No one shined brighter in Thursday’s NCAA Tournament action than UCLA’s Bryce Alford or Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter — and they did so under the intense spotlight of scrutiny inherent with being a coach’s son.
Both Alford and Hunter were integral to their double-digit-seeded teams advancing to the Round of 32 with game-winners that sank SMU and Baylor, respectively. As a coach’s son myself — albeit at a significantly lower level — I set aside my objectivity long enough to revel vicariously in their success.
Naysaying chatter is going to follow a coach’s son regardless the level of competition. It surrounded Alford in a season that included sich lows as a dismal, 0-for-10 shooting game in a blowout loss Jan. 4 at Utah.
“You hear negative things and you have to turn it into a positive,” Alford told the Orange County Register‘s Ryan Kartje in January. “The whole team believes in me. They know what I can do, and they trust me.”
Turning negatives into positives manifested for Alford Thursday in 27 points on nine 3-pointers. The last for which he was credited as the game-winner was a controversial goaltending call.
Flourishing amid all the negativity that comes with being a coach’s kid takes a certain mental toughness. And that same level of mental toughness is necessary to take a late-game shot that will determine if an entire team’s season will end or extend at least another game, as Alford and Hunter did Thursday.
“Nobody’s been critiqued any more than he has on our basketball team throughout the year, and he’s been very consistent,” Alford’s father and UCLA head coach Steve Alford said, per ASAPSports.com. “Very consistent for us as far as double-figure scoring. He lead us in assists. He runs the team for us. And in a game like this, where it was so physical and, I thought, two teams that really fought defensively, he had to make some shots.”
Perhaps it was because of persistent criticism Bryce Alford was unafraid of taking big shots while some of his UCLA teammates were shell-shocked in a 19-0 SMU run. A Bruin with thick skin was needed to stem the bleeding.
Likewise, Hunter shook off a slow start to rip off nine of his 16 points in a raucous flurry down the stretch.
“That first (3-pointer) got me going,” Hunter said per ASAPSports.com. “All you’ve got to do is see one go in, so once I saw that, I got a little bit of confidence and that’s the confidence I needed.”
The confidence Alford and Hunter exuded Thursday scored tournament wins for UCLA and Georgia State, and also scored a small moral victory for all the coaches’ sons out there.