BILL PLASCHKE

Steve Alford is unbeaten, untested and an unexpected delight

"I'm not exaggerating, it happens every day; there's a moment in time when I pinch myself that I'm actually at this great and historic place," Alford says. '"It is humbling, and it is surreal."

Before every home game, he stops and greets Nan Meuhlhausen, Wooden's daughter who still sits next to her late father's reserved seat behind the Bruins' bench. After every home game, he alters his usual route to walk past the Wooden statue — "I have to acknowledge him," he says.

Then, after driving to his home in the west San Fernando Valley, Alford acknowledges Wooden in another way. He walks outside to his backyard goal, turns on the light, and shoots.

Yeah, not only does the UCLA coach have a backyard basket, but he uses it.

"It's a release for me," says Alford, 49, the former national champion point guard. "I don't hunt or fish, and during the season I don't golf, so I shoot."

Sometimes shooting with him will be his two sons, Kory and Bryce, who both play for the Bruins and will visit their parents on Sundays for church and lunch. Alford and Tanya, his wife of 26 years, also have a daughter, Kayla. If there was any question that Alford is still a Hoosier, it was answered when he recently visited Kayla's high school on parents' night. Even though she doesn't play sports, he took a detour from her classrooms to visit the gym.

"Man, I had to see the gym, right? And it was a great gym, old and small, a real shooter's gym," he recalls. "I was so excited to tell Kayla and she was like, 'Dad!'"

Although he gives his players freedom on the court, when they are representing the team in public off the court, he insists on conformity. They wear the same sweatsuits, carry the same backpacks, take caps off inside, and lose the earrings.

"He wants to act like one family, everyone together; that's cool," Powell says.

Alford is so intent that his players remain humble and appreciative, he even arranged for 11 new full-length championship banners to be hung from the Pauley Pavilion hallway leading from the locker room to the court.

"I want our players knowing about the aura of this program," Alford says. "I want them to know that when they take the floor, they know what this place is all about."

So far, it's a vastly different place. So far, it seems, Norman Dale would approve.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Twitter: @billplaschke

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