UCLA Introduces Steve Alford

Steve Alford’s tenure at UCLA is not off to a rousing start

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When Steve Alford was hired at UCLA almost two months ago, my initial reaction was one of optimism.

Alford had turned New Mexico into the dominant program in a very good Mountain West. Regardless of the post season flameouts that he’s had — he hasn’t made it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament this century, literally — he’s been a winning basketball coach and he’s landed good players  from California.

Those are two things that Ben Howland hadn’t done of late, and given that the Bruins had already been turned down by the likes of Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart, ending up with Alford wasn’t bad.

But the new union has been anything but perfect, as chronicled by Chris Foster of the LA Times over the weekend. It starts with Alford’s drawn out contract dispute with New Mexico, who claimed that he owed them a $1 million buyout. Alford, however, argued that since he left the program on March 30th, two days before the 10-year contract that he signed was due to officially begin, that he only needed to pay his old buyout.

And that wasn’t the worst of it. Alford was grilled about the way that he handled the Pierre Pierce scandal while at Iowa at his introductory press conference, as was the UCLA administration:

UCLA athletic administrators were stunned. They had signed Alford to a seven-year, $18.2-million contract with the expectation that his hiring would invigorate an apathetic fan base. They expected him to be greeted with open arms.

Guerrero was also questioned — about whether UCLA had properly vetted its new coach and investigated what happened at Iowa. He said he “clearly discussed” the Pierce situation with Alford before hiring him.

However, when Alford was asked a similar question, he said the topic never came up.

Guerrero later amended his comment, saying he discussed Pierce with his staff and Alford’s representatives, but not with Alford.

The controversy prompted one group of UCLA fans to circulate a petition calling for Guerrero to be fired because he had “disregarded Mr. Alford’s history of defending a sex offender or did little to no research into Mr. Alford’s past.”

With little publicity, the petition generated nearly 2,000 signatures.

Alford was forced to apologize for the way he handled the situation, which one could easily have interpreted as public bullying of a victim. And that was before Pat Harty, an Iowa reporter, published a stirring piece about his proximity to the scandal.

And if that wasn’t enough, the team across town hired a hotshot young coach with a bombshell wife in Andy Enfield who then proceeded to go out and hire the top two assistant coaches out west.

It will be a long time before we can truly evaluate Alford’s hire, but the early returns are in, and they are not pretty.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.