expect from four-star recruit Theo Howard in his very first season, but it helps that he’s already enrolled.
Q: How is rehab going for Eddie Vanderdoes and other injured players?
A: Vanderdoes is in a good place, and offensive lineman Scott Quessenberry did workouts on the sideline during most practices this past season. I last saw Mossi Johnson walking around with a sleeve over his knee, and didn’t look like a guy who tore multiple ligaments just this past fall. Not sure how he’ll look in practice, but it’s encouraging that he’s not limping. Cornerback Fabian Moreau suffered a Lisfranc injury, and those can linger. I’d expect him to still be limited in spring.
Q: It seems that an unusually high number of underclassmen made themselves available for the draft. Jack makes sense as a possible top-10 pick, and Redmond apparently flunked out. Clark will likely go in the first 2 rounds. But the others do not seem to be high picks at this point. Do you have a real sense why each of the others is leaving? Is this a sign of overall dissatisfaction with the program?
A: The ones in question would be Paul Perkins, Caleb Benenoch and Thomas Duarte. Perkins’ departure makes sense given his position. You can only take so much punishment as a running back, and then-backup Nate Starks even said in August that he expected Perkins to turn pro.
Both Benenoch and Duarte are incomplete prospects that could benefit from staying another year, but I’m a bit hesitant to attribute their decisions to an overall dissatisfaction with the program as opposed to trying to better position themselves for their second contracts.
Q: Do you know how the team overall has reacted to Kennedy Polamalu being promoted to OC and Marques Tuiasosopo being hired as QB coach?
A: Polamalu’s a very well respected coach, so I think in terms of locker room reaction, it was a good move. Tuiasosopo was a great hire, and I’d expect him to be very popular.
Q: What are your thoughts on Polamalu’s style of run first, throw second approach. Will Rosen be open to this?
A: As long as the offense is efficient, I think everyone will be fine with it. UCLA still has backfield depth even without Paul Perkins, and it’s hard to imagine any scenario where Josh Rosen doesn’t rack up big numbers.
Q: Is there any real truth to the rumor Lane Kiffin was offered a position at UCLA?
A: I think there was interest, but I don’t know that it ever materialized into a real offer.
Q: With all the changes in the coaching staff, has Adrian Klemm’s name come up in terms of his position for next year?
A: I expect him to remain the offensive line coach.
Q: How much truth was there to the rumors of Jim Mora leaving?
A: I don’t think there was any real interest from NFL teams. Will he leave for the pros someday? Wouldn’t be shocking, but I don’t think it’s going to happen for at least a couple more years.
Q: Do you think recruits are influenced by negative fan bases? Ours seems worse than other schools.
A: I don’t think it’s a major factor.
Q: What is your take on the new USC coaching staff, from head coach down through the lines?
A: Overall, safe moves with some upside. Clay Helton provides stability and continuity for a program that could use a good dose of it, and Clancy Pendergast definitely knows his Xs and Os even if he doesn’t care for recruiting. Not sure about Tee Martin’s promotion to offensive coordinator, but Tyson Helton and Neil Callaway did well at Western Kentucky. Ronnie Bradford and John Baxter both seem like solid choices to coach defensive backs and special teams, respectively.
Q: We know the NFL is paid to be patriotic with their salutes to the military. Is it the same at the collegiate level?
A: The phenomenon seems to vary by state. The McCain-Flake report last year found that the military — mostly the National Guard — had “paid patriotism” contracts with teams in every major pro sports league. The report also named three NCAA programs: Wisconsin, Indiana, and Purdue. The California Army National Guard only had contracts with the San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers.