Bruins basketball team still an inexperienced bunch

LOS ANGELES – The first time Steve Alford spoke to his team at UCLA last year, in Pauley Pavilion’s home locker room, he distinctly remembers seeing only seven scholarship players.

ndgqd2-b88230978z.120141014184613000gds5lsp8.10Having seven men became a recurring theme to Alford’s first season in charge of the Bruins, which ended with a Sweet 16 loss to Florida late last March.

For his second season, the theme will shift – slightly. Alford figures to use nine scholarship players, four of whom have never before played college basketball. Two others have logged a combined 98 minutes for UCLA.

That leaves one player with one season under his belt – Alford’s son, point guard Bryce – and two players with two-plus years of college experience: senior guard Norman Powell and junior forward Tony Parker.

So, yes, depth and inexperience are still going to be issues, much like they were a year ago.

“We were deep at guard, and we were probably two bodies short up front,” Alford said of the 2013-14 season. “Now, it’s almost flipped. We’ve got a little more depth up front, not all the depth we want, but a little more, and not as much depth in the backcourt. And that’s why so much is going to be put on Isaac, Bryce and Norman.”

The Isaac to whom the Bruins coach referred is Isaac Hamilton, a top recruit from a year ago who sat out the season because he reneged on a signed letter of intent with Tim Floyd’s UTEP program.

Hamilton (St. John Bosco) figures to play a prominent role in this team’s backcourt, because of his talent and because of necessity. The Bruins might use just three guards in their rotation, and they could man the point interchangeably.

“The plan is whoever gets the ball first,” Bryce Alford said when asked who he expects to play point guard. “Whoever we can get it to to get the break started as fast as we possibly can.”

The Bruins averaged 81 points under Alford, a seven-point jump from their production in Ben Howland’s final season. With three of the top four scorers from last year’s team now in the NBA, that number figures to regress unless Powell can significantly increase his own scoring.

He could. Every year, Powell’s playing time and points-per-game averages have grown, and Alford said Tuesday the 6-foot-4 guard could play more than 30 minutes per game this season.

Powell scored 11.4 points in 25.7 minutes as a junior. He said his primary offseason goal was to improve his 29 percent 3-point shooting.

Admitting bias, Alford called Powell the “best driving guard in the country.”

The Bruins are nine practices into their fall slate. Their first exhibition game isn’t for another two weeks, on Halloween against Azusa Pacific at Pauley. Their first regular-season game is scheduled for two weeks after that, and their first true road game is a month after that.

Alford has time to mold many of his teenage athletes, like 7-footer Thomas Welsh and 6-9 Kevon Looney, who could play guard and forward. Both are 18. Alford said Tuesday he expects the team to look one way in October and a different way come February.

“I really, honestly, believe that with this team,” Alford said before a UCLA practice. “The young guys are extremely talented. As we get more practices and they get more experienced, it’s really going to help them.”

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