AUDIO: Alford Answers Questions

UCLA's new basketball coach Steve Alford answered questions from the media in a conference call...


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UCLA: alright, very good. We have Steve Alford, new head men's basketball coach at UCLA joining us on the line. Again, for those that missed the conversation earlier, UCLA will have a press conference on Tuesday, April 2nd, on campus. That time and the location on campus are still being worked out, but I will get you the details as soon as those are finalized. One more reminder, please state your name and affiliation before asking a question. Please mute your phone if you are not asking a question so we can keep down any background noise. And with that, I'm going to turn it over to Steve Alford who's going to make a quick opening statement, and we'll open it up to questions after that. Steve.

SA: Well, i appreciate everybody being in on the call. It has been a difficult morning, talking to a team that I dearly love and a program that we built here over the last six years that we're extremely proud of and I'm very appreciative of my time at the [University of New Mexico] and the opportunities that the administration gave me at UNM. And very much look forward to taking over the helm of a place like UCLA. I've always tried to do things with excellence as a forefront of what we're striving for, whether that's winning games, winning championships, what we do academically, what we want our student-athletes doing in the community. It's always been around the word of excellence. And I think when you think of UCLA, you see the word excellence. And I'm very humbled and very honored to have this opportunity.

AK: Steve, it's Andy Katz with ESPN. A lot of coaches have decided to stay put at comparable programs. Why, especially after signing a letter of agreement for a new 10-year deal, why did you think that the timing was right for you now to move to UCLA?

SA: well, obviously, Andy, and I appreciate that. The 10 year contract was done prior to really the postseason. We were working on this deal because to be honest with you, I thought this was long term. i love UNM. I love Albuquerque and New Mexico. My family has loved it. This is truly a leap of faith. Decisions like this. I think it becomes a little bit easier, Andy, that it's UCLA. You're talking about the premier basketball program in the country. And to have an opportunity like this, they don't come around every day. And I would hope that what UCLA, Dan and his staff, have seen, maybe not just of UNM but my entire career, but in particular UNM since I'm out in the west now, of what we've been able to do. We took over a program that was in last place in the playing game and a lot of issues academically. And I think if you look at academics, grad rate, APR, our championships, our seasons, you see excellence, and I hope that was the draw. It is a program. I'm about building programs. Not teams. Not seasons. But building a program and I think it was a great fit. It was a tremendous opportunity for me at this time. It was not an easy decision because you're right, I was extremely happy here at UNM. But when I kept thinking about things, it still came back to the opportunities that present themselves when you're at a place like UCLA.

Q: [audio difficulties] what are you going to do with Craig Neal and your son, Bryce, who came with you to UNM?

SA: well, Bryce obviously will come with me. Coach Neal, I've heavily endorsed him. He's been my associate head coach for the past nine years. We've been to the postseason every year but one. And really, should've been in that year. We finished fourth in the Big 10 and in the NIT that year. That was an odd year of being passed over. We've won an average of 26 games a year as a staff together. We've won, in that 9 year period, we've won seven league championships. So we've done our part. Nobody is more prepared to be a head coach than Coach Neal. He knows the climate. He knows the culture. He knows UNM. And I think from a stability standpoint of my hope is that what we've built here will continue, and i think the best chance for that continuing is if Coach Neal's the head coach.

CF: hey Steve, Chris Foster from the LA Times, how are you doing today?

SA: I'm very good. How are you?

CF: good, thank you. I was just wondering. What did you take away from your experience at Iowa about what is required at that level of conference to be successful, year in and year out?

SA: well, it was the Big 10. I was a player in the Big 10, at Indiana. And then I had the good fortune of coaching in the Big 10 at Iowa. I think you learn differences of where schools are and how schools are tiered. At the BCS level, if that's what you want to call it. BCS is probably an old term now. but I think more than that, even all the way back to Manchseter, when I was 26 years of age, and [Southwest] Missouri State, and now UNM, I've had wonderful stops. Great administrations. Great programs. They believed in basketball. There was a passion for basketball. I'm 23 years into this now. So te experience of building programs and sustaining programs… I think I've got the experience that's really helped me at each stop. And at each stop, I would hope that we have bettered in a lot of ways. And that's not just wins. But reaching down into the community and academically. All those things that I learned from Coach Knight a long time ago on how to do things as a player. I hope that I, in some way and shape and form have that same kind of touch on my players and the communities that we've been a part of in my coaching stops.

Q: Steve, this is at [audio difficulties] with AP. I'm just wondering who did you talk to about this, when you're mulling the whole thing over? Did you talk to Coach Knight? Did you talk to your father? People like that?

