UCLA basketball’s Jaylen Hands has declared for the NBA Draft, and because of the state of the program, Steve Alford needs to do everything he can to keep the point guard in Westwood one more season, because his job may depend on it.
The UCLA basketball team is in an interesting position. On one hand, the Bruins could be much improved next season as they get an influx of talent and depth with their in-coming freshmen class as well as much needed help from the re-instatement of the suspended big men, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill.
On the other hand, fans have not been pleased with the inconsistent performance of their beloved program under the direction of head coach Steve Alford. In addition to this, though the Bruins bring in the #3 recruiting class in the country, they could very well do even worse than last season as they do not have a de facto leader as they lose key veterans which include Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welsh and Gyorgy Goloman.
This is why it is important for Alford to convince sophomore-to-be Jaylen Hands to stay one more season Last week, Hands announced that he is declaring for the NBA Draft, though he will not hire an agent and will simply “test the waters”. But there might be a little more behind this.
There have been rumblings that Hands and Alford have not seen eye-to-eye, especially in the later part of this past season. This sentiment was partially confirmed on the Bruin Report Online podcast last week. Host Tracy Pierson stated that, “we had heard that Alford would have liked [Hands] to move on from the program, we will put it that way.”
If this is true, then Alford is putting another nail in his own coffin. This is a bad move as it could have negative effects on recruiting, especially with point guards (something Alford did not navigate well in the years his son Bryce Alford was on the team, favoring him as the starting PG though he did not have the skill set for that position).
But even more damning is that Alford is potentially just going to let talent and depth walk right out the door, both of which the Bruins are in desperate need of. It also does not help that the Bruins’ second highest scorer, Kris Wilkes, also declared for the draft (like Hands, he is going in without an agent to “test the waters”).
Additionally, Alford is letting a potential leader walk and leadership is something the Bruins are in need of even more than talent and depth. If Hands goes, then in-coming freshman Tyger Campbell will be the only PG on the roster. Though Campbell is an excellent ball handler and distributor, he does not exactly have the skills of the last two starting floor generals, Holiday and Lonzo Ball (who helped transform the Bruins during the 2016-17 season).
With that in mind, Ball and Holiday had help with PG duties. If Hands leaves, Campbell will have no help at the 1 spot. Leaving the ball in the hands of a college freshman, with no backup, is going to be a tough hurdle to overcome, especially in late-game situations and, more importantly, in late-season situations.
This is why Alford needs to swallow his pride (if there actually is a rift) and work with Hands. Not only does the point guard need another year to improve his skills for the NBA, but he could get valuable experience as the leader of the most storied program in college basketball history, which would prepare him mentally for the pros.
With all the controversy surrounding Alford, next year is definitely make-or-break. If he does not expand on his 21-12 finish from last season, he will most likely not survive the 2019 off-season. Even if it is for just one season, Alford and Hands could potentially do some serious damage, especially in the slumping Pac-12, but that depends on how badly they both want to win… or have a job.