The RTC Interview Series: One on One with Steve AlfordPosted by WCarey on August 19th, 2013
Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at email@example.com.
The great history and tradition of UCLA basketball hit some bumps over the past couple of seasons, so after an embarrassing loss to Minnesota in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Bruins athletic director Dan Guerrero and the school’s administration decided to make a coaching change. Just six days after Ben Howland was relieved of his duties as the head coach, the school announced that it had reached an agreement with then-New Mexico coach Steve Alford to take over the reins of the program in Westwood. Alford is what one would call a basketball lifer. Growing up as the son of a high school coach, he was always around the game which helped him develop into one of the best players in Indiana high school history. Following an illustrious prep career, Alford went on to play at Indiana where he was the team MVP for all four of his seasons in Bloomington under Bob Knight and a star as a consensus 1st team All-American on the 1987 National Championship team. After a four season NBA career, Alford began a coaching career that has seen him make stops at Division III Manchester College, Missouri State, Iowa, and New Mexico. With a 463-235 career record and seven NCAA Tournament appearances under his belt, Alford and his style of basketball were just too attractive for UCLA to pass up in its coaching search. After speaking with the new USC coach Andy Enfield last week, RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking to the other new coach on the Los Angeles college basketball scene — UCLA coach Steve Alford — about his career, his new team at UCLA, and his outlook on the future of Bruins basketball.
Rush the Court: You accepted the UCLA job on March 30. How has the transition to the new job been and what have you been able to accomplish since that date
Steve Alford: We have just hit the ground running. When you go from having a real experienced team coming back at New Mexico – probably my best team. We were not going to have to do a whole lot of recruiting of the team and the classes in the future because we had everything in line with guys coming back and those type of things. It looked like it was going to be a casual offseason, but all of a sudden you make the transition and you start recruiting not just the 2014 class, but you also start recruiting your current team because they do not know you and they do not know your staff. We may have spent more time with our current team than anywhere else. We needed to go in and build that trust – and that takes time. I think over the last four months it has been a balance of all of us as families making a move to the Los Angeles area and that is transition, building trust and recruiting the players on the UCLA team, and getting a move on recruiting the 2014 and 2015 classes.
RTC: UCLA’s history and tradition is arguably the best in college basketball. How much was that a factor in you deciding to make the move to Westwood?
Alford: Probably a lot. It is not just the tradition, but what UCLA stands for as an institution. I have been here four months and no matter what building you walk into or what people you bump into – whether they be administrators, faculty members, students, athletes, or coaches – the whole campus just embodies excellence. The ability to come to a place where excellence is stressed in training, preparation, and taking care of the student-athletes (both academically and athletically) to prepare for an incredible future was very, very intriguing. Additionally, growing up in the state of Indiana and I was obviously a huge Indiana fan because of Coach Knight, but I also had an incredible understanding of John Wooden and the four letters of UCLA, which exposed me to their history and tradition. Growing up in Indiana, the two programs I followed the closest were probably Indiana and UCLA.
RTC: The Pac-12 experienced a bit of a revival as a basketball conference last season. What is it about the conference that excites you as you near the beginning of your inaugural season?
Alford: It looks like the league is going to be up again. There was probably a downturn within the league three or four years ago, but it is on an upswing and there have been a lot of positives that have contributed to that. There has been an influx of new coaches who have come in with new ideas and new styles, two new members (Colorado and Utah) joining the league, and a television deal that was much needed, extremely impressive, and helps everyone in the league as it brings attention to the west. I just think there is a renewed enthusiasm throughout the Pac-12 and I believe that bodes well for a very exciting, very competitive, and very balanced basketball league.
RTC: Los Angeles is unquestionably a hotbed for basketball recruiting. Will your recruiting strategy be to control Los Angeles and California or will it be more of a national approach?
Alford: I think you are going to see both. UCLA has always been able to recruit California well and it has always been able to recruit nationally. There are a lot of players in California and recruiting the state is going to be extremely important and vital. We have been doing that for the last six years, as a lot of the success we were able to have at New Mexico was in large part due to the kids from California who came down to Albuquerque to play for us. It helps that we have been in the state. Obviously now being at UCLA, staying in the state and getting kids from Los Angeles and all over California will be a high priority.