SA: not a whole lot of interaction. I've placed calls to Coach Knight. I talked to my father some. Most of the conversations have just been within the family because it was going to be a family decision because we were extremely happy here. I'm not a coach, that's coming to another stop, that was unhappy. Unhappy with his team or the program or the administration. I was about as happy as you could be. And that's why this was a difficult decision. It was not an easy decision. A lot of prayer went into this of just mulling over things, but my mom and dad have always been instrumental in decisions that I've made and I reached out to them, but this was pretty much a family decision.

Q: Steve, Jill Painter from the LA Daily News. Can you talk about the meeting with the kids this morning? I'm sure that's always tough, but having just agreed to that 10-year extension, can you kind of talk about what you talked to the kids about?

SA: yeah, it's just… it's one of the most difficult things I've had to do. And I've had to do it. We had a great team returning at [Southwest Missouri State University] and I had to go in and tell that team that I was going to Iowa. And then I had a really good team coming back at Iowa and plenty of recruits coming in, had to tell them I was going to New Mexico. And even back to Manchester. At Manchester, we were 31-1, [NCAA D-III] national runner-up and I had to tell them I was going to Missouri State. And likewise with this group, we return everybody. Our entire starting five was coming back to a team that was 29-6. And won the league by two games. won the league tournament. We've been one of the premier programs the last 3 years out west. That's not easy to look those young men in the face, and you know, but I think they understand. I think the reason why they understand is, again, it goes back to the four letters. It's UCLA. I think if it's anywhere else, this was not a decision that would have been made, and I wouldn't have been able to look those men in the face and have any kind of reaction that made sense had it not been UCLA.

BP: yeah, Steve, Bill Plaschke, at the LA Times. You talked about building programs, but really, the bottom line out here is winning. I mean, you're going to have to win and win big and win pretty quick. Are you comfortable… Do you think UCLA has delusions of grandeur in this or can you come out here and win and win right away? Are you comfortable with that pressure?

SA: oh, I'm very comfortable with the pressure. I've been under pressure since I was 16. My high school gym seats 10,000 people and we sold it out eight times my senior year. Not a lot of 16 year olds play in front of 10,000 at the high school level. I've played for Coach Knight at Indiana. I've been an Olympian. I've won an Olympic gold medal in Los Angeles in ‘84. I've played in the NBA and I've got 23 years of coaching experience at a very high level. So nobody understands pressure any more than i do. You're not going to find anybody that's any more competitive than I am or driven toward excellence. Winning right away... I've never in any stop, regardless of where it's been... the promise has always been, "put a credible product on the floor that, in a lot of ways, playing, and obviously winning because that's the business that we're in, academically, socially, how you're building character and how you're building integrity." It is about program. And I do think UCLA is program. They're a program of excellence. And UCLA doesn't just want one winning season. UCLA wants a basketball program that's going to be consistent going forward, and that's my job as a basketball coach. And I'm going to do everything that I can to represent that university in every part of the way possible that symbolizes excellence.

Q: Steve, [audio difficulties] can you talk about your experience, you know, recruiting in the LA area and southern California and do you feel like you're up to the challenge of kind of making overtures that have kind of fallen short during the last coaching tenure?

SA: well, all we can do is the best job we can possibly do. Obviously, recruiting in southern California is of the upmost importance because of the talent that's there. I've always believed that if you can keep talent close to home, the great talent, that's always going to be a positive, and we've had tremendous success here at UNM. If you look at our current roster, we've had over the last 5 or 6 years, we've had a lot of California kids that have come out here to play and been successful. So that makes it equally difficult when I'm sitting there in our players meeting and I'm looking at Tony Snell and Kendall Williams. Guys that are right there in the Inland Empire. And I'm looking at them and saying that I'm going back to your home. That doesn't make it easy. But our recruiting efforts have been very good in California, and I hope that that only continues and it will be an obviously a [audio difficulties]

AK: Steve, it's Andy again. Real quick one. Technical thing. On the buyout, what is it and how much will UCLA be able to help you pay it to New Mexico?

SA: Andy, I really don't know. I would ask that in our evening press conference. And I don't know those things. I know it's not April 1st yet. My agreement that I signed starts in April 1st. So I'm not a lawyer. I'm just an Indiana grad that likes basketball. So I don't know. I think the lawyers will have to get together to figure that out.

BP: yeah, Steve, Bill Plaschke, question again. How much interaction have you had with the late Coach Wooden? And what's your whole opinion about him?

SA: unbelievable. There are so many… my first, and I go all the way back to kindergarten and first grade, my dad was the high school basketball coach at Martinsville High School. So I learned about Coach Wooden when I was a first grader [audio difficulties] just trying to hit the net. I knew I was in John Wooden's area. And so ever since then, there was a draw to find out more and more about him. There's a lot of irony with it. It's eerie. It's something that I really, truly feel humble about. I know my first step in Pauley [Pavilion] , I will really feel that because there's such a respect of Coach Wooden and what he meant for game of basketball and what he meant for university life and building excellence and doing it so consistently. And I've had a lot of fun, in his late years, being able to have conversations with him from taking my Iowa team to the Wooden Classic to the Legends of the Hardwood Breakfast that I'm getting ready to go to Saturday at the Final Four. I've been to every one of those breakfasts. And it's really a breakfast that is an honor of Coach Wooden. And it's kind of a…. it's a real humbling experience knowing I'm going to that breakfast, Saturday morning, as the UCLA coach. It's a very humbling experience.

