Every Wednesday, Shannon Kelly will sit down with a coach's wife, a former Wolf Pack athlete or a woman in the Northern Nevada community to have a conversation over a glass of wine (or whatever drink they choose). This week, she sat down with Tanya Alford, wife of Nevada men's basketball coach Steve Alford. They talked about giving back to the community and their gift box business; the different places the Alfords have lived; their three children, Kory, Bryce and Kayla; and what it meant to have Steve coach both of their sons at UCLA.
Just a small town girl
Steve and Tanya Alford grew up half a block away from each other in New Castle, Ind,. a small town 44 miles northeast of Indianapolis with a population of roughly 17,000 people. Steve's father became the head coach of New Castle High when the two were in fifth grade.
"Our parents and families were very dear friends, so to me he was my 'kick the can' buddy, 'hide and seek' buddy and wiffle ball buddy growing up," Tanya said. "We were really good friends in elementary school, junior high and high school and started dating right before our senior year of high school. I always thought that was the norm, that's what people did, that they met their significant other and their future husband to be when they were little kids. I’ve known him practically 40-some years. It was great because we formed a really great friendship growing up and then it just turned into a love story and we’ve been married 32 years."
Basketball has always been Tanya's favorite sport. The two would often work out and shoot together, but Steve had a surprise for her after one shooting session.
“It was the summer before our senior year of college," Tanya said. "I went to work out with him like I always did in our high school gym there in New Castle, which was the biggest high school field house gymnasium in the world. A lot of the time I would just go in there and rebound for him. I went with him on Aug. 1, 1986, and I was rebounding for him and before I got there he hung the net, so it didn’t surprise me because he always hangs the net after a workout, so I just thought it was like that from before so he kept shooting and it wouldn’t come down. He went and got a ladder from his Dad’s office, knowing I would probably climb up the ladder, and then he had the ring box on the back of the rim there, so he proposed in our high school gym, which was really cool.”
A journey across the country
After a standout career at Indiana under Hall of Fame coach, Bob Knight, Alford was the 26th pick in the 1987 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks. He played in the NBA from 1987-1991 for Dallas and Golden State before making the transition into college coaching.
“At first, I really thought I was going to miss him playing because I had watched him all through high school when he was my boyfriend, still my boyfriend through college," Tanya said. "I was at IU for two years and then I went to Evansville to get my physical therapy degree. As a fiancée and as a wife, I was used to watching him play and I thought this is going to be really sad because I grew up watching basketball. Basketball was my favorite sport to watch and when you grow up in Indiana as a Hoosier that’s just embedded in you. Everyone just has a hoop on their driveway.
"But the transition was very easy because you just fall in love with those kids. He got his first head-coaching job at 27, which our oldest son, Kory, now is getting his first head-coaching job at 27, 20 miles from where we started at Manchester College, a DIII school in Indiana. I just fell in love with the coaching profession right away. We were young, recently married, I was pregnant with Kory and we had been married for almost 5 years, and it was just a very easy transition and I have loved it ever since.
"I am very blessed to be a coach’s wife and to be a cheerleader and an encourager and we just have this vast group of young men that are a family from all of these years and we stay in touch with most of them and now they have children of their own, so it’s been very fun to see these young people get families of their own and watch them grow and watch their families develop over the years."
Father-son bond at UCLA
Basketball runs in the Alford family genes. If there's one word for Tanya to describe what it meant to have her husband coach both of their sons, Kory and Bryce, together at UCLA, it was amazing.
"I would pinch myself and just be grateful and pray before every game that we would relish those times for Kayla to be able to sit in the stands with me and cheer them on and for Steve to be able to coach his boys," Tanya said. "I think one of my favorite memories was the 2015 season when we were in the NCAA Tournament. The first round we beat SMU and the celebration on the court we have a huge picture downstairs with the boys' jerseys of Kory running out to pick up Bryce when he hit the game-winning three and spinning him around, and I can hardly talk about it because it was just one of those special moments.
"We went to the Sweet 16 that year, and it’s just an amazing moment. Steve even got choked up in the post-game press conference, which he doesn’t a lot, but if he’s talking about his kids he does. It was just an amazing game and an amazing time that you thought, 'Wow, I’m going to cherish this forever,' and we have so many special memories like that, but for Steve to be able to coach his boys you can’t ask for any more as a Mom. I know he’ll always look back on it and those four years with both of them went so so fast."
Giving back to the community
Tanya has a soft spot for giving back to the community with her daughter, Kayla. Kayla didn't play basketball, although Steve says she has the best jump shot in the family. The two volunteer in the church nursery, with the Ronald McDonald house, Special Olympics, and while living in California they started a project of their own at UCLA's Mattel children's hospital, the Bruin Express.
"We’d go around with the student-athletes at UCLA and visit the children in the hospital and take a cart around full of stickers, journals and posters of the players and it was just a really special time for Kayla and I," Tanya said. "We were blessed beyond measure just being able to do that, and I think it made a real difference in these student-athlete's lives to give back and to be in the hospital and to visit these children and their families. So we’re excited here, we’ve already met with Renown and to start the program here and call it the 'Wolf Pack Express' and change the colors up a little bit.
"So once it’s safe to do that, we’ll go ahead and start that project here. It’s just been an amazing way to connect with the community. We have a real soft spot in our hearts for patients and their families in the difficult times that they go through and we just want to give back. A lot of these children really enjoy seeing student-athletes come through because they look up to these kids and a simple T-shirt or poster with their signature means the world to some of these kids that are battling through some very tough times."
The two also started their own gift box business three years ago, with Kory's wife, Haley, called Boxtique.
"We basically did it because our love language has been gift giving," Tanya said. "We’ve always enjoyed gift giving just because. So we started it out just out of a love for blessing other people’s lives and so we started it when we lived in California and it’s just kind of grown through the years. We just do gifts for birthdays, baby gifts, wedding gifts, 'just because' gifts and right now a lot of Mother’s Day gifts.
"We just really enjoy it. It's something we can just do at our house. We create simple gift boxes and we ship them all over the country and we do a lot of custom gift boxes as well. It’s just been a fun little side thing for us a hobby and it’s also a passion of ours as well.
Wine Wednesday topics with Tanya Alford
- Keeping busy during quarantine/Boxtique business - 0:00
- Meeting Steve for the first time - 3:59
- Tying the knot - 5:21
- Transitioning from watching Steve play at Indiana and in the NBA to college coaching - 7:04
- Places the Alfords have lived - 10:51
- Steve coaching their sons at UCLA - 14:25
- Favorite wins of Steve's - 16:20
- Bryce playing overseas - 20:01
- Kory accepting his first head-coaching job - 21:22
- Kayla dancing and helping volunteer/Bruin Express project - 23:15
- Living in Reno/some of Tanya's hobbies and favorite things -26:19