Oct. 22, 2013
With new head coach Steve Alford at the helm of the Bruins’ program, UCLA returns a talented core group of six veteran players in 2013-14. The addition of six incoming players will help give the Bruins some much-needed depth as Alford and his coaching staff hit the ground running this fall.
A 22-year head coaching veteran, Alford is extremely excited about the program’s immediate and long-term future. In six-plus months since landing in Westwood, he has worked tirelessly to get familiar with the school and the athletic department, while organizing his support staff and traveling the country in search of coveted recruits. But the head coach’s first and most crucial task was retaining each of the Bruins’ returning players from last season’s roster.
“My staff and I spent a lot of time getting to know them, just spending time with them,” Alford said. “It was important to get those guys in our office, to be around them, to develop a relationship and a comfort level with those players. Thankfully, that trust has been built to where I think they’d tell you that they are enjoying things to this point.”
Alford’s winning pedigree certainly has caught the attention of UCLA’s returning players and incomers. He arrived in Westwood six months ago after a highly-successful six-year tenure at the University of New Mexico. He guided the Lobos to the Mountain West Conference’s regular-season and tournament titles the past two years. In all, he helped UNM secure four MWC regular-season crowns and three NCAA Tournament berths while overhauling the program’s academic progress. He oversaw the two highest single-season win totals in school history, highlighted by a 30-5 overall mark in 2009-10. As he embarks on his fifth head coaching job, Alford realizes the demands at UCLA and is eager for the challenges.
“There’s always a transition period, but I’ve done that four times before, so I feel confident and ready to go,” Alford said. “We were able to spend time on the floor this summer for individual workouts, and our guys have been able to see us in our developmental phase. We want them to feel comfortable and enjoy how we are teaching them the game of basketball and our style of play.”
UCLA looks to defend its Pac-12 Conference regular-season title, having gone 25-10 last season with a 13-5 mark in Pac-12 action. Three of UCLA’s five starters from last year’s roster are back, and six of the team’s primary eight contributors have also returned. The Bruins must supplant the losses of swingman Shabazz Muhammad (17.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Larry Drew II (7.5 ppg, 7.3 apg). Muhammad was the No. 14 overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft as a freshman, and Drew II graduated with his degree in history in June 2013.
The Bruins’ backcourt was fueled by fifth-year senior Larry Drew II last season, and UCLA will look to several of its underclassmen to assume that role this year. Two of UCLA’s most pivotal backcourt weapons are back in sophomores Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams.
UCLA will be able to rely on Anderson, who has the ability to man the point guard position, and freshmen Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine to help run the offense. Replacing Drew II will be no easy task, as the former transfer from North Carolina capped his senior season at UCLA by setting the school’s single-season assist record (256). Anderson emerged as one of the conference’s most versatile players last season, finishing his freshman campaign as the Bruins’ leading rebounder (8.6 rpg) and UCLA’s fourth-leading scorer (9.7 ppg). The 6-foot-9 product of Fairview, N.J., was the only Pac-12 player to rank among the conference’s top 10 leaders in both rebounds and assists (3.5 apg).
“Kyle can play any of four positions, and we’ll rely on him to play any of the three guard positions,” Steve Alford said. “He’s one of our best rebounders, so we also plan to play him at the four. He has a tremendous feel for the game, and there will be a lot of versatility in how we use Kyle.”
Alford and LaVine both had sensational high school careers, securing 2013 PARADE All-America acclaim, and each player is expected to earn minutes from the start as freshmen. LaVine, a 6-foot-5 guard from Seattle, Wash., captured 2013 Associated Press Player of the Year honors from the state of Washington after averaging 28.5 points and 3.4 rebounds per game during his senior season. Alford was named the state of New Mexico’s 2013 Gatorade Player of the Year, having registered 37.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game as a senior.
“In our freshmen class, both Bryce and Zach can play that position,” Coach Alford said. “We typically don’t label guys as strictly a point guard, or a shooting guard, but both of these guys have the ability to play at those guard positions. We want to take their skill sets and see how we can best use them in our system.”