TP: Coach, this is Tracy Pierson with Fox Sports. There's a lot that is made of playing an entertaining style in LA. An uptempo style. What kind of style have you brought to your teams and do you think you can play that kind of style at UCLA?

SA: well, we certainly hope so. We like playing an exciting style. We like playing uptempo offensively and we obviously believe you're going to win championships at the defensive end. So you've got to have a solid core defensively. We've always been a man-to-man defensive team. Not that that can't change but that's where we've been over the years. But we do like to score points. We like transition. We like to get up and down the floor. And I think a lot… sometimes a lot gets made of systems and styles but I think ultimately, it's about the product. Are these young men of character and integrity? Are they working hard? Are they working unselfishly? That's the system that I have always tried to put into place. There are some teams that need to play with more control. There are some teams that have to play more uptempo. Some teams you zone with, some teams you man with, but what needs to be consistent are high integrity, high character young men that understand what UCLA means on their jerseys and they do everything to represent that in a very positive way.

CF: Chris Foster again. What could you say… will reach out and say to people like Shabazz [Muhammad] and Tony Parker, a couple of players who may be mulling leaving at this point?

SA: well, I've not been able obviously to meet anybody. I've not been on campus. So I haven't had an opportunity to reach out or meet any of the players. My initial reaction to everything this morning has been my team here at UNM and making sure things are fine there. I'm sure now, as soon as I get off this press conference, that my attention will start turning to UCLA and members of that team and that program and get into town, and whether that's next week or the week after, recruiting is getting ready to start so… forming a staff and doing those things are going to be very important and obviously, talking to the current roster of players is going to be very, very important.

JH: Coach, this is Jim Hill at CBS-TV in Los Angeles, welcome to Los Angeles, how are you today?

SA: thank you, thank you very much.

JH: Coach, in the past there's been a tremendous disconnect between UCLA and the high school recruits in the southern California area. I know you've been really big in the communities wherever you've been before. How are you going to rebuild the bridge that has been burned between UCLA and the high school recruits in the southern California area?

SA: well, I understand and have a great appreciation for high school coaches. My dad was a high school coach for nearly 40 years so nobody understands high school basketball or high school coaching any more than I do and nobody respects that any more than I do, and I will hit the ground running , making sure that, not knowing what's taken place in the past, just knowing that that's what I've done wherever I've been. I have always known and respected high school coaches. And that's your bloodline. That's not just what you're doing from a recruiting standpoint and it's not just about reaching out to high school coaches that have a top-20 kid in the country. It's about building relationships with all the high schools because, and obviously, there's a vast number in the Los Angeles area. It's a much bigger area that you have to take care of. But I have such a great amount of respect for high school coaches that it's just in my blood to do those things.

Q: Coach, how much have you seen Kyle Anderson? And do you see him as a point guard or more of a front court player? And also, how much will you be able to recruit here in the next couple of weeks?

SA: well, working backwards, not sure as far as recruiting in the next couple weeks. Obviously, the next couple weeks are all about the UCLA players that are currently on roster, either incoming student-athletes or the student-athletes that are still there. That's the biggest responsibility because of the recruiting rules. Being able to go out aren't going to open up until about 5 days after the Final Four. So I think it's the weekend of the 11th. So we still have about 2 weeks before that happens. So it's really, the emphasis is on who's there and who's committed at this particular time. So that will the most important thing. As far as who's there, I'll be very honest with you. I've got to get to know those players. I'll have to watch a lot of film and a lot of tape to find out. I think that's a good thing. I'm coming in kind of blind to the situation, not knowing a lot about those players because my entire focus has been on my team and our current players and developing our players. And now that all changes. And i just haven't had the time to change.

CF: Steve, Chris with the Times, a question with the timing. Were you able to get much insight into the UCLA program from when you had Drew Gordon?

SA: well, a little bit different. Obviously, a little bit different, but Drew Gordon was tremendous for us. He did nothing, but in his year and a half, of doing everything we asked him to do from graduating, doing the things in the classroom… He was a good leader on our team. We won a lot of games. We won a championship. We came within, really one possession, of beating Louisville in the third round. He went down for about a 5-6 minute stretch that really affected us in that game. But Drew was tremendous in being exactly what we want in our program. What happened in his tenure at UCLA, I don't know. And to be honest, it didn't really matter to us.

[audio difficulties]

UCLA: with that, we're going to close this. We're having some technical difficulties here. Thanks for your time and we'll talk to you soon.

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