RTC: You have assembled a staff (assistants Duane Broussard, David Grace, and Ed Schilling) with some impressive playing and coaching experience. What excites you about each coach and what they bring to the equation for the Bruins?
Alford: Coach Broussard is someone who has been with me for the last five years. What excites me about Duane is that he knows me, he is very loyal, he is somebody that understands exactly what I want, and he is a great instructor on the court. Coach Schilling is someone I have known for a very long time. He has been a friend of mine dating back to the early childhood days. He was the son of a coach in Indiana, just as I was. He has put together a quality coaching career himself. He was an assistant for John Calipari at Massachusetts, Memphis, and with the New Jersey Nets. He has been a head coach at both the high school level – at Park Tudor in Indianapolis – and at the collegiate level – at Wright State. He can really relate to guys and is tremendous with skill development, which has always been a big key within our program. Coach Grace is someone who has Pac-12 experience (he served as an assistant at Oregon State from 2009-13). He is a great disciplinarian. He can really relate to recruits and we are able to organize our recruiting based on that. He brings some really great knowledge to our staff because of the Pac-12 experience that he has had.
RTC: Attendance has lagged at Pauley Pavilion over the past few seasons. How do you plan to galvanize the fan base and once again make Pauley one of the toughest places to play in the country?
Alford: There is so much tradition in that building.With the renovations a year ago, it is state-of-art and beautiful. It is one of the nicest looking arenas in the country. With all the tradition, we need to look at our lettermen. We have the best lettermen in the country when you look at what they went on to do outside of their UCLA experience. Engaging the lettermen, getting them really involved in the program, and showing appreciation of what they have established here will be a great way of establishing a connection between the past and the future. We will reach out to our students and let them know how great of an experience it is to come out to Pauley for two hours and watch fun, exciting basketball. Hopefully that fun and exciting basketball will lead to winning basketball. Winning always brings about a more exciting atmosphere and hopefully we can do that sooner rather than later. When there is fun on the court, that usually breeds fun in the stands. When kids are not having fun on the court, the entertainment value drops. We want our guys to work hard and have fun out there because that will be entertaining for our fans to watch.
RTC: Before coming to UCLA, you had successful tenures at Division III Manchester College, Missouri State, Iowa, and New Mexico. What lessons did you learn at each job that have made you a stronger coach as you begin your new opportunity?
Alford: I do not know if it is individual stuff, but being at all those stops has taught me a great deal. Being at the Division III level at Manchester, you do not have TV and radio shows. I actually began producing a local TV show there in the Fort Wayne market just to promote the college and get some experience with that. I did that not knowing that one day I would eventually move to the Division I level, but then going to Missouri State where I was dealing with the media a little bit more made that experience quite valuable. Missouri State was a very good job and the Missouri Valley Conference was a very good league to be in. At the age of 32, going to Iowa and being in the Big Ten was a nice challenge. Being in a conference with some of the great coaches in the country and going head-to-head with them was a great experience. Going to Albuquerque and taking the job at New Mexico provided a different challenge with playing in the Mountain West Conference. I think each job provided different things – just through experiences – and that helped me. I am 23 years into my career now and I have had a lot of experiences. I hope those experiences have taught me and prepared me to set me up for success here at UCLA.
RTC: How much of an impact did playing for Bob Knight at Indiana have on you becoming a coach and how much of a benefit have you drawn during your coaching career from what you learned from him in your playing days?
Alford: I think Coach Knight’s impact was huge. He was the best in the game. Growing up with my father in a basketball home and getting to play four years for him in high school in New Castle, Indiana, was great. He taught me the game, he taught me to compete, he taught me the passion, and he taught me the fundamental base. I had a very good skill base going off to Indiana because of the training my father instilled in me. I was very fortunate to grow up with him and play under him. Then to go off to Indiana and play for Coach Knight, my learning curve in basketball just became a lot more in-depth. Coach Knight just taught me so many things – the use of film, breaking down film, how to use that resource as a player, and the nuances of organizing a team. Breaking down film has been a great asset to me as a coach because our guys come in and use that to get better each day. When it comes to organizing a team, Coach Knight taught me how you have to mold the team that comes in to begin practice in October and get them better every month. He also taught me the value of being extremely prepared and to never go into a practice or a game where the players do not seem to be ready to go into battle. These are all the things that Coach Knight really, really taught me and having him as a friend now to this day, as someone I can call and get advice from is something I will always appreciate.
