Steve Lavin coached at UCLA as an assistant from 1991-96 and as a head coach from 1996-2003. If he had to deal with LaVar Ball back then, it probably would have been an issue.
But nowadays? Not so much.
“Well, it’s less than ideal, but because of the fact that we’re at a time now with the constant bombardment of message and media, I think kids – and for that matter, people – are not really fazed by the bombastic,” Lavin, a CBS college basketball analyst, said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “It kind of just is par for the course – even though as a traditionalist, as an old-school guy, it’s less than ideal to have those type of distractions, to bring extra scrutiny to your program. It’s challenging enough without (that). But again, we got a president who tweets from the White House. Oftentimes, celebrities raise their brand by leaking a sex tape. So we’re just at a place in the new millennium where not much can shock, and so as a result, it’s par for the course and doesn’t appear to have really been a distraction. Again, less than ideal, but 25 years ago, it would be headlines. It would be more dramatic than it’s even being covered now and maybe more of a distraction. But I think young people today are used to the shock of the news and this bombastic kind of behavior.”
UCLA is back in the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years and is seeking its first Final Four since 2008. The No. 3 Bruins (31-4) play No. 2 Kentucky (31-5) this Friday at 9:39 p.m. ET.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Sean Miller is closing in on the first Final Four of his career. No. 2 Arizona plays No. 11 Xavier (23-13) in the Sweet 16 on Thursday, and, if victorious, will play the winner of No. 1 Gonzaga (34-1) versus No. 4 West Virginia (28-8) in the Elite Eight on Saturday.
Miller, who has been to four Elite Eights, needs to break through this year, no?
“This is the year where it’s lined up perfectly for him,” Lavin said. “They have young contributors in (Lauri) Markkanen, (Rawle) Alkins and (Kobi) Simmons. Those three contribute in different ways. Simmons (is) an electrifying athlete. Markkanen is a 7-footer who can play inside and out and has a tremendous feel for the game. And I think surprisingly, Alkins has developed into an outstanding player from the wing position. He can finish, he can score, but really it’s been his passing, his basketball intellect on display. He’s brought maturity and poise to that team unexpectedly as a freshman. And then, of course, they have that go-to crunch-time performer. Allonzo Trier has that ability as well to carry a team on his back. They’re really balanced.”
Indeed, they are. But they are not without flaws.
“The one thing they lack – and it’s so important as you get deeper into the NCAA Tournament – is lateral foot speed on that front line and food speed, for that matter, rim-to-rim in transition both ways,” Lavin said. “If that gets exposed, as Oregon did up in Eugene or UCLA when they went into McKale, (Arizona could struggle). But they are poised and positioned to get to a Final Four. This is the year they need to break through. Coach (Lute) Olson set the standard there for excellence (with five Final Fours and a national championship), and the natives get restless if you don’t get to a Final Four every couple of years when you’re in Arizona.”