Culver City Observer -

UCLA's Two Tournament Wins Salvage Some Credibility

 

By Mitch Chortkoff

Sports Editor

When John Wooden was coaching 10 UCLA basketball teams to national championships there was no ESPN.

Times have certainly changed. Now the schools best identified with the network rule college baskrtball. The conferences that have Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky etcetra have a big advantage in recruiting.

High school stars want to be seen nationally, getting the exposure that will help them be recognized by NBA teams.

That's the reality of the situation.

Steve Alford, the UCLA coach, has to work with this disadvantage. This season he had a team with a pretty good starting five but very poor depth.

Three of his underclassmen from last season elected to into the NBA draft.

Imagine if he had those three players this season to round out his rotation how much better the Bruins could have been.

But undermanned UCLA barely made it into the NCAA Tournament, let alone dominate it.

Many experts believed UCLA wouldn't merit an invitation, but the Bruins got in as a No. 11 seed.

This is where Alford and his players turned a dismal season into a respectable one.

They won their first round game on a controversial goaltending call, then added another victory. But that was the end because their Sweet 16 opponent was a far superior Gonzaga team.

Kevin Looney was UCLA's best player. He was a freshman but he's being projected as a first round NBA draft choice so he may leave.

Tony Parker was a coveted recruit three years ago but struggled through three seasons as a Bruin, only occasionally living up to expectations.

Bryce Alford, the coach's son, was an outstanding three-point shooter who I developing nicely.

But coach Alford needs help if the Bruins are going to be better next season.

UCLA, in the Wooden era, often landed the best high school player in Southern Califonia. That's no cinch anymore. Stanley Johnson, a 6-7, 240-pound forward from Mater Dei High, was the best here a year ago but he chose Arizona and was a star this season as a freshman. Arizona and Utah were the best teams in the Pac-12 Conference.

Now I'm hearing a 6-10 center from Beverly Hills High, one of Southern California's best, is heading to Arizona too.

Another quality big man, who was at Lawndale High this season, is going to USC and his big man teammate is going to San Diego State.

UCLA does have former Loyola High star Thomas Welch, who was a reserve this season and he may develop into a key Bruin next season.

But it certainly isn't like in the past when players from all over America, like Lew Alcindor from New York, Lucius Allen and Fred Slaughter from Kansas, Andre McCarter from Pennsylvania, Mike Warren from Indiana and Southern California all-timers like Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe joined UCLA.

So Alford has a major challenge. But the way the Bruins finished this season should give him some encouragement.

 

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