BY AMORE CHAVEZ | STAFF WRITER
Valentine’s Day, also known as the one day made for paying attention to your “special someone,” is on the horizon. Few lucky girls or boys get together and spend time and money on each other with traditional V-day gifts. But, wait! Can we only buy each other gifts on V-day? The answer is no! No, we can celebrate our love for others every day!
Valentine’s Day isn’t about who is dating whom, or what you get or give to someone. It’s about spending time with the people you love and with the people who care about you. We need to celebrate every day like that.
If friends and family are the best people to spend holidays with, then treat every day like a holiday. Love doesn’t come with a rule book saying “Valentine’s day only.”
Buy a teddy bear and give it to a friend because you missed them, write a sweet letter and give it to your parents just because, go out and buy your partner (and yourself) some candy and enjoy your life.
AUSTIN DENTON | SPORTS
The La Cueva gymnasium was filled with thousands of students for the annual winter sports assembly. In a special basketball game, the newly created La Cueva Unified Sports team was ready to take the court to face the staff. With the time winding down, the next made shot would win the game. The Unified Team passed the ball around, and finally, it ended up in the hands of the hero that day.
Conner Young drove to the basket, took aim, and hit the layup to win the game for the Unified Sports team. As Young and his teammates made their way off the court, the excitement could not be contained. They had just won their first game of the year. It was visible that each member of the Unified Sports team had an exceptional amount of pride for the game and for putting on a show for the school.
No one was more proud to be a bear and to be in that moment than Young. His grandmother expressed to a crowd of people how he loved coming to La Cueva to see his friends and teachers and be a bear. Unfortunately, the time she spoke to that crowd was at his funeral.
Young passed away on December 22nd over Winter Break after a significant medical episode put him in the hospital. The entire La Cueva community was shocked to hear the news, some before walking into the doors on January 3rd, and the rest, on that day, the day La Cueva students returned from Winter Break.
As students walked into school and down B Hall, a green poster hung over the window of Mrs. Montoya’s room read in bold letters, “We will never forget our friend, Conner Young.” Messages from friends, teachers, and anyone who knew him at La Cueva, were written on the poster. These words showed how much of an impact he made on their lives.
“I’ll never forget what to do if I see a bear and I think a lot of people can thank Conner for that,” one message says. Young’s grandmother mentioned at his funeral that she would always make sure that he knew what to do in that case, and safe to say, Young passed that along to his classmates.
“He was passionate about animals and loved his best buddy, his dog, Baloo,” Young’s obituary reads. Donations to the Albuquerque BioPark Zoo, Animal Humane New Mexico, or the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department were asked to be given in Young’s honor instead of flowers at his service. This further showed his love for animals, which included being a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
On January 8th, students at La Cueva showed up in green, or TMNT gear, to honor Young. “Knowing I made an impact on the community and showing support just by wearing green feels great,” said La Cueva freshman Faith Marshall. “My only memory of Conner is when he would walk into my class and always be so happy and say hi to everyone he sees and light up the room!”
Eldorado High School wore their blue on January 5th to show their support for La Cueva, setting all rivalries aside. Wearing blue that day was the final piece to the amount of activities the school did to honor Young. “We first started with a school-wide moment of silence in recognition of the student, then our senate made signs and posters to spread the word of wearing blue,” said Eldorado student Rylee Kelly. “It feels heart-warming to know that so many people can join together and become one…
AUSTIN DENTON | SPORTS
Standing on the court in the mildly packed Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi, the Memphis Hustle basketball team goes on a 13-0 run with one minute left in their game against the Oklahoma City Blue. The Blue’s lead was cut down to four, and it looked like if they didn’t do something quick to stop the run, they would lose the game in comeback fashion. But not if their 6’3”, 185 pound guard Bryce Alford can help it.