RTC: Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams both made a pretty significant impact for the Bruins in their freshman seasons. What have you seen thus far from both players and what can we expect from them this season?
Alford: They are both terrific players and terrific people. They understand teamwork and unselfishness, but they also know they are premier players in our program. Kyle Anderson is very long. He has great size to him at about 6’8″ with a seven-foot wingspan. He uses that length very well. He can score in a variety of ways and is a great rebounding guard. Jordan Adams gives us a shooting guard that really has a great basketball IQ. He really understands how to move without the ball and the importance of taking good shots. As a ball handler, he really works hard to gets his teammates good looks. I think both of them – even though they are both very young still – have a chance to really anchor our defense, as they are both very good defenders.
RTC: Tony Parker was a much-balleyhooed recruit when he arrived in Westwood, but during his freshman season, he struggled with injuries and inconsistency throughout much of the year. How have you seen him progress and can he be counted on to be a force in the middle for the team?
Alford: Tony Parker is a guy we are going to count on inside. He has done a great job for us. He has lost about 22 pounds in the last three and a half months. He is really working hard in the weight room and is taking a tremendous interest in the game and getting himself better. He has developed into a very confident individual and I think that is due to the weight loss. His body fat is being reduced each week. I believe he is just done a fantastic job in physically and mentally preparing himself to be ready for the season. We think he is very capable of being a very formidable force for us in the middle on both ends of the court.
RTC: David and Travis Wear are the grizzled veterans in the program (both are fifth-year seniors), so to speak. How beneficial is their experience to the team and how significant of a leadership role do you expect them to take on?
Alford: We need both of them to be leaders for us. Whenever you can have fifth-year seniors in your program, it is a positive. A fifth-year senior is not something that happens in college basketball very much anymore because it seems like everyone is in such a hurry to leave. Both David and Travis are very talented. They are both 6’10″ and have good size at around 235 or 240 pounds. They can run the floor very well, shoot the ball from the perimeter, and have the ability to put the ball on the floor and go to the rim. When you combine their abilities with their experience, we are going to lean on them as leaders. Outside of those two and (junior guard) Norman Powell, we still have a very young team.
RTC: When perusing the UCLA roster, one will notice that both your sons Kory (a redshirt sophomore guard) and Bryce (a freshman guard) are on the team. How special is it to be able to coach your sons at this high of a level in a game that has been synonymous with the Alford family for so many years?
Alford: It is a total blessing. I feel very blessed to have the opportunity. I feel blessed and honored that my sons want to play in our system and play for me. Kory is a walk-on and he really wants to get into coaching. To have the experience of two years at New Mexico where we won two regular season titles, two conference tournaments, and made the NCAA Tournament twice was great for him. Now, coming with me to UCLA, he has the benefit of learning an entire different program and an entire different league. These experiences will be great for him as he is learning to get in the coaching profession. Bryce comes in at UCLA with an opportunity to play and be an integral part of what we are trying to accomplish here. It is a lot of fun and very exciting for him. We are a unique team in that we have two sets of brothers with the Wear twins and my sons. To have that in sports is extremely rare.
RTC: Lastly, what is the most important thing you are trying to accomplish in your first season at UCLA?
Alford: We want to set in stone who we are. We want to show that our makeup is a team of character, a team of high integrity, a team that is going to work very hard and compete on every possession, a team that will be prepared, and a team that will play an exciting style of basketball. Offensively, we want to be an up-tempo team that gets out and scores the basketball. Defensively, we want to be very tough to score against and have a reputation as a great rebounding team. Obviously, we want our guys to also represent the academic side. We want them to represent the UCLA on the front of their uniform and to take that as a huge responsibility from day one. I know this is a lot, but these are things we want to instill early in our program here.