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azcentral sports’ Dan Bickley discusses the NCAA Tournament and the possibility of Suns coach Earl Watson’s days in Phoenix being numbered in the latest Shot Clock video.

MIAMI — Earl Watson got a lot of text messages Monday. That wasn’t a coincidence. Earlier in the day, ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Williams had brought up his name on a national radio show.

The context:

After the NCAA Tournament, Williams predicts UCLA coach Steve Alford will leave for Indiana, a job vacated last week when the school fired Tom Crean. Given Alford starred at Indiana during his playing days, helping the Hoosiers win the 1987 national championship, that potential move makes sense.

Alford’s replacement at UCLA?

“I see Mr. Earl Watson, the head coach of the Phoenix Suns, coming back home to UCLA,” Williams said.

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This kind of speculation has become the norm in sports. It drives conversation, but it also puts coaches in difficult positions, especially in this case, considering Alford has the Bruins in the Sweet Sixteen and Watson is trying to shape the Suns into a playoff contender.

“What about it?” Watson said of the speculation after Tuesday morning’s shoot-around at AmericanAirlines Arena, where the Suns prepared for that night contest’s against the Heat.

Truth is, the second-year coach understands the connection. He played for the Bruins under Steve Lavin from 1997 to 2001. That stretch not only prepared him for 13 seasons in the NBA, it helped shape him into the man he is today.

“There’s no doubt that I love my school,” Watson said. “It took me out of a poverty situation and gave me hope. The school is an amazing place. I feel like it saved me. But I also feel like (former Memphis coach) Hubie Brown saved me in another way. Playing for the Utah Jazz, they were there during a difficult part of my personal life and they helped me a ton. And then, of course, the San Antonio Spurs, after the death of my brother, the love they gave me is what I needed most, and that love is genuine. So you have different points in your life where people and groups come into your life and none of them are family and they impact you for the positive.”

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At the same time:

“I’m more focused on creating value for our (organization), to give management and ownership many options to build a championship contender here,” Watson said. “What I mean by that is, building the value of the young players so that their value and their game and their confidence give them the option to be financially secure in this league when they become free agents; giving our ownership the option to build around them or give ownership and management the option to make moves because their value is so high to put us in contention quicker. That’s all I can do is build value. The winning will happen. There’s a lot of questions with our program, but one thing I do realize is these players are playing amazing for their age. I love them, they’re like my little brothers. My main focus is here.”

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Booker expected to play

Devin Booker participated in the Suns’ shooting session and is expected to return to the lineup against the Heat. The second-year guard missed Saturday’s loss at Detroit with an ankle issue.

Guard Leandro Barbosa — who has missed the past two games with illness — also is expected to be available. Guard Ronnie Price (lower left leg contusion) remains questionable. With those three out — and guard Eric Bledsoe, guard Brandon Knight and center Tyson Chandler shut down — the Suns had just eight available players against the Pistons.

That shouldn’t be the case against Miami.

“This is when I knew I had to retire,” Watson said. “When I fell when I was younger, I never felt anything. Maybe the next day I’d feel sore but then the day after it’d be gone. Later in my career, I would fall and I’d be like, ‘I don’t remember the floor being this hard.’ Later, I’d be like ‘Uhhhh!’ When I started to go ‘Uhhhh!’ — I knew it was maybe time to give up. Young guys heal quick, so you’ll see (Booker) back. Ronnie Price is not a young guy, so you see him still trying to overcome the injury and (Barbosa) looks like he’s healthy. We’ll have more than eight.”

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Contact Doug Haller at 602-444-4949 or at [email protected] Follow him at Twitter.com/DougHaller. 

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