Staring his guard down in the face at the top of the perimeter, Alford dribbles the ball through his legs a couple times, then takes a quick off-balance shot at the top from a great distance. It bounces off the heart of the backboard, and falls into the net at the perfect angle, making the lead seven for the Blue and the game irrecoverable for the Hustle.
Nonchalantly, Alford walks off as if he didn’t just pull off the game-securing shot, he acts like he’s been there before. He may have scored a career-high 35 points that night, but that didn’t matter to him. He is used to helping out his team and being in pressure situations on and off the court.
After all, players that make it to the professional level don’t just magically appear there and start playing like they belong. It requires a journey, filled with hard work, determination and passion for the game that they love most. For Alford, playing at UCLA was a crucial step in that journey.
Alford started as the third-string point guard his freshman year, as Kyle Anderson got the start and Zach LaVine was his backup. In the beginning, it was a bit of a struggle for Alford, averaging just five points to start the season. But it’s safe to say every freshman player has their jitters the first time they step onto the college stage.
He got the chance to prove himself towards the end of the season during conference play that year. With LaVine and fellow high-caliber teammate Jordan Adams suspended, Alford had to step up to the plate and take the starting position of point guard in their game vs. Oregon.
He did just that, scoring 31 points in a four-point loss in double overtime to the Ducks. That also made him the first freshman since 1988 at UCLA to score 30+ points in a game, Don McLean holding that last record. “My freshmen year was an up and down year for me but overall, I played pretty well,” Alford said.
He finished that season averaging eight points and 2.8 assists. Despite the low stat numbers, he was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team. “Being named to the all-freshman team in the Pac 12 was a huge honor because of the other names I was mentioned with. Almost all if not all of those players are in the NBA now, so it was a tremendous honor for me.”
Those names being Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, LaVine, and Nigel Williams-Goss, who are all in the NBA now.
His sophomore season would be a big jumpstart for him. With Anderson, LaVine, and Adams all leaving for the NBA, Alford got the go-ahead to become the starting point-guard. “Going into my sophomore year I was very excited because I felt like I had something to prove,” Alford said. It wasn’t just Alford that had something to prove, the entire UCLA Bruin 2014-15 squad had something to prove.
In the pre-season, there were two articles written by Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports and Eamonn Brennan of ESPN that boasted the terms, “unimpressive” and “problems”. So they fired back with their good performance. The Bruins started their season well with a record of 8-2. In the first three games of the season, Alford would record two double-doubles, making them the first double-doubles of his career.
They continued to go on a five-game losing streak after that 8-2 start, to top tier teams like Alabama, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Colorado, and Utah, which included the embarrassing 71-39 loss to Utah. In that game, Alford did not make a single shot he attempted. “Hopefully, he doesn’t have too many of them,” his father Steve said about having a bad shooting night.
During that time, Alford was on a skid, missing 19 consecutive shots at one point, totaling just five field goals made of 39 attempts during that time. Something needed to be done to get the Bruins back on track.
Whatever that was, it worked. The Bruins advanced to the NCAA Tournament that year as a #11 seed in the South Region of the bracket as an at-large bid. The strength of the Pac-12 Conference opponents that they faced and those quality wins against them were what got them in towards the end of the season.
They were matched up with #6 seed SMU in the Round of 64, who were the automatic qualifiers of the American Conference. The Bruins pulled off an upset 60-59, Alford hitting key three-point baskets down the stretch for the Bruins. The one that put them over the edge was by Alford when it was 59-57 Mustangs.
They would then battle against #14 seed UAB in the Round of 32, who had upset #3 Iowa State the same night that UCLA won their game. UCLA would win 92-75 against the Blazers, before falling to #2 Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 the following week, just like they had during the regular season. Alford would receive All Pac-12 Honorable Mention that year.
Alford’s junior year was one that was statistically good for him, but not for his team. The Bruins had an under .500 overall record of 15-17, making a first-round exit as a #10 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament against USC. Despite big wins in the regular season to teams like Kentucky, Gonzaga, and Arizona, they would end their season on a five-game losing streak and were not in a situation to receive an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.
