No. 16 UCLA unveils young roster vs. Pacific
UCLA is banking on young talent to turn its fortunes around while Pacific is counting on an experienced player with name value as head coach to resurrect its program.
The 16th-ranked Bruins, who are coming off a 15-17 season a year ago, host Pacific in the season-opening game for both teams on Friday. The Tigers, who finished 8-20 in 2015-16, have 13-year NBA veteran Damon Stoudamire at the helm, his first experience as a head coach.
UCLA coach Steve Alford, in his fourth season with the Bruins, recruited one of the best freshman classes in the nation that includes 6-foot-6 point guard Lonzo Ball, 6-10 power forward T.J. Leaf (who can extend to the perimeter) and 6-10 center Ike Anigbogu. Alford has indicated that Anigbogu was expected to miss at least three games at the start of the season with a torn meniscus in his right knee.
The influx of young talent matched with veterans such as senior guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton and junior forward Thomas Welsh has Alford confident that the Bruins will become relevant after missing the NCAA tournament last year. UCLA's losing record a year ago prompted Steve Alford to write an apologetic letter to fans in which he stated he returned to the school his one-year contract extension signed after the 2013-14 season.
“I don't think our team is concerned about what money I make or what money I give back,” Steve Alford said, referencing his letter. “I don't think that's an issue to our guys at all, so that part hasn't been talked about. It's about where that bar is.
“Coach (John) Wooden, whether it's me, guys before me or guys after me in the future, same with players that played for Coach Wooden and guys that are playing in Westwood now, that bar was raised a long time ago by a guy that won a bucket load of games and championships, and established something that quite honestly hasn't been established anywhere else in the country.”
Depth is not a concern for UCLA evidenced by guard Aaron Holiday, who started all 32 games last year as a freshman. He is projected to be the sixth man this season.
UCLA experimented with different lineups during a recent exhibition game against The Master's University, including a four-guard up-tempo version with Ball, Bryce Alford, Hamilton and Holiday.
“We have four very talented guards who know how to take care of the ball and know how to put the ball in the basket,” Steve Alford said.
Stoudamire, who has coaching experience as an assistant at Arizona (where he starred in college) and Memphis, is taking over a Pacific program that was in turmoil last season. Former coach Ron Verlin and an assistant were suspended for three months before being terminated in March in the midst of an NCAA investigation into allegations of academic misconduct.
The Tigers have a balanced lineup as they return 11 of their top 13 scorers from last season, including junior wing Ray Bowles (11.1 points per game) and senior guard T.J. Wallace (10.8). In an exhibition win over Bristol on Nov. 4, senior guard David Taylor had 19 points (including five 3-pointers) and junior forward Jacob Lampkin had 15.
Stoudamire, who was part of the UCLA-Arizona rivalry from 1991-95, has noted that the wealth of Pacific's returning players are buying into his coaching.
“If you have guys at the top of your team, your best players that are willing to be coachable, then that makes it easy for you as the head coach,” he said.