The UCLA men’s basketball team opens its season Friday against Montana State, and the key word coming out of Pauley Pavilion is not in the usual vocabulary around these parts: patience.
UCLA Coach Steve Alford mentioned it several times before practice Tuesday.
Guard Norman Powell said, “Patience with this team is going to be key for us, just knowing that it’s not going to come together at once.”
That’s a realistic approach to take with a young roster and a brutal schedule. But it could be painful for UCLA fans hoping Alford can build off a Sweet 16 appearance in his first season in Westwood.
During the preseason, Alford has maintained the Bruins in March could look like a significantly different team from the one in November. There is a new starting point guard. Several freshmen will play plenty of minutes. Another starter, Isaac Hamilton, who sat out last year after transferring from Texas El Paso, hasn’t played a game in a year and a half.
“I hope it’s not rebuilding,” Alford said. “I hope that foundation was laid.”
Still, he said, the team will have some growing pains in the first half of the season.
“There will be games where we’ll get it,” Alford said. Others, he said, “you’ll be saying, ‘Uh oh.’ ”
The schedule doesn’t do the Bruins any favors. They open with eight games in 15 days, including three at a stacked field in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.
Alford added that he doesn’t want inexperience to be an excuse. That is the reality, he said, now it’s the team’s responsibility to build from that.
That will require some balance. Young players like Gyorgy Goloman, Wanaah Bail and Thomas Welsh have enough potential to become valuable contributors. Their development can bolster a thin bench. But that requires getting them ample playing time early on.
“Those guys have got to get some minutes, and important minutes, to build confidence, to learn what they can do,” Alford said.
Those younger players, Powell said, will need to learn patience on the court too. Mastering college ball, he said, requires slowing down a fast game.
Of course, patience is easy during the preseason.
“It’s easy for me to stand up here and say, be patient,” Alford said. “We haven’t played a game. It gets a little bit more difficult when all of a sudden you get hit with an 8-0 run and maybe you have to go back to starters quicker.”
Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand