• New UCLA Basketball Head Coach Off to Shaky Start

    LOS ANGELES (CNS) – New UCLA head basketball coach Steve Alford apologized today for repeatedly defending one of his players at the University of Iowa in 2002 when the sophomore star was arrested and charged with sexual assault.

    Alford, as coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes team, made repeated public statements insisting that Pierre Pierce was innocent of the accusation. Pierce eventually pleaded to a reduced charge in a plea deal that a prosecutor on the case said was offered in large part because of the coach’s persistent support of the player.

    Retired Johnson County, Iowa, prosecutor J. Patrick White told the Orange County Register the coach’s pronouncements raised the profile of the case and left the victim reluctant to testify.

    White told The Register that “it was very hurtful to the victim to read in the paper that Steve Alford, even with evidence of the assault by Pierce, continued proclaiming (Pierce’s) innocence.”

    Pierce was permitted to rejoin the basketball team after striking the plea deal and continued playing until 2005, when he was arrested again and Alford threw him off the squad.

    Alford issued a statement through UCLA today, saying he “instinctively and mistakenly came to his (Pierce’s) defense before knowing all the facts.”

    “I wanted to believe he was innocent, and in response to a media question, I publicly proclaimed his innocence before the legal system had run its course,” Alford said. “This was inappropriate, insensitive and hurtful, especially to the young female victim involved, and I apologize for that.

    “I have learned and grown from that experience and now understand that such proclamations can contribute to an atmosphere in which similar crimes go unreported and victims are not taken seriously,” he said. “It’s important for me personally and professionally to make sure Chancellor (Gene) Block, Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, all of my student-athletes and the entire UCLA community, including our fans, understand that today I would handle the situation much differently, with the appropriate regard and respect for the investigative process and those impacted by it.”

    Guerrero said UCLA officials were aware of the Iowa situation when they decided to hire Alford, but concluded it was an “error in judgment” and that Alford “had learned and grown from that experience.”

    “Our evaluation was based on his entire career, both on and off the court, and that is what led us to make our decision that he was the right coach for UCLA,” Guerrero said. “Steve came to us with a tremendous reputation and record in New Mexico, and I am excited to see how he can build on and grow our men’s basketball program at UCLA.

    “I expect all of our coaches to serve as an example to our student- athletes and the entire Bruin family, displaying true character and strong values,” he said. “Working with Steve over the last two weeks I am confident that he will demonstrate the leadership we expect of all our coaches.”

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