When I read what I read on ESPN.com about UCLA‘s basketball program and how head coach Ben Howland “lost control”, I was in COMPLETE disbelief. I didn’t know whether to believe some of the things I read in Peter Yoon’s story (that story can be found by clicking on this link ESPNLA,com). When it gets to the point where some of your players are showing up for practice hours after taking Ecstasy, you would have to think that the coach knew something was not right. I mean, you can tell when someone is drunk and/or high, so how are you not able to tell when someone is on a much more serious drug? I always thought of coach Howland as a tough, defensive-minded coach, who preached greatness on and off the court. While his teams often struggled to score on offense, they have never struggled making it to and in the NBA. Did you think that Jrue Holiday, Arron Afflalo, Kevin Love, Darren Collison, and Russell Westbrook would become good, great, or superstar players in the NBA? He coached all of them and led the Bruins to three straight Final Four appearances, from ’06-’08. But suddenly, that success seemed to disappear. In 2009, the Bruins made the tournament but lost in the second round 89-69 to Villanova. The following year the Bruins went 14-18, missing the tournament for the first time since 2004. In 2010, the Bruins returned to the NCAA tournament, beating Michigan State in the first round before losing to Florida in the second round.
Then came the problems. Forward Reeves Nelson started causing problems. I don’t mean to be judgmental, but please look at this picture and tell me that this is a cooperative kid. A picture is worth a thousand words. I mean come on dude; you represent a storied program and one of the greatest basketball schools of all time. There were reports that Nelson would purposely hurt other players during practice and that he treated the managers like dogs by telling them to “fetch” balls that he’d kick into the stands before practices. Everything you want to know you can read by clicking the link at the beginning of the story. But what baffles me is how Howland didn’t know that some of his players were causing problems and ruining the UCLA brand.
When someone says UCLA, the first thing I think about is John Wooden. Then, I think about a school with a rich basketball background and the presence of legends walking around the campus. All the national titles, Pac-10 titles, Pauley Pavilion, and the simple jerseys that spell-out U-C-L-A on the front. “True” blue and gold never looks better than when they are playing in the tournament. Unfortunately UCLA, more than likely, won’t make it to the tournament this season. A preseason Top 25 ranking quickly disappeared, followed by Nelson and a knock-out punch to their tournament hopes when they lost seven conference games in, arguably, the worst basketball conference out of the six major conferences in the nation. But I guess they can still get in the tournament if they win the conference tournament. But I would rather not see UCLA in the tournament this season because they will just embarrass themselves like they have this season.
Howland turned the other cheek and it almost or maybe will, cost him his job. I think he will be back next year, though. He has meant a lot to the program and has achieved a level of consistency. If this was any other program, the head coach would have been fired immediately and recruits would have decommitted at the rate that Penn State’s football recruits are decommitting. But, in retrospect, some of this stuff may happen at other schools, we just don’t hear about it. Some players believe they should be playing over another player and they might try to undermine that player or coaches to ruin team chemistry and make life miserable for that person.
That obviously happened here. But what is different about this is the fact that these players weren’t jealous of other players. Instead, these happened to be the best players on the team! Nelson was the leading scorer on the team before his dismissal. And it just wasn’t Nelson that caused the trouble, multiple players were involved in this, but he was the “worst” of them. Out of the five players involved in creating the incidents only two of them remain on the team.
I mentioned earlier about former UCLA players that are succeeding in the NBA. What made them and the teams they played on great was that they were good kids who cared about each other, wanted to win, and wanted to become great. I am not saying that the players on the current roster are bad kids (some were), but they just don’t seem tough like the teams four or five years ago. None of these kids are going to get up in your face like Westbrook used to get up in your face and none of them play defense as hard as Afflalo used to play defense. No one works harder than Love used to work. Grant it, those are three very talented players, but those are the type of players that UCLA used to recruit. UCLA recruits and makes stars. Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Gail Goodrich, Reggie Miller, Kiki Vandeweghe, Baron Davis, Love, Westbrook, and many more have worn the UCLA jersey.
Some day, I hope UCLA returns to dominance. They are sort of like the New York Yankees. A lot of people don’t like them, but it’s just not the same if they aren’t contending for a title. If that’s a bad analogy, so be it.
At least they have one thing in common: they both have the most championships in their respective sport.