At the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Steve Alford was a member of the gold medal-winning United States basketball team.
He doesn’t have then-teammates Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and Michael Jordan to help him this time around, but nearly 30 years later, Alford has returned to Los Angeles – this time as the new UCLA men’s basketball coach.
Alford was formally introduced as Ben Howland’s replacement and UCLA basketball’s 13th head coach on Tuesday on Nell and John Wooden Court of Pauley Pavilion, in front of UCLA staff, fans and players, both former and current.
“As I mentioned … Saturday morning, we found a coach who not only represents and respects the treasured history of college basketball and UCLA’s place in it, but a coach who can bring a brand of exciting basketball with unselfishly talented student athletes,” said Athletic Director Dan Guerrero.
“Steve Alford is an accomplished player, coach, father and husband, and I have no doubt that UCLA basketball will flourish under his leadership.”
Without skipping a beat, Alford shared his connections with coach John Wooden, mentioning the John Wooden Mental Attitude Award that was given out by his father, also Alford’s high school coach, to players on his high school teams. He also mentioned that he grew up just 27 miles from Wooden’s high school in Indiana.
Alford said that in addition to Wooden’s legacy, he was impressed by the sustained success of UCLA sports as a whole.
“Seeing 108 national championships is pretty impressive when you think it’s not just basketball,” Alford said.
“(It’s) a lot of fun working at a university where it’s not one sport, it’s not two sports. It’s not one side of the campus versus another side of the campus. It’s an entire campus that really prides itself on excellence.”
He also explained that his family lineage in basketball might be the key to restoring a Los Angeles high school recruiting pipeline that has become anemic in recent years.
Alford said he sees the restoration of these relationships as paramount to UCLA’s future success. He plans to assemble a coaching staff, which will include former New Mexico assistant Duane Broussard, in the next couple days to foster this new mentality.
“I’ve done that wherever I’ve been because I have such great respect for high school coaches because my dad was a high school coach for 40 years,” said Alford of interacting with high school coaches.
“That’s something that we are very much looking forward to during our recruiting period that’s very close here.”
Before evaluating class of 2014 high school talent, Alford will be tasked with evaluating players currently on his UCLA squad, many of whom he hadn’t met by the time of the press conference.
Alford said he planned to meet with the team Tuesday, minus freshman forward/center Tony Parker, who still hadn’t returned from his spring break in his home state of Georgia as of Tuesday afternoon.
The coaching change naturally put UCLA’s players in the unique position of evaluating their incoming coach as he met with them for the first time, rather than the other way around.
“That’s still yet to be seen, to get a feel for the type of coach he is and the mentality he brings to the game and the energy and stuff like that,” said redshirt junior forward David Wear.
“I think everyone has to come into it with an open mind and get an opportunity to meet the coach and see what he’s about and what his plans are for the future.”
Freshman guard Jordan Adams also saw the coaching change as a non-issue and said he saw the meeting as an opportunity to get a feel for his new coach.
“I think if Dan Guerrero’s happy about it, then it’s a great decision,” Adams said.