LAS VEGAS — The search for UCLA‘s next men’s basketball coach will officially begin to ramp up now that the Bruins’ season is finally over.
UCLA was eliminated from the Pac-12 tournament Thursday night after an 83-72 loss to Arizona State in the quarterfinals, and at 17-16, the Bruins will miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2015 season.
With Steve Alford being fired after a 7-6 start, athletic director Dan Guerrero must find someone to turn a once storied basketball program around after a decade of inconsistent and sometimes underwhelming basketball in Westwood.
Guerrero isn’t tipping his hand one way or the other on the direction or stages of the hiring process, only saying this week that it’s going well. He also has no timetable for hiring a coach.
“We’re doing our research,” Guerrero told ESPN earlier this week. “It could be tomorrow or it could be a month from now.”
One name he can scratch off of his potential list of candidates is interim head coach Murry Bartow, who took over for Alford in January and coached the Bruins to a 10-10 record during the second half of the season. Bartow said after Thursday’s loss that he doesn’t want to be UCLA’s permanent head coach and expects the Bruins to find the right coach for the job without him.
“They’ll hire a very good coach, I’m sure, and hopefully there’s good days ahead for me,” Bartow said. “I’m sure there are.”
Bartow, who was hired as a UCLA assistant last April and whose father, Gene, replaced legendary UCLA coach John Wooden in 1975, was visibly emotional during his final press conference as UCLA’s coach. He got choked up talking about his last message to his team in the locker room following Thursday’s loss.
“That’s tough,” he said. “I mean, it’s tough to share all that with you. A lot of that is just kind of between me and the team. But really just fact that I’m very proud of them and what they accomplished. It’s been a hard year for them. We don’t have to go through all that, but it’s been a tough year for them and our team. But I can just say this: When [associate head coach] Duane [Broussard] and [assistant coach] Tyus Edney and I took over in early January, they have just — they’ve never taken a day off. They just have never taken a day off. So I think the message in the locker room from Tyus and Duane and I was just, you know, how much we love them, how much we care for them. And that’s about it.”
Sophomore guards Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, who combined to score 46 points and hit 10 of 20 3-point shots against the Sun Devils, praised the job their coaches did during a tumultuous season, especially Bartow.
“I think coach Bartow is a really good man, and I appreciate all them coming and fighting with us day by day, too,” Hands said.
Added Wilkes: “Most definitely. It could have been easy for any of them to leave. Broussard has been with coach Steve [Alford] a long time, Tyus and all them, Wes. But they all stuck with us, and just thankful for that.”
Freshman center Moses Brown, who added two points and seven rebounds Thursday, said Bartow was “probably one of my favorite coaches I’ve had.”
“It was an amazing job,” Brown said of Bartow’s coaching job this season. “After our head coach had been fired, usually a team would be disoriented, but he did an amazing job of keeping us together as a team. This has been an amazing experience.”
As for the futures of Hands, Wilkes and Brown, who were the Bruins’ top scorers this season, they all said they were undecided about whether they would come back to UCLA for another season or declare for the NBA draft.
“I’m not worried about anything about the future right now,” said Wilkes, who averaged a team-high 17.4 points per game this season and is currently ranked as the No. 68 draft prospect by ESPN. “I’m just trying to stay with my team, stay with them now, and whatever happens, happens.”