The honeymoon phase is over for Steve Alford.
The ceremony is complete, the guests of honor have left.
Now it’s time to see who UCLA men’s basketball is truly married to for the next six seasons.
With the departure of sophomore guard Jordan Adams to the NBA, one of the final remaining holdovers from the previous regime is gone. No longer can Alford’s success be judged based on the remnants of Ben Howland; it’s up to him now.
UCLA won its first Pac-12 tournament title since 2008 in Alford’s first year as coach, but to say he led his team that far is a misnomer, for several reasons. For one, it was Adams, with his clutch play, and sophomore guard/forward Kyle Anderson, with his stat sheet stuffing, who took the team to new heights this year. The Bruins really haven’t had a player who made the impact Anderson did this year since that 2008 season with Kevin Love, and Anderson would have developed to that level regardless of who coached him. All Alford had to do was let Anderson do his thing at point guard and the rest took care of itself.
Secondly, the 2013-2014 Bruins weren’t really even Alford’s team per se. Sure, he implemented a more open offensive system that allowed them to have the success they did, but the players putting the ball in the bucket and winning the games weren’t Alford’s – they were Howland’s. Really, freshman guard Bryce Alford was the only player to get significant minutes that Steve Alford was responsible for bringing to Westwood. Even freshman guard Zach LaVine was a Howland recruit.
But now the last major reminders of Ben Howland are gone. The Wear twins, Anderson, Adams, LaVine – all gone. All that remain are sophomore forward/center Tony Parker, who barely registered a blip on Howland’s radar his freshman year, and junior guard Norman Powell – assuming he returns – another player with a lesser role in Howland’s system.
There’s no doubt that next year’s team will be Alford’s through and through. Of Howland’s leftovers, he gave Parker and Powell the opportunity to become the players they developed into this year. Beyond that, the Bruins will be a completely new team, comprised primarily of scholarship players who Alford himself brought to UCLA.
And so far it seems Alford has done well in convincing those players to come. Right now, UCLA’s 2014 recruiting class is ranked No. 7 in the nation by Scout.com, No. 8 by Rivals.com and No. 10 by ESPN. Five-star forward Kevon Looney, considered a top-10 recruit by some recruiting services, highlights the class, becoming the highest ranked recruit to commit to UCLA since Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad – No. 5 and No. 2 respectively – two years ago.
Beyond just Looney, three more big men will join the Bruins next season, leaving UCLA with just three true guards on the roster likely to play significant minutes. After a first season spent letting his backcourt stars run the show, Alford will be forced to showcase his abilities as a coach next year, not having standout guards players like Anderson and Adams create something out of nothing. He’ll need to change his game plan to tailor toward his new frontcourt depth and add more structure to his system to deal with the fact that UCLA has no true point guard.
UCLA will be a completely different team next season, not in terms of players but strategy as well.
Alford’s arrival at UCLA came with a housewarming from Howland in the form of several star players, and Alford made the most of their presence in his first year.
But with those players out of the picture, Alford’s safety blanket is gone. UCLA can finally learn what it can expect from its new coach.