Alford: Landing local kids top priority at UCLA

Style of play is great and yet, may be one of the most overrated aspects when it comes to selecting a coach.

Nobody cares about style if you’re winning, and it can’t happen at the college level unless recruiting is a top priority.

UCLA director of athletics Dan Guerrero spoke
about the up-tempo style of play Steve Alford will be bringing with him
to Westwood from New Mexico in what Guerrero deemed the
“perfect fit” for his basketball program.

In reality, the Lobos were 145 spots behind UCLA this past season in points per game — and 221st in the country in adjusted tempo.

Translation: Alford-led team’s are not as fun and gun as we’ve been led to believe.

“I
have been so fortunate and blessed in my life, and an opportunity to
lead one of the greatest programs in college basketball history is a
once-in-a-lifetime,” said Alford in a statement. “It’s an honor to be
the head coach at UCLA, yet it is also a responsibility to ensure that
our former, current and future players and fans are proud to be Bruins.”

Alford agreed to a seven-year deal worth $18.2 million, with a yearly
salary of $2.6 million, according to Guerrero. He will receive a
$200,000 signing bonus and will be formally introduced to the L.A. media at a news conference on campus Tuesday.

See how social media reacted to the news.

Alford spent the last six seasons at New Mexico, where he guided the
Lobos to three NCAA tournament appearances. This past season, the Lobos
finished 29-6 and won the Mountain West regular-season and conference
tournament championships before being ousted by Harvard in the second
round of the NCAA tournament.

Before the start of the tourney,
New Mexico announced Alford signed a 10-year extension to remain in
Albuquerque, a deal worth more than $20 million.

Now he’s off to bigger and brighter things at UCLA.

What Alford has already done is shown the ability
to recruit Southern California, something that was lost on former UCLA head
coach Ben Howland towards the end of his tenure.

There were five players on his roster at New Mexico
in the past season that hailed from Southern California while UCLA had four
scholarship players from SoCal. Three of those players – Larry Drew II,
David Wear, and Travis Wear – are transfers
from North Carolina. Norman Powell is the other, a San
Diego native.

“Obviously, the recruiting in Southern California
is the utmost important because of the talent there,” Alford said. “I’ve
always believed that if you can keep talent close to home, great
talent, that’s always going to be a positive.

“Our recruiting efforts have been very good in California and I hope that that only continues.”

Howland pulled a
scholarship offer from the reigning Mountain West Conference Player of
the Year Kendall Williams, a Los Osos grad. 

Howland sang the praises of Arizona’s Solomon Hill
every time the teams met. Howland went on record saying it was a mistake
for jumping late on the recruitment of Colorado guard Spencer Dinwiddie.

Both played high school basketball in Los Angeles, and neither ended up at UCLA. Nor did another local, Derrick Williams, the
No. 2 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, who chose Arizona. Other NBAers,
Jordan Hamilton and Kawhi Leonard passed on Westwood as well.

And there’s reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year, Allen Crabbe, who’s at Cal.

Howland proved, over time that he couldn’t recruit
the area any longer. In an area as rich in talent as Los Angeles, that’s
a problem that needed to be addressed.

“If you don’t put a fence around your area and lock
it in than you’re just inviting other guys to come in and that’s kind
of what happen to UCLA the last few years,” said a former Division I
head coach. “Recruiting your local area is beyond
critical (for schools like UCLA).”

Alford’s former assistant Craig Neal was
instrumental in New Mexico’s efforts to recruit Southern California.
Neal is likely to be named the Alford’s successor in Albuquerque. For
that reason, it’s “critical” Alford has an L.A. guy on the
staff he assembles at UCLA, the source said.

Alford says his first recruiting job, going
forward, is making sure to he keeps the roster intact and make sure the
UCLA signees honor their pledge to the Bruins.

As far as the 2014 class goes, local players like
Stanley Johnson, Parker Jackson-Cartrwright (an Arizona commit), and
Jordan McLaughlin have to be a top priority for Alford and his staff.

“The best kids in L.A. can’t leave town,” the coach said. 

— The Associated Press contributed to this report