Marching To Vegas: On UCLA and Lighting Someone Else’s Candle

Posted by Adam Butler on January 9th, 2015

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops will again be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference as we begin the March to Vegas.

It can’t not be discussed. I never went to journalism school – I studied Human Biology – but I have to think you should never start an article with a double negative. The conversation, however, has got to be had surrounding UCLA. It’s going on in many places, most notably Twitter, where panic is settling in and leaps are being made. It’s a bad look. The question, of course, is the job security of Steve Alford. Let’s first address the obvious: He’s under contract with a crazy buyout at a time in which UC schools are haggling every which way for money. Public relations aside, that’s a lofty price tag to rid yourself of a rushed hire in the wake of a less-than-adored coach. Of course, shelling out exorbitant amounts of money to salvage your athletic brand is not unprecedented. As recently as MICHIGAN it’s happened. The lure of I-don’t-know-exactly-what-but-equal-money-I-guess-kinda-talks drew Jim Harbaugh to his alma mater. The arguable issue, of course, is that there isn’t a lingering mega-alum waiting in UCLA wings.

I promise, that on the souls of my grandchildren, I will not be the one to break the peace we've made here today.

I promise, that on the souls of my grandchildren, I will not be the one to break the peace we’ve made here today.

And then, obvioulsly, the Bruins eke out a win against Stanford. Does that salvage their season? UCLA doesn’t have seasons. They have title runs or naught. This, if you weren’t aware, is not a year of the former. But did you expect it to be? If you did, you perhaps aren’t paying attention. In addressing his first season in Westwood, we were impressed with Alford’s adjustment to what he did with fantastic roster. They were fascinating, terrifying and unique. Alford got a lot out of them. Everything, really. Which climaxed with (just) a Sweet Sixteen. That isn’t bad; it’s in fact good; but it perhaps wasn’t indicative of things to come. The thing to come was not necessarily avoiding six-game losing streaks with double-overtime thrillers; but that’s where we find ourselves and that’s the conversations we can’t not avoid.

Did you know that Jon Octeus went to Purdue? He wasn’t allowed into UCLA and now he’s putting graduate work in as a Boilermaker. His numbers, in case you’re curious, read a little bit like this: 53 percent shooting, 8.4 points, 4.8 boards, 2.4 assists per game. Mix in about a steal per game and that’s a point guard of the true variety. Now look up and down that UCLA roster. I see three scoring guards, a creative wing-forward, and an offensively-focused big. Call me crazy but a facilitator might behoove this group. Octeus was denied admittance and I’m not entirely sure that’s Steve Alford’s fault. If depth is your issue with these Bruins, there’s another ineligible fellow – Jonah Bolden – who could’ve helped on those thin blocks.

But I’m not here to excuse UCLA as a disappointing group. They’ve played poorly. They’re not a particularly good team and wouldn’t we love to know who that lone voter was to give them a first-place Pac-12 vote? That’s neither here nor there. What’s here is a team devoid of two pieces it had prepared to have. They don’t have them. And now they’re set with a roster that doesn’t necessarily work perfectly together but does have the distinct advantage of being more talented than the other kids. Cohesiveness helps but so too does individual talent. There’s a reason Kevon Looney took advantage of a team – Stanford – short their powerful power forward. Reid Travis undoubtedly affects that game. Previously, against the likes of Xavier Johnson and everything that is Utah defensively, the freshman struggled. He opened Pac-12 play averaging a nice 7 and 7. For us, that’s just a delightful cocktail. For the Bruins, in a year of thinness, that’s devastating. Is it excusable? Sure. He’s a freshman on his first Pac-12 road trip competing against veterans. It subsequently left Bryce to take the only available shots – forced efforts – which he famously missed.

None of which, however, are grounds for the vitriol afforded to the streaky guard’s dad. Steve Alford should not yet be judged. In two years you might look back at this column and think what an idiot I am. You’re still wrong. Because a coach can’t be judged until he’s instituted his program. Have we not learned anything from the aforementioned Wolverines? A rash decision about Rich Rodriguez and quickly they found themselves in four years of decline. The Bruins’ decline began long before Ben Howland was relieved of his duties. Steve Alford simply stepped into the right situation at the right time for a year of success. Right now is sleeves-up time.

And maybe, in the whole conversation, Bill Walton is right. Think about this quote, on the progress of the UCLA Bruins, “They have to learn that when you light a candle you lose nothing by lighting someone else’s candle.” That’s all.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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