During that year, Alford had shared the point guard role with incoming freshman Aaron Holiday, who was regarded as a four-star prospect from North Hollywood, CA. Despite the season they didn’t want to have, Alford finished seventh in scoring in the Pac-12, averaging 16.1 points. He also would finish second in the Pac-12 in assists per game with 5.2 per game, and would once again receive an All Pac-12 Honorable Mention.
But that was the past, and Alford was ready to move on to the season that mattered the most to him in his college days, his senior season. There was one goal that he had planted in his mind to cap off his college career. “My goals during my senior year were to win a National Championship,” he said. “I knew that individually my stock for the NBA would rise if my team was winning.”
The Bruins were stacked up with talent. With Alford being a senior now, returning sophomore Holiday looking better, and five-star freshman recruits Lonzo Ball out of Chino Hills, CA and TJ Leaf out of El Cajon, CA entering the program, UCLA was looking like a national championship contending team.
What a start to the year it was for the Bruins. During the non-conference portion of the season, UCLA was undefeated, including winning the Wooden Legacy tournament in a clean sweep, while also defeating teams like Kentucky and Ohio State.
They wouldn’t suffer their first loss until their Pac-12 conference regular-season opener against Oregon, where they dropped a 89-87 contest to the Ducks. Nonetheless, they would finish the season 28-3, their other two losses to USC and Arizona heading into the Pac-12 Tournament.
In the Pac-12 Tournament as a #3 seed behind #2 Arizona and #1 Oregon, they would defeat #6 USC in the quarterfinals to bounce back from their regular season loss. Unfortunately the Bruins would once again fall to Arizona in the semifinals, the eventual winner of the conference tournament.
Even though the Bruins didn’t receive the guaranteed bid into the NCAA Tournament by winning their conference, their resume that year was a guarantee enough.
The Bruins would score a #3 seed in the South Region of the bracket, matching up with #14 seed Kent State in the Round of 64, the automatic qualifiers from the MAC. UCLA won that game 97-80, where Alford didn’t put too much on the stat-sheet but helped set up great plays to get his teammates on the stat-sheet.
They would then meet #6 Cincinnati in the Round of 32, beating them 79-67 behind Alford’s 16 points and three assists, and Ball adding 18 points and nine assists. Then the big rematch with Kentucky would ensue in the Sweet 16 in Memphis, TN.
Early in the regular season, the Bruins beat the Wildcats 97-92 thanks to double-digit scoring performances from six of the eight players that got on the stat sheet that night. Unfortunately for UCLA, it wasn’t the same story this time around when it mattered most.
Kentucky knocked them off 86-75, even though four players were in double figures, including Alford, who had 13 points.
Alford acknowledged even though they didn’t achieve that goal of getting to the national championship, it helped him personally with his stock in the NBA Draft. “We fell short of winning a National Championship, but we accomplished a lot and I set myself up very well to start my professional career.”
During his time with the Bruins, Alford created everlasting friendships with his teammates that played with him over the years and still stays in contact with them. “To this day I still stay in touch with the majority of my teammates during my UCLA days,” he said. “I played with a ton of great players that I will be friends with for a lifetime.”
Then came June 22, 2017. The day that Alford hoped to hear NBA commissioner Adam Silver say his name, meaning that he got drafted to an NBA team.
Unfortunately, for Alford, it wouldn’t happen, but not all hope was lost, as he would eventually be signed by the Golden State Warriors to play for their summer league team. After playing a couple of games with the Warriors’ summer league team, he signed a training-camp contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, meaning that he would be with the team training before the regular season started.
Presently now, he continues to play for the Oklahoma City Blue in the NBA’s developmental league, the G-League. Alford is excited for this opportunity to be with the team, and if he works hard enough, he can eventually be called up to play for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Alford said, “I am in a very good situation here in Oklahoma City, and I am very excited to see where this journey takes me.”