Some of the nation’s top basketball prospects in the classes of 2014 and 2015 convened in Garden Grove last weekend for the Nike EYBL AAU tournament.
In attendance to watch the top players was a who’s who of college coaches: Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Jim Boeheim, John Calipari.
And then there was Los Angeles’ new coaches, USC’s Andy Enfield and UCLA’s Steve Alford.
It’s safe to say the receptions in their tenures, albeit short, have gone in different directions.
Neither has coached a game for their new school but in early post-hiring evaluations, USC has jumped out to an early lead.
USC athletic director Pat Haden has been applauded for his hiring of Enfield. The consensus is he took his time and got the right guy. Across town the same hasn’t been said for UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero.
Alford’s hiring was received with questions upon questions. Some have even questioned if Guerrero had any knowledge of the Pierre Pierce saga under Alford’s leadership at Iowa. More on that in a bit.
Let’s start with the introductory press conferences. Enfield was engaging, funny, candid, talked about his plan for USC going forward and took the time to speak about his ex-model for a wife.
Shaquille O’Neal made a cameo at Alford’s press conference. Aside from that it was pretty ho-hum.
Former Westchester High School star, Tony Bland, is considered to be one of the best recruiters on the west coast. He’d been able to make a name for himself under Steve Fisher at San Diego State in just two seasons at his alma mater.
Bland was able to lure top prospects such as Winston Shepard, a five-star recruit, and Skylar Spencer. He’s also responsible for getting 2013 four-star forward Dakarai Allen to sign a National Letter of Intent with the Mountain West school.
UCLA didn’t even offer him a position, according to sources. He’ll be the associate head coach under Enfield. Also on Enfield’s staff is former NBA star Jason Hart, another local guy who played at Westchester and Inglewood High Schools. He was the head coach at Taft High School in Woodland Hills and most recently an assistant at Pepperdine.
Over the next couple of years, there is going to be a plethora of talent coming out of the Los Angeles area. As is always the case in the world of recruiting, you want to make sure those players stay home.
Alford’s staff is composed of Duane Broussard, an assistant of Alford’s at New Mexico who has ties to the Inland Empire, Ed Schilling who reportedly has plenty of Midwest ties, and David Grace who was responsible for getting Jared Cunningham among others to Oregon State.
Grace was also contacted by Enfield at USC, but none of the UCLA assistants are Los Angeles guys.
There’s the thought that if you can recruit, you can recruit and a name like UCLA is supposed to be able to sell itself.
There was a difference of opinions among those on the AAU circuit contacted by FOXSportsWest.com.
“At the end of the day, it’s about who can recruit and who can get kids so whether you’re from here or not, I know that that helps in the long run and it could help to relate to some local kids,” one coach said said. “You can be from New York. If you can still relate to kids here in L.A. and recruit them, it doesn’t matter.
“I think it is going to hurt (UCLA) not having L.A. guys,” another coach said said. “They can relate better to the kids growing up, going through the ranks in the L.A. area, so they have the upper hand on all the major kids now.
“USC has an upper hand on all of the kids UCLA is trying to get at this point.”
Which brings us back to the Pierce scandal. Question No. 2 in Alford’s introductory press conference was about how he handled that situation. His reply was that he was just doing what the University of Iowa told him to do at the time.
That response wasn’t received very well at all, causing an outpouring of negative press. Alford became national news for the wrong reasons.
Nine days later Guerrero and Alford came out with a joint statement with a 180-degree stance taken by the UCLA head coach.
Alford said his comments in 2002 were “inappropriate” and “insensitive” during a time in which he “instinctively and mistakenly came to (Pierce’s) defense before knowing all the facts.”
It was a response that was expected at the press conference –not nine days later –and came across as the opposite of genuine.
However, the PR hit UCLA took may not affect recruiting. There was one recruit that said he didn’t even know about the Alford/Pierce situation. The affect that has on his recruiting remains to be seen.
The Compton Magic AAU club told CBSSports.com that Alford would have access to all of their players. That was a bridge that was apparently burned under former head coach Ben Howland.
So, is the reality of the Alford hire, in particular, as bad as the perception? Will Alford be able to get enough high level players to come to UCLA despite all of the negative press thrown his way since being hired? Does it even matter?
“I think, particularly in this L.A. basketball community, once one thing is put out there I think that spreads like wildfires and then you have to undo all of that when you try to recruit a kid,” Coach 1 said. “So, I think it does matter.”
“It’s a small community. Kids, coaches, and stuff, they talk,” the second coach added.
With that being said, UCLA appears to be behind the 8-ball with a lot of making up to do.