|ESPN.com: Dick Vitale||[Print without images]|
|Steve Alford (right) was hired as UCLA's head coach in March, following a six-year run at New Mexico.|
UCLA basketball is now in the hands of Steve Alford.
The former New Mexico coach left Albuquerque under some controversy. There was the issue of leaving the Lobos despite agreeing to a new 10-year deal. There were Bruins fans who were not thrilled with the hire, either.
Let me set the record straight. He has always been a fierce competitor. I have known him for many years. I remember when he played for The General, Robert Montgomery Knight, at Indiana.
Alford worked hard to become a better player. He never settled for being second-best, working on his shot and learning to play within the Indiana system. He became a first-team All-American and helped the Hoosiers win a national championship in 1987.
After a brief NBA career, Alford moved into coaching. He started as an assistant with his dad at Manchester College in Indiana, eventually taking over. Then he ultimately moved on to Southwest Missouri State, leading the Bears to the Sweet 16. Next up was Iowa, where he had good moments and bad moments. He left Iowa with some fans feeling bitterness as they did not appreciate him. It is never easy to make everyone happy.
At New Mexico, he had The Pit rocking as the Lobos made some noise. Alford led them to great success. This season ended with a stunning loss to Harvard in the Big Dance. Failing to win in the NCAA tournament did not sit well in Lobos country, but the overall season was a success. That is what happens in a one-and-done scenario.
Now the big question is, can he deliver at UCLA? The Bruins' search got a few rejections and then ended with Alford. This job is not what it used to be.
There were just seven out of 18 regular-season home games in excess of 10,000 last season at the renovated Pauley Pavilion. If UCLA is an elite program, where are the fans? They are out watching the Clippers or Lakers, or dealing with the entertainment world. There are so many things to do out there.
The UCLA crowd wants to see a banner hanging up. It is that simple. They have never moved past the success of John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood. As special as Wooden was, that has put pressure on the coaches who followed him over the years.
Alford will have a challenge because the Pac-12 is not cupcake city, baby! Arizona is going to have a very good team with Nick Johnson in the backcourt and the addition of Aaron Gordon. Oregon has its backcourt returning and the Ducks will be tough as that duo moves into their sophomore seasons. Arizona State has some returning talent. Washington will be better with a healthy C.J. Wilcox. And don't look past the likes of Stanford and Colorado.
Alford has always been up to the test. I know that he will give every ounce he has to bring a winner to the Westwood campus.