Steve Alford has been coach at UCLA for one season, but already he has seen three Bruins players taken in the first round of the NBA draft.
The Minnesota Timberwolves selected Zach LaVine at No. 13, the Memphis Grizzlies chose Jordan Adams with the 22nd pick, and the San Antonio Spurs snagged Kyle Anderson at No. 30.
"They just did a tremendous job of laying our foundation, doing everything we asked and worked extremely hard, so it's great seeing them and their families happy, and having a situation like they're experiencing now is an awful lot of fun," Alford said in a teleconference Friday. "And obviously, it's terrific for our program to have three guys go in the first round."
FOR THE RECORD:
UCLA basketball: In the June 29 Sports section, an article about three former UCLA basketball players who were first-round NBA draft choices was missing words at the bottom of each of the columns of type. A complete version of the article can be found at latimes.com/sports/ucla. —
Before the draft, a few projections pegged Anderson, a 6-foot-9 guard, in the teens, and some predicted he would be gone by the 20s, but he dropped to 30.
The so-called slide might not be so bad, however. The Spurs just won the NBA championship, after reaching the Finals the previous year. Their coach, Gregg Popovich, makes extensive use of his bench and is not reluctant to use young players. And Anderson's versatility could make him a good fit in Popovich's team-oriented system.
"Coach Popovich and his staff do an incredible job of utilizing talent, and Kyle has a very special skill set where he can play a lot of different positions," Alford said. "But I think why he really fits that program is he's got incredible basketball IQ."
Ask Aaron Rodgers about the ride down the draft boards. In 2005, the potential NFL No. 1 pick hung around until pick 24 as the 49ers selected Alex Smith first overall instead.
Rodgers ended up with the Green Bay Packers, who churn out quarterbacks as often and as well as Wisconsin produces cheese. Not bad.
"Guys go earlier, guys get passed up, so you just never know kind of where that's going to fall," Alford said. "But, one, I think it's a tremendous break for the Spurs to be able to get somebody like this at 30. It's a tremendous break, and I think it's a win-win for Kyle because for him to go to a franchise like San Antonio. I don't know how he could ask for anything better."
For LaVine, a 6-5 shooting guard at UCLA who projects as a point guard in the NBA, the pre-draft hype focused on his athleticism and upside. LaVine, 19, played only his freshman season at UCLA.
"He's got obviously incredible athleticism, a very quick individual that can get end to end very fast, so I think it's a situation where he's very young, and he'll grow," Alford said. "Each year, I think he'll continue to get better and better as he gets more reps. . . . For him to be a lottery pick and have a chance to play at that level this early in his career is a great tribute to him."
Unlike LaVine, Adams, a 6-5 guard, has been criticized for not being athletic enough, but Alford brushed aside those evaluations.
"You can either play or you can't play, and Jordan really understands how to play," Alford said. "Give me the most athletic guy that we played against collegiately here this year, and Jordan probably outplayed him because of being smarter and being tougher. He's very physical. He's one of the most physical guards I've had the opportunity to coach."
Adams played in 69 games during his two seasons at UCLA, averaging 16.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. LaVine averaged 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in his season. Anderson averaged 12.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists over two seasons and 71 games.
Despite their varying degrees of experience and different skill sets, the next goal for all three is the same.
"First, it's about getting there," Alford said. "The hard part's about staying there, so they've gone over one hurdle of being a draft pick and getting into the NBA. Now the next order of business is: 'How can I stay there and make it a career?'"