NCAA Tournament

Steve, Bryce Alford cherish time together at UCLA

jvillegas@sacbee.com

Rhode Island basketball coach Dan Hurley played along earlier this week when a reporter jokingly asked him if his family could “take the Alfords.”

“It would be an interesting family battle,” Hurley said. “I think we should do something when this is over. Like a 3-on-3. Get the old men involved, too.”

Hurley’s father, Bob, is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his coaching at St. Anthony’s High School in New Jersey, and his brother Bobby, the former Kings guard, still holds the NCAA record for career assists.

But the Alford family is another impressive basketball lineage – with two generations on display at the NCAA Tournament this weekend in Sacramento. UCLA, the No. 3 seed in the South Region and highest-scoring offense in the country, is coached by Steve Alford and features his son, Bryce, as a starting guard and senior leader.

Steve’s father, Sam Alford, coached high schools in Indiana for several decades and is in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Steve played for his father at New Castle Chrysler High before going on to win a national championship at Indiana and playing four seasons in the NBA.

And as a coach’s son, Steve knows the challenges that distinction can present.

For much of his time in Westwood, Bryce Alford was the target of critics – some UCLA fans – who questioned whether he would be playing for one of college basketball’s most storied programs if his father wasn’t the coach.

Bryce averaged eight points as a freshman for a Bruins team that reached the Sweet 16 and was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team. The next season, as UCLA’s starting point guard, he set a single-season program record by making 93 three-pointers. It did little to quiet those who wondered if he really merited the minutes to post those numbers.

UCLA went 15-17 last season, missing the NCAA Tournament. And Ben Braun, a Pac-12 Network analyst and former coach at Cal and Rice, said he even heard doubts within basketball circles: that Bryce “wasn’t even a Division I player,” that Steve “couldn’t coach.”

“I’m saying, ‘What are you guys watching?’ ” Braun said in a phone interview. “ ‘Steve Alford can coach, and his son’s a heck of a player.’ ”

Both, Braun said, benefited from the arrival this year of freshman sensation Lonzo Ball. With Ball at point guard, the Bruins went 29-4 during the regular season and Bryce was free to operate as a shooting guard, moving without the ball and getting shots off passes.

The result: Alford’s shooting percentage jumped 65 points to 45 percent from the floor. He also shot a career-best 43.6 percent from three-point range and broke his own UCLA record for made threes with 107.

Alford will leave UCLA as the only player in program history with at least 1,700 career points and 500 or more assists – statistics he complied while also being, in his father’s estimation, “probably as critiqued and evaluated as any player that’s played at UCLA in a long, long time.”

“He knew right from the beginning that’s what a coach’s kid is all about,” Steve Alford said. “I was a coach’s kid, but I was a coach’s kid at the high school level, not at the collegiate level, at UCLA, in Los Angeles and the tradition-rich place that UCLA is.

“Very proud of him from a coaching standpoint of seeing how he’s evolved and gotten better as a player each and every year. Very proud of him as a father of how he’s handled everything. He’s been unwavering.”

Bryce Alford said playing for his father has been “extremely fun.”

“There have been ups and downs, and the challenges of being a coach’s kid and dealing with that in L.A. and the pressures that come behind that,” he said. “But at the end of the day I wouldn’t trade my experience at UCLA and my experience for anything, and I don’t know if I could have done it without him by my side. It’s been an absolute blast.”

As the Bruins prepare to face Cincinnati in the second round Sunday, Alford is in a mini shooting slump: 6-for-28 over his last three games and 5-for-21 from three. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati’s head coach, said that only makes him nervous. Another coach’s son, Cronin said he’s a “big believer in the law of averages.”

“What I’ve been watching on film, we’ve been watching for four years,” Cronin said. “The kid has had an unbelievable career.

“What you have to go through playing for your father at the highest level is something I can’t imagine. So I root for him. And I always have rooted for him because I know what he’s dealt with. But not tomorrow.”

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