Alford looks forward to coaching sons

LAS VEGAS -- He doesn’t have a lofty recruiting rating next to his name, and no one has tagged him as an NBA prospect. At least not yet.

Still, when Bryce Alford took the court for the Danny Granger D-I Ambassadors in Las Vegas last week, a high-profile coach was watching from the stands.

His father.

New Mexico’s Steve Alford, the former Indiana star, tries to attend each of his son’s AAU games when they’re both at the same recruiting event -- even if it means missing a chance to see another prospect play in an opposing gym.

“My staff just knows that there are certain games I’ve got to get to,” Alford said. “I’m a dad long before I’m a coach.”

It won’t be long before Alford fills both roles for each of his sons. Kory Alford is a New Mexico walk-on who redshirted last season. Bryce, meanwhile, is slated to join his father’s squad in the fall of 2013. He committed to the Lobos in March and still has one year remaining at Albuquerque's La Cueva High School.

A 6-foot-3, 170-pound shooting guard, Bryce is regarded as one of the top players in the state.

“Bryce is athletic,” Steve Alford said. “He’s got very good feet and outstanding court awareness. He has that knack of making people around him better, which means he’s a good teammate.

“That’s something that has always been preached in our home and they’ve heard it in the locker room. If you’re going to play this game, you’re going to play it as hard as you possibly can and you’re going to play it as unselfishly as you possibly can.”

That’s something Steve Alford always did at Indiana, where he led the Hoosiers to the 1987 NCAA title by scoring 23 points in the championship game against Syracuse.

After a four-year career in the NBA, Alford joined the coaching ranks and made stops at Missouri State (then Southwest Missouri State) and Iowa before landing at New Mexico in 2007.

Despite all of his success as a player and coach, Alford said he never pushed his sons toward playing basketball.

“I didn’t want to put any more pressure on them,” Alford said. “I just wanted them to play and enjoy the college experience. It’s a good, happy balance, where they understand what I’m telling them is to help them and not to be overly critical.

“I played for my dad, so that helped a lot. It prepared me for this.”

Even though he guesses his sons faced a little “internal pressure” to attend New Mexico, Alford said he left the decision-making process up to each of them. Kory hopes to get into coaching someday. He couldn’t pick anyone better to learn from than his own father.

Bryce, who has shown more potential with his on-court play, hasn’t looked that far down the road. He’s just excited about becoming a Lobo.

“Ever since I was little, I pretty much wanted to play for my dad,” Bryce told reporters after announcing his commitment in March. “As I got better and better, he started showing more interest and helping me out to get to the level where I could play for him eventually.

“I knew all along I wanted to go to (New Mexico). There’s so much here, I didn’t need anything else.”

Alford isn’t the only New Mexico coach with a son headed for the Division I ranks. Cullen Neal, the son of Lobos assistant Craig Neal, has committed to play for Saint Mary’s. Cullen Neal and Bryce Alford are AAU teammates.

Their fathers spent plenty of time in Las Vegas last week watching them compete in their final summer of AAU basketball.

“Obviously, I’ve followed my sons very closely,” Alford said. “If I’m on the road, I’m watching them on the internet. I’m just blessed that they’ve enjoyed playing the game. Hopefully they’ll have the same experience in college.”