Of all the perks of becoming the coach of UCLA men’s basketball – the championship history, the plethora of local talent, the brand-new arena – the first added bonus that came to Steve Alford’s mind before the team’s third practice of the year didn’t relate to basketball.
“I thought the weather was good – I didn’t know it was this good. … I don’t worry about rain; I don’t worry about bad weather,” Alford said.
While the L.A. weather isn’t an issue for Alford, one potential cause for concern is the lopsided lineup the Bruins will send out this season. On its 15-man roster, UCLA has 10 guards, but only five forwards and centers, making frontcourt depth an issue for the Bruins.
“We have good frontcourt players. Obviously we don’t have very much depth. We’re gonna have to stay out of foul trouble, but I think we’ll be alright,” said redshirt senior forward Travis Wear.
But as with the L.A. weather, Alford is looking at the bright side of the situation.
“You have different varieties you can play and that’s more of a benefit,” said Alford about the various frontcourt combinations the Bruins can run with redshirt senior forwards Travis Wear and David Wear, and sophomore forward/center Tony Parker.
Another key player whose versatility Alford said will be important for the Bruins is sophomore guard/forward Kyle Anderson, whose combination of height and rebounding and passing abilities makes him a unique player.
“(Anderson will play a) big role because he’ll play any of four positions. He’ll play any of the three guard positions and we’ll play him at four as well because he’s arguably one of our best rebounders. … I think you’ll see a lot of versatility in the way that we use him,” Alford said.
After starring as a 6-foot-9-inch point guard in high school, Anderson largely played forward last year as Larry Drew II handled the point guard duties. But with Drew II now vying for a spot on the Miami Heat’s roster, Alford and Anderson both anticipate Anderson will run the offense more frequently this season.
“That’s what I know how to do the most. Especially after these last two practices, just realizing with myself that’s what I know how to do best,” Anderson said of playing the point. “I’ve been it my whole life so it comes the easiest to me.”
Keeping the Core
While Alford has been busy on the recruiting trail, trying to bring top high school talent to UCLA, his first priority upon being named coach kept him closer to Westwood.
“Part of recruiting when you take a new job is to make sure you recruit your current team, and we only had six guys on scholarship and all six of those guys stayed, and to be honest with you all six of them could have left,” Alford said. “So we had to spend about the first month just recruiting those guys and (we’re) very thankful for them.”
The main technique Alford said he used to keep his returning players was simply establishing trust between them. Sitting down with each of his players after his hiring last year, Alford focused on getting to know each of them and developing relationships with them all.
“He was just trying to find out what we wanted with the program,” said junior guard Norman Powell. “Was there anything that we wanted to change, anything that he could do to help make this program better?”