UCLA ended its dismal season in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament with an embarrassing 95-71 loss to crosstown rival USC. It’s no surprise a 15-17 record is not sitting well with the Bruins fan base. There are calls for Steve Alford’s ouster even after consecutive Sweet 16 finishes. But an enormous buyout and a loaded rerouting class should keep Alford safe for at least one more year.
About that buyout: $10.6 million is steep price to remove a coach, especially for a public institution. That buyout amount alone would likely be enough protection with Alford having reasonable success in three seasons in Westwood.
Add an incoming recruiting class ranked No. 4 in the 247Sports Composite Recruiting Rankings and No. 1 in the Pac-12, and it appears likely that Alford will have the opportunity to coach these recruits as freshmen.
Although the program is at quite a low point, there are two five-star prospects in UCLA’s recruiting class that could turn Alford’s fortunes around. Jumbo point guard Lonzo Ball, all 6-foot-6 of him, has won multiple Player of the Year awards for leading Chino Hills High School to an undefeated record and No. 1 ranking in the country, all while averaging a triple-double. The best passer I’ve scouted in my 13 years in this business, Ball is expected to take over the point guard position next season. This would free Bryce Alford up to play shooting guard and focus on what he does best, which is score from the perimeter.
The other five-star recruit, T.J. Leaf is a highly skilled 6-foot-9 power forward who can also play at center for the Bruins. Like Ball, Leaf is a likely starter. And like Ball, he is a cerebral player with the talent to push UCLA to the top of the Pac-12.
Also included in the recruiting class is a four-star center Ike Anigbogu. Physical and athletic, he could contribute with defense and rebounding as a freshman. Down the road, he could make an impact on the offensive end.
The fourth prospect in the class, Kobe Paras, is an upside prospect. The 6-foot-5 wing will likely see limited minutes next year.
With Tony Parker as the only senior on this year’s roster, Alford will be expected to have a top-20 ranking type season, which has the markings of a do-or-die proposition for Alford going into his fourth season. But expect tension to remain high with boosters and fans. Another disappointing season, especially with the incoming talent, would likely be Alford’s last season with the Bruins, especially as the buyout decreases to $7.8 million.
Unbustable Brackets: Tournament Game Changer!