Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
By NICK MEDLINECHICAGO – Incoming UCLA point guard Jaylen Hands excelled at the McDonald’s All-American Game, scoring 14 points with three rebounds, three assists and two steals. After the game, he could barely contain his excitement about playing at the next level.
Hands said he was thrilled when UCLA coach Steve Alford announced he would remain with the Bruins program. Alford was rumored to be a candidate for the Indiana opening, before the Hoosiers hired Dayton head coach Archie Miller.
Hands said Alford separates himself as a coach by not being “uptight,” while allowing players like star point guard Lonzo Ball to use their pure talent and play with pace.
“Coach Alford’s my coach and I really wanted him to be there,” Hands said. “I was super excited when he stayed, because I really want to play for him and I love his style. When he gave us that nod that he was coming back, I was excited.”
Hands was impressed by Ball, who recently declared for the NBA Draft after a memorable season at UCLA. Ball averaged 14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 7.6 assists, and was an AP National Player of the Year finalist. He’s likely to be an early selection in the Draft, and Hands said he “set the standard” for UCLA guards moving forward.
“Seeing Lonzo this year makes me want to go at it even harder,” Hands said. “It was unbelievable to watch him play, and I want to be even better.”
With Ball and forward T.J. Leaf heading to the NBA, the Bruins know they will have to retool for continued success. This process starts with players including Hands and fellow McDonald’s All-American, Indianapolis North Central small forward Kris Wilkes, who played well throughout the week.
Hands set the tone for Team West on Wednesday with his aggression, and looked comfortable attacking the rim against other elite competition. The El Cajon (CA) Foothills Christian standout had as many free throw attempts (10) as the entire East team. He said the United Center environment brought out the best of his game.
“It was unbelievable to play in a gym like that,” Hands said. “I’ve never done anything like that before. To be able to go out there and showcase your game is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It probably won’t hit me until later on, but for now, I really can’t believe it.”
Follow Nick Medline on TwitterFollow Adam Zagoria on TwitterAnd like ZAGS on Facebook