Since the beginning of time, fathers have shared their passions with sons.
Is there any doubt Socrates argued the virtues of philosophy with dear boy Lamprocles? That Richard Petty taught Kyle Petty the three-point turn?
Obviously Earl Woods taught little Tiger how to hold a putter.
And Steve Alford taught Bryce Alford how to shoot.
Again and again and until Bryce could beat his dad – no slouch, as his Indiana University scoring record would attest – the younger Alford learned how to refine his game, to make the most of his rather slight frame.
Now here’s Bryce, a freshman at UCLA, putting up 20-point games against the Bruins’ most hated rival, proving the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, particularly if the tree has a hoop attached.
The Alfords’ Bruins will host No. 1 Arizona tonight in what is certainly both teams’ biggest games to date.
A year after setting the New Mexico prep single-season scoring record, Alford’s eagle-eye view of his dad’s offense has helped ease the transition from high-volume high school scorer to backup college point guard. While other freshmen, even upperclassmen, are still learning the X’s and O’s, Bryce is already on the next page.
“That helps a lot – knowing most of the offense before the season even started,” said Bryce Alford, who averaged 37.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2.6 steals as a senior at Albuquerque’s La Cueva High School. “There were certain things I didn’t know, things I had to change. That was an adjustment. But definitely knowing the offense has paid off for me.”
Ask USC coach Andy Enfield.
Bryce had a career-high 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting, hitting 4-of-6 3-pointers, in a 107-73 UCLA win.
“He shot the ball well; I think he made he his first three,” USC’s Andy Enfield said. “He put it on the floor a couple times. He’s a very good player. He didn’t look like a freshman to me. Give him a lot of credit. He’s improving, I thought he really hurt us in a variety of ways on the offensive end. He’s turned himself into an excellent Pac-12 player.”
The big game against USC came after arguably his worst game of the year, his lone scoreless performance of the year in a 75-67 win over Alabama. Steve Alford, though, is quick to jump to his son’s rescue.
“I don’t know if it was his worst game – yeah, less amount of scoring – but Bryce knows his role isn’t necessarily to score,” Steve Alford said. “He’s our backup point guard, and he knows the system extremely well. Pushes the ball when we need it to be pushed. Gets us into offense. He knows what we need. Gives us a toughness and presence. But you forget about him, he can knock down shots.”
The USC game was a boost of confidence he’s needed at times this season, when torrents of criticism came pouring down from UCLA fans questioning his role on the team, wondering if nepotism crept its ugly head.
Judging by the stats: No.
Alford ranks in the conference’s top-four in assist-to-turnover ratio (third, 3.07) and 3-point field goal percentage (4th, 49 percent) and in the top-15 in the Pac-12 in assists (3.29) and steals (1.21).
He credits his teammates with keeping him above the fray, even when the grenades lobbed at him, even the ones lobbed at his father, threatened to leave a mark.
“My teammates have done a great job with that, building my confidence,” Bryce Alford said. “Reminding me every day how good I can be. They tell me I can play just as well as anybody on this team or in the Pac-12. Playing with the guys is so easy. They make it so easy.”
Surprisingly, playing for pops doesn’t sound like too much of a chore, either.
“I definitely think he’s a player’s coach,” Bryce Alford said about his father. “If you ask the majority of players he coaches, they all say they love playing for him. He’s going to be really hard on us when we’re doing what were not supposed to be doing. But when we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, he’s really fun.”
When asked about his son’s performance this season, Steve Alford hesitated to single him out, preferring to laud the contributions of the entire freshman class, which also includes high-flying shooting guard Zach LaVine and forwards Wanaah Bail and Noah Allen.
If Steve Alford sounds kind, it’s because he is, Bryce said.
Even in the midst of what has been a trying year – despite the lofty record, UCLA fans are still pining for Brad Stevens and Rick Pitino, even to this day – Steve has refused to let being a coach get in the way of being a father.
“He’s done a great job of it,” Bryce Alford said. “This is the most pressure he’s ever felt in his coaching career. He’s said that as well. Definitely the most. But he hasn’t brought his work home at all. He does a great job of separating his coaching life and his life as a father.
“But we do talk basketball every single day.”
It’s starting to show.