There are expectations and then there is what is expected in regards to UCLA Bruins Men’s Basketball. The Bruins have a storied history which includes 18 Final Four appearances and 11 national championships in the 100-year history of the program. And UCLA has been home to a who’s who of basketball royalty which includes Lew Alcindor, Reggie Miller, and Bill Walton. But the majority of UCLA’s accomplishments came during the stewardship of John Wooden who in his 27 years at the school won 620 games which included winning 10 national titles in a twelve-year stretch.
Wooden’s unprecedented success has left each coach at UCLA since then to chase an impossible pinnacle as there is always the thought of getting the Bruins back to those glory days. Jim Harrick broke through in 1995 to lead UCLA to their first national title following the Wooden dynasty, but he left a year later amid a cloud of financial speculation. Steve Lavin would follow Harrick and he would consistently got some of the top high school basketball talent on the West Coast to play at UCLA, but his inability to get the Bruins to the Final Four would ultimately lead to his demise. In the mid-2000’s, Ben Howland would get UCLA to three consecutive Final Fours, but he’d be let go in spite of making seven NCAA Tournament appearances in his ten-year stretch at the school. And as this was not enough for Howland to maintain his job at UCLA, Steve Lavin has now found this out the hard way.
Lavin replaced Howland at UCLA when he was fired in 2013. Lavin brought an impressive resume with him to Los Angeles which included leading three different programs to the NCAA Tournament. In Alford’s five-plus seasons at UCLA, he took the Bruins to four NCAA Tournament appearances, but he was unable to get his squad past the Sweet Sixteen. However the worst of those tourney appearances came last March when the Bruins were eliminated in the First Four following their loss to the St. Bonaventure Bonnies of the Atlantic-10 Conference. And as the Bruins were humbled in that loss, they’ve yet to recover.
The Bruins have begun this college basketball season with a record of 7-6. The non-conference schedule for UCLA was brutal as it included losses to national powerhouses in the Michigan State Spartans and North Carolina Tar Heels, while they’ve lost consecutive home games to mid-majors in the Belmont Bruins and Liberty Flames. In all UCLA will head into Pac-12 Conference play nursing a four-game losing streak. And with the Pac-12 in the midst of one of their toughest stretches as they struggled overall in non-conference play, the winner of the conference tournament might be the only participant to make the NCAA Tournament this year.
UCLA’s struggles had people calling for Alford’s struggles and rightfully so as it only took a few hours following the home loss to Liberty for him to be shown the door at Westwood. The Bruins have been missing out on getting the top high school basketball talent from the West Coast; especially in the Greater Los Angeles area. And instead of UCLA keeping up with national powers like Michigan State and North Carolina, the Bruins have now been relegated to being just another basketball program.
Alford walked into an impossible situation as being the men’s head basketball coach at UCLA is the equivalent of walking into the Bermuda Triangle as nobody will ever be able to replicate what Wooden did there. And as long as each UCLA head coach is held to those standards, the Bruins will never be able to get the traction that they need in order to succeed.
During Alford’s time at UCLA, he had to deal with the aftermath of the LaVar Ball fiasco. In 2016, Ball’s eldest son Lonzo signed to attend UCLA and he did help the Bruins get to the Sweet Sixteen. But father Ball’s outspoken nature which included publicly criticizing Alford and other players overshadowed his son’s one year at Westwood. The plan was to have Ball’s middle son LiAngelo follow in his brother’s footsteps at UCLA, but his arrest in China along with that of two other UCLA players in 2017 derailed that. And as Alford has consistently missed out of getting the top players in the nation, he was on borrowed time.
Now UCLA will start another national search to find the resurrect their program, but he may not even be born yet. Some names that you should expect to hear being thrown around are those of Washington men’s head basketball coach Mike Hopkins, Arizona State men’s head basketball coach Bobby Hurley, Nevada head basketball coach Eric Musselman, and former Phoenix Suns head coach Earl Watson who played for UCLA, while you’ll also have to sit back and see who will emerge as the top candidates from the mid-major schools between now and the end of the NCAA Tournament.
But going forward whomever the Bruins new head basketball will be just needs to focus on getting basketball talent from the State of California to come there. UCLA’s home arena is Pauley Pavillion which has gone through some renovations in recent years as the building is full of tradition. And with that the Bruins need to play off of that tradition as the great players who’ve worn the blue and gold over the years such as Walton, Miller, Jamaal Wilkes, and Marques Johnson would be more than happy to talk to recruits in order to get them to come to Westwood.
But all of that will be mute if UCLA will continue to hold their coaches to the standards that were set by Wooden. Wooden never had to deal with players transferring, leaving school early, or the coast-to-coast battle for recruiting that were are currently witnessing. And until UCLA realizes that, they will always be continuing to start over as the blue bloods of the sport pass them by.
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