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Alumnus In the Spotlight: Bryce Alford

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.

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Bryce Alford developed over the years to become a professional basketball player. Design: Robbie Kujath

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.”

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Korean Border Question for 2018 Winter Olympics

winter olympics

The Winter Olympics is an international sporting event that contains 105 events in 7 sports as well as 92 countries participating. Photo: Stux

BY ARYN LAYNO | STAFF WRITER

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is only 40 miles from its border with North Korea. This issue of proximity raises the question of how much of a threat North Korea poses over the Olympic games.

“If there were some type of war action, that would change things dramatically,” said Samuel Auxier, president of the U.S figure skating team, in an article by Jere Longman of the NYT.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina believes that the U.S would be aiding North Korea’s regime ways, and that boycotting the games would be the best idea. But the athletes participating won’t let a political feud get in the way of their career.

“I think they need to be careful saying things like that because these athletes have worked so hard to get there,” said Auxier. “The Olympics should be above politics. They shouldn’t be playing politics with this.”

Olympians train for years to participate in the Olympics, and according to Auxier, boycotting it would devastate the athletes. The same issue goes back to 1980, when the U.S boycotted the summer Olympics in Moscow, Russia due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Don Paige, American track and field olympian, was supposed to compete at the 1980 Olympics for the 800 meter event. Paige had run the fastest 800 meter time that year and was a fan favorite. But due to the boycott former president Jimmy Carter had issued, he did not compete. “To this day I have never watched that Olympic 800 final, I made a promise to myself,” Paige told CNN.

Although tensions between supreme leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, and President of the U.S, Donald Trump, have risen lately due to Trump’s “bigger button” feud, North and South Korea have a more peacful relationship. Last year, North Korea sent their women’s national hockey team to play in South Korea, and South Korea sent their women’s soccer team to play in North Korea.

BBC News reported that North and South Korea have also announced that the two nations will be marching under the same flag as a sign of their unified relationship after almost 70 years of being at war. Still, the issue of proximity raises some concerns.

Pyeonchang, the location of the Olympics, is only forty miles away from the border between North and South Korea. This adds to the possible threat that North Korea poses on the Olympics.  “Allowing Kim Jong Un’s North Korea to participate in #WinterOlympics would give legitimacy to the most illegitimate regime on the planet,” Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted. Adding to the dangers North Korea poses, North Korea has a well known reputation of violence, such as their 1988 attack on a Korean Air Flight ten months before the 1988 Olympics, as a way of protesting the Olympic games. However, current signs are pointing towards North Korea refraining from attacking the Olympics. Specifically, North Korea’s athletes performing in the 2018 Olympics and their unified flag, symbolizing their newfound relationship of peace.

“These worries are understandable,” said Choi Moon-soon, governor of the South Korean province where the Olympics will take place, “If they participate in the event, that threat disappears.”

NMAA’s New Class and District Realignments: What It Means for La Cueva

AUSTIN DENTON | SPORTS

UPDATE 12/7/17: Albuquerque Journal’s James Yodice reported late Wednesday night that Albuquerque High and Rio Grande’s football programs have decided to go independent and will not participate in Class 6A, District 2 competition. That paragraph from the story is corrected below.

The New Mexico Activities Association announced the new class and district realignments for all athletic sports that will take effect the 2018-19 year.

It features football programs across the state sticking with six classifications and newly reformed districts, and the rest of the sports across the state dropping down to five classifications and also newly reformed districts. So how does this affect La Cueva athletics?

Class 6A, which is the class that the Bears are currently in for football and all other sports, will cut down from four districts to three in football. As for all of the other sports, the Bears will be dropped to Class 5A, but that will still be the highest class that any program can be in and will also have a newly formed district.

The NMAA announced new district and class realignments in hopes to improve competition. Photo: nmact.org

In football, the Bears will still be competing in Class 6A, District 2 with the same teams this season that were in the district last season, which are the Clovis Wildcats, Eldorado Eagles, Manzano Monarchs and the Sandia Matadors.

La Cueva’s athletic director LeeAnn Moores said that with these new districts moving out and combining into the new districts, the weaker districts no longer have an automatic bid in to the state tournament, creating a greater chance for top 10 teams to be in state. “With these districts dissolving and the teams being dispersed among other districts, I would argue that there is a greater chance that the true top 10 teams will be in the state bracket,” Moores said.

In basketball, volleyball, track & field, baseball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, tennis and wrestling, the Bears will be in Class 5A, District 2. Only one other team from this year’s district stays, that team being Eldorado. Jumping into District 2 for these sports will be the Farmington Scorpions, the Piedra Vista Panthers and the West Mesa Mustangs.

Swimming and diving has a much larger district when it comes to their district and how they compete against each other in district meets, just because it is a rarity that swimming and diving ever directly compete against a team in a meet. The only thing that is added onto the district is all the members of the new district in the other sports.

“Geography is a key element,” Moores said about the changes. “Even though we have outliers, in a less populated state like ours, we are going to have several hours to travel at times.”

Moores also explained that with the new changes, she believes there is more equal competition amongst the members. She said, “I would argue that the districts are more balanced competition wise.  Different sports have their own stronger and weaker schools in some regions but on the whole, the districts to me seem pretty balanced.”