Steve Alford eager to dive in at UCLA

LOS ANGELES -- Steve Alford stood near midcourt at Pauley Pavilion, near the UCLA logo at center court, flanked by UCLA cheerleaders, wearing UCLA colors in his tie and standing directly in front of a UCLA backdrop.

Alford, introduced as the 13th basketball coach in UCLA history, stood directly below some of the 11 NCAA championship banners hanging from the rafters in Pauley. Those banners -- more than any other school in the country -- symbolize the history and tradition at UCLA and the expectations.

Alford, who comes to UCLA after six years at New Mexico, said he's ready to take on the challenges at UCLA.

"I understand expectations here," Alford said. "You have to live it first, though, and I understand that, too. It's just not something I can say. But I've been in basketball a long time, and nobody is more of a competitor than I am. I love to compete, and hopefully our teams are going to embody those types of traits."

That's a hurdle for down the line, however. The more immediate concerns for Alford include assembling a coaching staff, meeting with the players and recruiting to fill open scholarships for next season.

Alford said he already has hired Duane Broussard, a New Mexico assistant for the past 10 years, and was planning on announcing some more staff additions within the next 24 to 48 hours. He said he was going to meet with the members of former coach Ben Howland's former staff.

Alford has been in contact via phone with UCLA players and was scheduled to meet with them Tuesday. He said he did not yet know official plans for the future for any of them, but guard Norman Powell said he was planning on staying and that as far as he knew, nobody was going to transfer.

"They're really excited to see what Coach expects out of us," Powell said. "I'm sure everybody is coming back. I haven't heard any news or rumors going around about everybody transferring."

Powell, in fact, said the firing of Howland and the hiring of Alford kept him from exploring the option of transferring.

"I felt like my decision was based on if Coach Howland was going to be here or if he wasn't going to be here," Powell said.

Keeping the roster intact is one thing, but filling out the rest of the roster is another. UCLA has three players signed for the incoming freshman class -- Zach LaVine, Allerik Freeman and Noah Allen. Alford's son, Bryce, also is coming, and the Bruins have the No. 20 class in the nation. Alford will need to make sure all those players are still on board, as well as fill the spot left vacant by Larry Drew II and the spot presumed to be vacant when Shabazz Muhammad officially declares he is leaving for the NBA.

Alford, who had success in recruiting Southern California while at New Mexico, said he had to "hit the ground running" on the recruiting trail. The spring signing period begins April 17.

"We've got a lot of work to do in that regard," Alford said. "We've got scholarships available, so we've got to get busy here recruiting."

Alford also has to get busy figuring out a way to fill Pauley Pavilion. He talked a lot about how his high school team played in front of 10,000 fans and New Mexico over the past few years has routinely sold out its 15,411-seat arena. But those teams played in small towns with little competition for fan support.

In Los Angeles, the Bruins compete against the Lakers and Clippers, as well as beaches, world-class shopping and numerous other entertainment options. UCLA averaged 9,549 people per game and had only seven crowds of 10,000 or more in its newly refurbished 13,000-seat Pauley Pavilion this season, meaning one of Alford's biggest challenges is giving area fans a reason to suffer the notorious West L.A. traffic to attend a UCLA game.

"It's our job to put a good product out there and fans will come," Alford said. "If they see a good product, a good style, fans will come. This is a special place. They won't come if you don't have a good product, so our immediate concerns are that we make sure we put a very good product on the floor."

The product at UCLA has been good in the past, and various reminders of that were in Pauley on Tuesday. Former players such as Michael Warren, Gerald Madkins, Marques Johnson, Tobey Bailey and Tyus Edney were among those in attendance at Alford's introductory news conference. A school that also produced legends such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes and current stars Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison is dripping with expectations.

It's something for which Alford said he has prepared his whole life. He grew up in Indiana not far from where John Wooden began his coaching career. He played in college at Indiana, where he won a national title under Bobby Knight, and won an Olympic gold medal in 1984. He spent 22 years coaching at Manchester, Southwest Missouri State, Iowa and New Mexico.

That path led him to UCLA -- "the premier basketball school in the country," he said -- where he stood Tuesday on the court that bears Wooden's name inside one of the most revered college basketball arenas in the country. He said his whole career had led him to this moment and was confident he could deliver on the high expectations, despite a career that includes only one Sweet 16 appearance.

"All you have to do is walk Bruin Walk or through Pauley and you get to see what is expected here," Alford said. "You get to see the high level of excellence that comes with this basketball job. I've prepared myself for it, my staff will be prepared and we will prepare our young men."