An Alford Finally Gets a Shot with Pacers

Bryce Alford was back home this week, if home can be the state in which you lived the first six months of your life. He'd like for it to become home again, be the state he lives out his boyhood career, but is fully aware of the NBA's dream-crushing tendencies.

For now Alford is continuing his life as a basketball vagabond, which never has been by his choice or preference. As a kid growing up in a household funded by an upwardly mobile college basketball coach, he moved from Manchester, Ind.; to Iowa City, Iowa; to Albuquerque, New Mexico; and then to Los Angeles.

He's since moved on to Oklahoma City and was in Indianapolis this week practicing with the Pacers' Summer League team that will begin play on Friday in Las Vegas, where all 30 NBA teams will enter summer squads.

Alford's dream, no matter how unlikely it might seem to the outside world, is to be able to plant roots in Indianapolis, or any other NBA city. Not only would that fulfill a yearning desire that's gnawed at him since childhood, it would give him an edge on his dad, a bona-fide Hoosier basketball legend.

"He talks about his street cred in Indiana being so high," Bryce said. "I'm trying to one-up him and earn a spot here. He never wore a Pacers jersey."

Steve Alford very famously never wore a Pacers jersey, in fact. Coming out of Indiana University in 1987, where he was a consensus first-team All-American after leading the Hoosiers to the NCAA championship, he was bypassed by the Pacers in the NBA Draft in favor of Reggie Miller. That decision was booed lustily on draft night by fans who couldn't fathom why a struggling franchise wouldn't grab a local ticket-selling hero with lofty credentials, but became legend after Alford put in four middling NBA seasons with Dallas and Golden State and Miller went on to an 18-season Hall of Fame career with the Pacers.

Bryce knows all about his father's legacy in the state, which includes a turn as Mr. Basketball out of New Castle High School in 1983. He's returned to Indiana regularly to visit grandparents and to help with Steve's annual basketball camp in Franklin, and even if he didn't ask about his dad's history here, people would gladly tell him about it.

He's admiring and respectful and all that when it comes to dad's career, but at the moment he's got his own niche to carve. It hasn't been easy. He was spared having to hear endless comparisons to his father's playing career by growing up in other states, but he's still had to deal with being the coach's son. Not just a coach, the coach of the major college program wherever he lived: Southwest Missouri State, Iowa, New Mexico and, finally, UCLA, where he established himself as a player well beyond the benefit of nepotism.

"People didn't know as much about his playing career wherever we moved, but I still had the name of the coach's son and had to make a name for myself," he said. "Even in my college days, anytime I was in (a newspaper article) it was 'Bryce Alford, son of head coach...'

"I'm always going to be known as his son. That's not a bad thing, but you just try to make a name for yourself and try to make the best of it."

Alford did all right by himself at UCLA, even amid a cluster of teammates engaged in the act of their own name-making. Those included TJ Leaf, the Pacers' first-round draft pick a year ago; Aaron Holiday, their first-round pick this year; Ike Anigbogu, their second-round pick last year; and Lonzo Ball, the second overall pick last year by the Lakers.

Alford started his final three seasons at UCLA and finished with 1,922 career points — impressive, but well short of his dad's 2,438 points at IU. He averaged 15.5 points as a senior, hitting 43 percent of his 3-point shots and setting UCLA's all-time record for made 3-pointers — notable, but well short of dad's 22-point average as a senior while hitting 53 percent of his 3-pointers. He hit .825 from the foul line throughout his college career — far better than average, but not nearly as impressive as Dad falling just two lousy made free throws short of hitting 90 percent for his college career.

Steve Alford did hit 90 percent from the foul line his first two seasons at IU, though, something he'll never let Bryce forget.

"That's his No. 1 thing," Bryce said, smiling. "He says the 90 Percent Club is a hard one to get into. I haven't quite cracked that. But I always tell him he doesn't have the range I have. We go back and forth all the time talking trash to each other."

Bryce does shoot from farther out than Steve did, although that might simply be a reflection of the wide-open nature of the game today. He also has a quicker release and probably is a better athlete, too.
Some would consider that damning with faint praise, as raw athleticism kept Steve Alford from having a longer and better NBA career, and people are naturally going to assume Bryce, at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, is similarly handicapped.

He's further proof that looks can deceive, though. His former UCLA teammates, Leaf and Holiday, say he's a better athlete than he appears to be, and he doesn't argue the point.

"I'm not going to be the most athletic or the tallest or the longest, but I'm more athletic than people give me credit for," he said. "I have very good feet, I run faster than people (think), too."

He proved that at the G League Elite Mini Camp in May, where he was one of 51 participants. He had a 34-inch vertical jump and was the third-fastest player in the three-quarter court sprint and the four-way agility tests. He also was the third-leading scorer and hit 12-of-27 3-pointers over the final three games of the four-game series.

He's got that on his dad, too. Hitting 3-pointers is a far different animal in the pro game than in college. The line is farther from the basket and the defenders are that much quicker and longer. Bryce hit 41 percent of his attempts in the G League last season. Steve hit 32 percent throughout his four NBA seasons.

"He can shoot the ball; he can really shoot the ball," Leaf said. "If he's open an inch he's knocking it down. And even if he's not knocking down the three, he's sucking the defense toward him, which opens the lanes for everyone else."

Bryce averaged 15.5 points for OKC's G League team last season, matching his senior college season average. He scored 19 points while hitting 4-of-8 3-pointers in his team's lone playoff game, and had three assists without a turnover in 37 minutes. He no doubt surpassed the expectations of most people who watched him play in college, but it was an eye-opening experience regardless.

"It humbles you, first and foremost," he said. "You come from a big school like UCLA and then go play in the G League and you're traveling to a lot of small towns and playing before less than 1,000 people.

"You learn to focus. It's a long season. We played 51 games and I'd never played a season that long. And you learn the pro-style game. It's a whole different game than the college game. I feel a whole lot better coming into this year than I did last year."

Alford doesn't need to be told of the harsh reality of the Pacers' roster. They have three point guards with guaranteed contracts in Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, and Holiday, and another one likely to play for their G League affiliate in Fort Wayne in Edmond Sumner, whom the Pacers took with a purchased second-round pick a year ago.

His most realistic hope in Las Vegas is to catch the eye of another team, whether it be from the NBA, the G League, or overseas. For now, though, he's more interested in playing in the U.S., where the money is less but the exposure greater.

"I don't need money right now; I'm not chasing money," he said. "My dream has been to play in the NBA my whole life and that's what I'm going to try to do. If being in the G League is what it takes, that's what I'll do.

"I'll just play the best game that I can, show what I can do. Just try to earn a spot, whether it's here or wherever it may be.

Bryce has made one concession to his father's career: He's been wearing No. 12 for the Pacers' Summer League team, after wearing No. 20 in college and in the G League. Steve Alford made No. 12 famous during his years at New Castle and IU, but wore Nos. 2 and 4 in the NBA.

No matter what happens from here, Bryce will be the only Alford to have worn a No. 12 Pacers jersey. One more thing he'll have on Dad.

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