The Rebels have already learned the cold, hard realities of life on the road in the Mountain West this year, but the toughest challenge of all may come on Feb. 18 at New Mexico.
That game has special meaning to me, because it brings back memories of my son Jamaal’s playing days for the Lobos—and reminds me how easy it is to ruin what should be a great experience. My son once told me, “Dad, it was a nightmare playing for Steve Alford.” He said it was the first time he actually hated playing basketball. I always told him that every coach would be different, and each one would expect different things from their players. In the two years he played for the Lobos, there were many people and friends he got to meet, and he still communicates with of them—but the season with Alford cast a shadow over the experience.
Jamaal played only his senior year under Alford. He started the first five games of the 2007-08 season, averaging 11 points, two assists, and three rebounds per game. The Lobos were still unbeaten when Alford called Jamaal into his office and told him he would no longer be starting because he wasn’t one of Alford’s recruits. Jamaal was devastated. He would call me each night about it. I told him to stay professional about the whole situation, to keep playing hard and not give the coach a reason to not play you. I remember a parent saying something to Alford about his son’s playing time, and he stopped playing the kid for a while—seemingly just to prove a point. The one thing I always told my kid was I would never look over a coach’s shoulder and tell him how to run his program.
But there were two things that really disturbed me with Alford. One was when, in the summer of 2008, two players, Monquel Pegues and Johnnie Harris, were not told until a month after school ended that their scholarships were being taken away and they should look elsewhere for a school. And the other was when he cursed my son out after a game because he said he didn’t like what my wife said during a game. After that, I knew we had to have a meeting—but that meeting never came.
My son went on to get his degree in secondary education. Alford has never congratulated him.
Maybe that’s why I get so excited when UNLV beats New Mexico.