Since taking the head coaching position at UCLA last week, Steve Alford has had plenty of business to attend to. From his awkward introductory press conference to a late push on the recruiting trail, the Bruins’ new leader has been busy at work in Westwood.
But one thing Alford won’t have to worry about is his inherited team, which has begun to take shape as returning players reaffirm their commitments to UCLA.
After the Bruins fizzled out of March Madness and Ben Howland was shown the door, speculation ran rampant about the fate of the current roster. It’s generally accepted that Shabazz Muhammad has played his last game at Pauley Pavilion, but the decisions of Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker, Norman Powell and even Jordan Adams were all left up for debate.
Best case scenario, Alford has a squad loaded with depth and future NBA talent. And worst case, he’s scrambling for JUCO transfers just to fill out the bench. For obvious reasons, one of his top priorities was to solidify the status of UCLA’s 2012-2013 roster.
To the surprise of many, Anderson was actually the first domino to fall—and he made up his mind before Alford was even announced as Howland’s successor. The freshman from Fairview, N.J. had reportedly been considering skipping town for the NBA, but a projected second-round pick wasn’t a high enough ceiling to warrant it. Instead, Anderson will return to Westwood for his sophomore season, refine his game and (more likely than not) head to the pros next year.
The news was enormous for UCLA, as Anderson was the team’s leading rebounder, but it was only a piece of the puzzle. In order for Alford to have a chance at immediate success, the Bruins would need to band together. Thankfully for Alford, they’ve chosen to do just that.
Shortly after Alford was inked, several current players and some of Howland’s 2013 recruits re-upped their pledges to UCLA. Adams and Powell both clarified their intentions at Alford’s presser, while signees Noah Allen, Zach LaVine and Allerik Freeman all solidified their standings after speaking with the new coach.
Here’s the scoop on the three UCLA signees from Edward Lewis of Bruin Sports Report (Rivals):
Three-star #UCLA signee Noah Allen texted me saying he just spoke to Steve Alford and he’s “looking forward to playing for him” at UCLA.
— Edward Lewis (@EdwardLewisBSR) March 30, 2013
#UCLA four-star SG signee Zach LaVine texted me saying he just got off the phone with Steve Alford. He’s all in with the Bruins.
— Edward Lewis (@EdwardLewisBSR) March 31, 2013
Spoke with four-star #UCLA signee Allerik Freeman today. He reaffirmed to me that he’s 100 percent Bruin after Steve Alford’s hiring.
— Edward Lewis (@EdwardLewisBSR) April 4, 2013
The reaffirmation of those six players provides Alford with some stability as he prepares for his first season. There are certainly still roster deficiencies to cope with, primarily at center and point guard, but there’s at least some semblance of star power to work with in Adams and Anderson.
However, plenty of work is still left undone. A number of Bruins, including projected NBA lottery pick Muhammad, have yet to divulge their destinations. And while Shabazz seems a long shot to return to UCLA, the decision of fellow freshman Tony Parker has the potential to be huge for Alford and the Bruins.
According to reports, Parker has had mixed emotions regarding his future in Westwood and is still torn on the matter. Throughout the season, the 6’9″ center from Atlanta was stuck in Howland’s infamous doghouse, which left him disinterested on the bench and ineffective on the court. In January, Parker was asked whether or not he regretted coming to UCLA, to which he replied with a confounding “no comment.” Needless to say, no one would be surprised if Parker ends up transferring out, likely to a school closer to his home in Georgia.
I’m not here to pass judgment or make uninformed predictions about their choices, but Parker (and to a lesser extent Muhammad) could benefit from coming back to UCLA. Shabazz will be a high draft pick if he goes, but just the fact that he hasn’t officially declared yet is interesting. It wouldn’t kill him to take another year to develop his defense and display his toughness, which could in turn help his draft stock long term. For Parker, sticking with the Bruins would likely mean an increased role on the floor and in the huddle, as well as an opportunity to develop his skills under the brightest lights.
But even if Muhammad and Parker both take their leave, Alford has to be pleased with the group of players he is starting with at UCLA. Not only will he return three of the Bruins’ starters from this season, but he also adds a trio of freshmen eager to get on campus and compete for time. If he can lock up a couple more key additions or retentions, UCLA has a chance to contend for the Pac-12 in Alford’s first year.