Adams, a 6-foot-5 guard from Atlanta, established himself as one of the Bruins’ most reliable and consistent players one year ago. Not only was he among the team’s most potent three-point threats (30.7 percent), but he finished his freshman season ranking third among Pac-12 players in free throw percentage (84.3 percent). Adams enters his sophomore campaign as the team’s top returning scorer (15.3 ppg) and is fully healed from a broken right foot he sustained on the final play in a Pac-12 Tournament semifinal win over Arizona (March 15).
“Jordan has a very high basketball IQ, and we are very excited with the progress he made over the summer,” Alford said. “Our medical staff was very cautious during his recovery, and we’re really excited to see Jordan back out there when the season begins. He’s a young and dynamic scorer who will be a major factor for us.”
Junior Norman Powell was one of three players to compete in all 35 contests last season and averaged 6.1 points and 2.2 rebounds off the bench. He established himself as one of UCLA’s lockdown defenders during his sophomore campaign and scored in double figures in seven games. Powell is expected to factor heavily in UCLA’s backcourt with the losses of Drew II and Muhammad.
“Our team has the ability to use a very big lineup when you talk about Norman being in there with Jordan and Kyle,” Alford said. “Norman is an extremely athletic individual and he’s got two years of experience of playing in the Pac-12 against a very high level of competition. He can certainly be a force for us at the shooting guard and swing guard positions.”
Also in the equation in UCLA’s backcourt are freshmen Noah Allen and Isaac Hamilton. Allen, a 6-foot-6 guard from Pacific Grove, Calif., missed the majority of his senior season with a hand injury but spent the summer in Westwood and provides UCLA another option off the bench. Hamilton, a 6-foot-5 product from nearby St. John Bosco High School (Bellflower, Calif.), could also become a factor for the Bruins.
Senior 6-foot-10 twin brothers David and Travis Wear return as two of the Pac-12 Conference’s most experienced frontcourt players. David and Travis, hailing from nearby Huntington Beach, Calif., have each played in over 90 collegiate games, spanning two seasons at UCLA and one freshman year at North Carolina. Travis has averaged over 10.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game in each of two seasons with UCLA. Last year, he ranked third on the team with 10.9 points per game and logged a team-best 49.3 percent field goal percentage. David (7.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg) led UCLA with 6.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore, finishing fourth in that category (5.0 rpg) last season.
In addition to being able to crash the boards, David and Travis have developed a strong knack for hitting the outside shot. Travis scored a career-high 23 points in a 78-75 win at Colorado last season, including a stretch of nine consecutive points in the final 10 minutes, mostly from near the perimeter. David enters his senior season as a 41.1 percent three-point shooter in three college seasons.
Sophomore Tony Parker will take on a greater role as a forward and center for the Bruins in 2013-14, having played in 33 of the team’s 35 games last season. The former McDonald’s All-America selection from Atlanta, Ga., averaged 2.4 points and 1.2 rebounds in 6.3 minutes per game as a freshman. He dedicated himself to the weight room in the offseason and lost nearly 25 pounds. The Bruins are confident that Parker’s offseason conditioning will help the sophomore reach his potential this season.
Freshman Wanaah Bail will provide another frontcourt option. The 6-foot-9 product from Houston enrolled at UCLA in the summer and spent the preseason recovering from left knee surgery performed June 28, 2013.
“We are really going to value the contributions of the Wear twins and Tony, because that’s one position where we don’t have a ton of depth,” Alford said. “The Wears are both very polished players who will be vital to our success. Tony had a tremendous summer and I know he’s motivated to get on the court and show us that he can be an impact player.”
UCLA will also be able to rely on the versatile Anderson to bolster the team’s frontcourt. With the presence of David and Travis Wear, Anderson and Parker, the Bruins have returned 78 percent of their total rebounding production from last season and 89 percent of their blocked shots. As a team, UCLA finished fifth in the conference in rebounding, while Anderson was the Pac-12 sixth-best rebounder in 2012-13.