BRO: At this point, would you say you, or Kyle, are leaning in any direction in terms of leaving after this season for the NBA?
KA: I think there are two ways to look at this. The one way is the fans' way of looking at it. That's, Do I think Lil' Kyle is ready? No, I don't. I do think he needs another year to get bigger and stronger, to hone his shooting skills. And to get used to playing off the ball. I do believe he'll play off the ball for now on. I don't see him being a point guard anymore.
The other school of thought is that, if they offer him a Lottery Pick, you have to entertain that and possibly go. I think he's playing better, to where his draft situation is better. I think it depends on the feedback after the season is over.
BRO: So, to get as much feedback as possible, will he put his name in the draft and test the waters?
KA: Yes. I do think that, yes. I'm pretty sure we're at least going to test the waters. Unless he has a horrible or mediocre Pac-12 and a mediocre NCAA Tournament, and it's obvious at the best he's a late first-round pick then we won't. But if he continues to improve the way he is, and continues to be offensively aggressive, then I definitely think we have to test the waters and see.
BRO: Is your decision set completely by where he would project in the draft? If he's a Lottery Pick, is it a no-brainer?
KA: Well, no. Realistically…and I'm realistic and I know he's probably not…but if he's top five, he doesn't have a say in it, he's going. If he's a Lottery Pick, he can choose to stay or go. That will be his choice. If he's outside of the Lottery he has to come back. He doesn't have a choice.
BRO: You don't think there's any scenario where he's projected under 20 but not a Lottery Pick, that you might not be tempted to have him stay in the draft?
KA: He'd have to be very close to the Lottery, like 15 or 16. I don't see him…if he's projected…being in this business as long as I have, I have a lot of friends in front offices. If they say he's around 18 or 19 there's no reason for him to go. I think if he comes back another year I think he's first-team All-American.
BRO: You said you don't see him being a point guard anymore. That's kind of change in your mindset.
KA: Well, you know what? I think Kyle is the ultimate Robin. The only problem is that if he comes back next year and he wants to be a Robin, you have to have a Batman. When I say that I mean you need to have two wings that can score, and a big man that can score. So I don't mean Batman as in one person. To be honest with you, I like the way he's playing as a four. I think he could be a tremendous Paul Pierce type. Not with the athleticism, but with the mid-range, being able to shoot over people, being able to be crafty enough to get by you, pull up for the short jumper, still being able to make that pass out of the double team. I just think it's tough to find a coach that knows how to utilize him as a point guard, but is also willing that, when you put a 6-2 kid on him, is willing to send him into the post immediately. My fear of him playing point guard next year is playing against a lot of small kids and not being as effective because you're sending a smaller player on him and, yeah, that possibly does take away his drive and frustrates him. For Kyle to be effective at point guard you have to also be willing to, when you put a smaller player on him, to send him into the post immediately, so the (opposing) coach says, ‘We have to get that smaller kid off him.'
BRO: If he's a point guard and guarded by a smaller player, you can immediately post him up, and then if you have to put a bigger defender on him then somewhere else on the floor there is probably a mis-match…
KA: Right. And he will find it, because he's going to get by his man, and you'll have to help, and then he'll find the mis-match or he makes the entry pass. Very few point guards in basketball today can make an entry pass.
BRO: Do you think offensively he's completely comfortable yet shooting the ball? Is he to the point where he's shooting up to his present capability, or is he still not showing how good of a shooter he is?
KA: I don't even think what we're seeing now is scratching the surface. If you think about it, there are no plays being ran for him. We're not seeing Kyle coming off screens and hitting shots. He's just creating his offense. When you saw him in AAU, and I know you did, he had the ball in his hand and had the freedom to take shots. If you watch Kyle in a workout, he shoots the ball very well. He just hasn't developed a killer confidence in shooting. He's never had to. He was always able to score. He was always crafty enough, or if his shot was off, he was crafty enough to get someone else involved to shoot, or to get to the basket to score. So he never had that confidence in his shot. I'd like to see him this spring and summer get that confidence in just being a shooter.
BRO: So, his ability to create and get to the basket might have been detrimental in his shooting development?
KA: Definitely was. I've always said he won't become a good shooter unless he recognizes that's going to be the difference between you getting a $40 million contract and you getting the max contract after your four years. That's when he's going to realize, 'You mean if I knock down outside shots I'm going to get $62 million instead of just $40 million?' Up until now, you can play off him all you want and he still, if he needs to get to the basket can get to the basket.
BRO: Defensively what does he need to do? Not just projecting for college ball, but in the NBA, what do you see him defending? The three? The four?
KA: You know what, I'm a very defensive-oriented coach, but I don't put a lot of thought into who he guards. I've always put thought into how you play him when he's not playing the ball. What I mean by that, you have to be able to utilize his length as a help-side defender. Which means you can't play that in-your-face defense with him. To answer the question, I could see him defending the three, the only problem is, he's not going to be the in-your-face, I'm-going-to-deny-you-the-ball three. And if that's what you want out of him, you have to plan on him getting beat. He has a size 16 sneaker. I don't think he's strong enough to move those feet, and I don't think he's put an emphasis on it. I do think he can defend the three. But I think he has to get stronger, to defend the three, like Coach (Ben) Howland would like him to do.
