I know what the resume says. Just a lone Sweet 16 appearance in two decades, and that came back in 1999 with Southwest Missouri State. Listen. I've been as skeptical of Steve Alford as just about anyone.
But Alford has never had a job like UCLA. He has been at Southwest Missouri State, Iowa and New Mexico. There isn't much homegrown talent in those areas. There are those who want to discredit UCLA. The fans don't care. There's no support. Expectations are too high. The facilities still aren't up to par. But you can win a national title in Westwood. Ben Howland came damn close three consecutive times.
|More on Alford hiring at UCLA|
|More college basketball coverage|
The key, though, is locking down the state and keeping the best players at home. Everyone knows that Alford can coach. Everyone knows he'll stand up to the pressure of the UCLA job. I mean, this is the same guy who has been living in the limelight since before he reached high school. He starred at Indiana University. None of that will be an issue. The key for Alford is doing what Howland couldn't accomplish of late. Getting players. That was for several reasons.
1) The area was down in terms of high-level talent for a stretch recently.
2) Many of Howland's former players were crushing him for his inability to provide freedom.
3) Howland didn't connect well with some of the key AAU guys in the area.
That'll be the key for Alford. It's not as though he's inheriting a major rebuilding task. He'll have a pair of fifth-year seniors in the Wear twins. He could also have Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Tony Parker. He'll also bring his son, Bryce, a talented freshman guard, with him to Westwood. That's a group, if it remains intact, that could win the Pac-12 regular-season title again. Alford will be smart enough to run a large portion of his offense through Anderson, one of the nation's most gifted passers. Adams can score, David and Travis Wear have improved each year, and Parker should get an opportunity to play major minutes if he opts not to transfer.
"It doesn't change anything," Kyle Anderson Sr., told CBSSports.com. "We still don't have plans for Kyle to declare for the NBA. At this time, he's returning to UCLA. … We have nothing but good thoughts about Steve Alford as a basketball person."
Does Alford have some of that arrogance that turned people off with Howland? Absolutely. He'll have to figure out a way to tone that down, but he already has fans in two of the most influential players on the AAU circuit: Oakland Soldiers' Mark Olivier and Compton Magic's Etop Udo-Ema.
"I love him. Love him," Olivier said. "Great hire."
"I've dealt with Steve and Noodles [New Mexico associate head coach Craig Neal] for a long time, and I love them," Udo-Ema said. "They are two of the best basketball minds in the business, and I definitely trust them. He's going to have access to all our of kids."
"There's so much talent in L.A. right now that all you have to do if you're at UCLA or USC is keep these guys at home," Udo-Ema added.
"No reason to leave the state," added Olivier.
Alford should succeed at UCLA. He can coach, recruit and has the ego necessary to handle this job. What else do you need? Players. He'll have plenty of those, also.