Bru­ins are turnover-prone, but Al­ford’s OK with it

Ball-Leaf crew is gone but coach un­fazed by ros­ter churn thanks to stel­lar in­com­ing class.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Ben Bolch ben.bolch@la­times.com Twit­ter: @latb­bolch

The sparkling courts and locker rooms in­side UCLA’s soon-to-open Mo Ostin Basketball Cen­ter should serve as a fit­ting back­drop for the play­ers who will oc­cupy them start­ing early next month.

The Bru­ins are essen­tially a new team, with a six­man fresh­man class join­ing a hand­ful of veter­ans in pur­suit of the school’s first trip to the Fi­nal Four in a decade. Coach Steve Al­ford has called it the big­gest re­cruit­ing class in his lengthy ca­reer.

Of course, UCLA would surely be will­ing to make room for one more fresh­man. Power for­ward Marvin Ba­gley III, the con­sen­sus top high school player in the country, re­port­edly vis­ited cam­pus this week and is mulling his col­lege choice as he at­tempts to re­clas­sify into the class of 2017.

A hand­ful of things would need to hap­pen for the stand­out from Chatsworth Sierra Canyon High to be­come a Bruin. The NCAA would need to clear his eli­gi­bil­ity and he would need to pick UCLA from a lengthy list of suit­ors that also in­cludes USC, Ari­zona, Duke, Kansas and Ken­tucky. Al­ford can­not com­ment on re­cruits who have not signed let­ters of in­tent.

The coach did lav­ishly praise his new­com­ers Thurs­day dur­ing an in­ter­view with The Times, say­ing he en­vi­sioned them en­abling the Bru­ins to play a style sim­i­lar to the run-and-fun group that cap­ti­vated fans last sea­son, when the team won 31 games and sold out Pauley Pavil­ion nine times on the way to an NCAA tour­na­ment re­gional semi­fi­nal.

“I think we’ll be a lit­tle bit more dis­rup­tive de­fen­sively, so we may look a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent,” Al­ford said, not­ing his team’s in­creased length and ath­leti­cism, “but as far as how fast we play, I hope that stays the same.”

UCLA’s pace will largely de­pend on the play of point guards Jaylen Hands and Aaron Hol­i­day, whom Al­ford said could spend lots of time to­gether on the court next sea­son re­gard­less of who is in the start­ing lineup.

The Bru­ins were bol­stered by the re­turn of Hol­i­day and Thomas Welsh, who with­drew their names from NBA draft con­sid­er­a­tion in May to pre­serve their col­lege eli­gi­bil­ity. Al­ford said he an­tic­i­pated both play­ers be­ing first-round picks in the 2018 draft, which is widely con­sid­ered not as deep as the one this sum­mer in which Bru­ins guard Lonzo Ball and for­ward TJ Leaf were taken in the first round.

Al­ford said Welsh has worked on in­creas­ing the range on his jump shot af­ter tak­ing — and mak­ing — the first three-pointer of his ca­reer last sea­son. “I told him that will prob­a­bly change now,” Al­ford said of the fre­quency of Welsh’s three­p­oint at­tempts.

The Bru­ins pre­ferred an eight-man ro­ta­tion last sea­son but could go deeper in the com­ing months with the re­turn of guard Prince Ali and for­ward Alex Olesin­ski af­ter red­shirt sea­sons.

The ros­ter turnover has prompted Al­ford to take a more hands-on ap­proach dur­ing sum­mer work­outs in an at­tempt to in­still the cul­ture he wants among the new­com­ers. The work­outs took on added im­por­tance be­cause the team won’t be able to bond dur­ing a for­eign trip like last year’s squad was able to do on its sum­mer ex­hi­bi­tion tour of Aus­tralia.

“I’ve been at ev­ery one and ran ev­ery one of them,” Al­ford said of the work­outs. “I just thought it was im­por­tant since we didn’t have a trip like that, that they start hear­ing my voice right away and my ex­pec­ta­tions right away.”

Al­ford said fresh­man guard LiAn­gelo Ball’s de­meanor has re­minded him of Lonzo Ball’s, de­scrib­ing the younger brother as “a com­plete joy to coach.” Asked whether he had any con­cerns about med­dling from LaVar Ball, the out­spo­ken fa­ther of both play­ers who has pre­dicted his mid­dle son would be­come the No. 1 over­all pick in the 2018 draft, Al­ford said, “I don’t see that be­ing any is­sue at all.”

The Bru­ins ex­pect to move into their new prac­tice fa­cil­ity by early Septem­ber, Al­ford said, al­le­vi­at­ing the sched­ul­ing con­flicts that had be­come rou­tine at Pauley Pavil­ion. The men’s and women’s basketball teams will each en­joy their own courts along with new weight rooms, train­ing rooms and locker rooms.

“We can­not wait, be­cause it’s ev­ery­thing I’d hoped for,” Al­ford said. “It’s spec­tac­u­lar.”

‘I think we’ll be a lit­tle bit more dis­rup­tive de­fen­sively . . . but as far as how fast we play, I hope that stays the same.’ — STEVE AL­FORD, UCLA basketball coach, as­sess­ing the ath­leti­cism of the Bru­ins’ six-man re­cruit­ing class

Gary Coron­ado Los Angeles Times

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