BRO: What I think you're saying is, because of who he is athletically, he has to learn more defensive technique and be even craftier to defend a quicker three…
KA: Right. And also, as the coach, you have to understand that he's not going to be able to play that up-in-your-face defense, so you might want to use his length to stay away from the player, so that he has space to slide his feet, so he doesn't get beat as easily. Now, if the opposite coach tells his three man to counter by shooting the outside shot then you have to make an adjustment also. It's difficult to say, because with Kyle you have to move him around, put him here, put him there, change the scheme a lot. Some coaches aren't going to change their scheme; they're going to do it the way they do it. It is what it is.
BRO: Do you think Coach Howland has been flexible in that regard?
KA: I think he's gotten better at how to use Kyle. I don't think he's gotten the full potential out of Kyle. For one thing, he doesn't run anything for Kyle. I think Kyle is a match-up nightmare. The reason I think that is not because he can score, but because he's so unselfish. If you run him off that screen he has an open shot and knocks it down, that means the defense has to do something different. And if you do something different, he's going to exploit it. Whether it is the switch on the screen, or sending the double team to him, he's going to make that pass. A lot of scorers make that adjustment they're still going to shoot the ball. So you're not gaining anything. He's very unselfish. Even if he has a shot, if there's a better shot, a lay-up, he'll get you the lay-up.
BRO: Kyle isn't your traditional player. You have to get a feel for his game, first, and then realize how to utilize him. It's also almost team-by-team, match-up by match-up. So, perhaps it was a matter of that for Coach Howland, getting to know Kyle's game better before he knew how to utilize him.
KA: Exactly. I agree with that 100%.
BRO: Do you think that the team would be better with the ball more in Kyle's hands?
KA: I don't know. It's hard to say. Going into this the intention was for him to play point guard. That's what he was recruited to do. But in hindsight, I don't know if Kyle could have been a better point guard than Larry Drew for this team. So, I have no problem saying that the end justifies the means. What Ben did was probably the right thing to do for this team, I'll say that. There might have been a better process in how it happened. We thought he was going to play point guard and if we knew he wasn't it might have happened differently. When he was being recruited, we told schools not to recruit him if they weren't going to play him at point guard. I didn't want schools following him around every game if they didn't have a chance to get him. So we cut it down to five schools, of schools that we're going to use him at point guard. I did that so that coaches wouldn't waste their time. There's some integrity involved in this. We made it clear to everybody. If you don't want him to be a point guard, don't recruit him. Texas and North Carolina, Syracuse…they all backed off.
BRO: But ultimately, do you think this season was a good development for him, because you said going forward you don't see him playing point guard?
KA: Do I think this season was beneficial? Yes. Yes, I do. I think it was beneficial simply from the standpoint of Kyle facing adversity and him rising like the cream of the crop that he is. I think he was given lemons and he made lemonade. What I mean by that is that he was put in the four spot and he said, ‘Fine, I'll go out and lead the team in rebounding.' If that's what the coach wants. He is the ultimate team player. He's much more of a team player than I am as a parent. He's always been level-headed. He said, ‘Dad, don't worry about it. I'll be allright.' I had the same problem when he went to high school at Patterson Catholic. They took the ball out of his hands, I wanted to move him and he said, ‘Dad, don't worry about it. At the end of games, I know I'll have the ball in my hands. I'm going to roll with it.' When he went to St. Anthony's with Coach (Bobby) Hurley, he said he would play him all over the place. I'm going to play him at the four, the three, the one, at the wing. Anytime they put someone on him where I think Kyle can take advantage of it, that's where I'm going to play him. I thought that was fair.
BRO: Kyle has manufactured points this year without, as you said, plays being called for him. Is there a feeling if he returns that it will be made clear he needs to be more of a focal point of the offense next season?
KA: Not really. What I think…I feel like I cheated my son. I cheated him, because he went somewhere where he wasn't prepared to do what the coach wanted you to do. I think he did a great job compensating and overcoming adversity. He's always going to be a point guard. He's never going to lose those skills. I just want him to come back next year, that if they play him at the four, he's well-prepared to play the four. If coach plays him at the one, he already knows how to play the one as well as anyone in the country. I feel like I shortchanged Lil' Kyle by by him coming in and not being prepared to play a position that he had to play. As a father, I always want him to be prepared. Now, if he's prepared and he still can't excel, that's on him.
BRO: From an overall experience of being at UCLA, is he enjoying himself, and does that make him want to come back?
KA: He loves it there. He loves the community. He loves the professors. He loves the kids on the team. The coaching staff. Sometimes if you don't like the coach…well, he didn't like Coach Hurley until he went to UCLA and appreciated Coach Hurley. So I don't mean this in a negative way. If you've played ball you know you almost never like your current coach. So I don't mean it in a negative way. He loves his experience there. He has talked to me about…'Dad, I have no problem coming back. If I have to come back, it's fine.' He texted me the other day after the Arizona game. He said, ‘I can't wait for the off-season to start working. Man, I'm going to work and be real good next year.' He's already looking forward to the off-season to get better. To answer your question, in this era, only the top five should leave college and go to the NBA. That's just what the culture is. He's level-headed enough to understand that if he's not ready to go, fine. 'And‘I'll come back and dominate next year to show that I do belong in the NBA.' So I think he would enjoy it a lot coming back for a second year.
BRO: I have to ask you…how would you and Kyle feel if there was a different head coach at UCLA next season? Would it affect his decision on whether he'd return?
KA: It probably wouldn't. Lil' Kyle came to UCLA for UCLA.