In case you don’t remember, Sports Illustrated was set to come out with their “damning” post about how far UCLA’s basketball team has fallen, and the original rhetoric was to be focused on drug use.
Of course, there is no “scandal” that has left UCLA basketball in shambles. But the post is damning in its own right and adds to an incredible amount of evidence that UCLA basketball is suffering, and it may not recover under Ben Howland.
The article, which — at the time of this blog post’s writing — has yet to be released for free to the public, outlines the fall from grace that UCLA enjoyed from three straight Final Four appearances.
The biggest problem, one that we all knew about? The uncontrollable egos of UCLA basketball players, namely Reeves Nelson. Nelson, as you might recall, was dismissed from the basketball team. And while we never speculated as much as we should have as to why, his actions come off as no shocker.
His actions — purposely injuring teammates in practices, yelling at coaches, getting into fights with fellow Bruins and urinating all over Tyler Honeycutt’s clothes — weren’t the most insane part. The biggest problem, the S.I. article asserts, was Howland’s treatment of these incidents.
Because Howland didn’t do a damn thing when it came to Nelson. Nelson was allowed to do whatever the hell he wanted to as long as he was putting up points and helping UCLA win games. It didn’t matter that he was totally messing with team chemistry and dividing the team. It didn’t matter that his ego was scaring away players like Mike Moser and Chace Stanback (both of whom were also hard on the Ecstasy/alcohol/marijuana scene, mind you). It just mattered that Nelson produced, and that he was the best player on the team.
And other players, like Drew Gordon, that didn’t buy into Howland’s system? They got their asses shipped out without hesitation. As Sports Illustrated puts it, you could do drugs, get into fights and drink alcohol all you want, but if you doubted Howland, your ass was gone.
The S.I. article also told of Howland’s final straw with Nelson, when Nelson began to punk new transfers David and Travis Wear. When Howland had told Nelson to back off of them, Nelson became uncontrollably pissed.
And then there was the issue of Howland’s treatment of his assistants which can be described with one word: shit. Howland treated his own staff as if they were his unruly children that needed to be spanked. Furthermore, Howland was particular as hell and wanted everything — literally everything, such as room temperature — to be a certain way, and that, as the SI article discusses, alienated him from players and coaches.
Favoritism has plagued Howland his entire career at UCLA, and though it is what got UCLA to three straight Final Fours, it is also what has UCLA in this crap-hole of a mess we’re in right now. His egotistical, “socially awkward,” and control-freak demeanor made it hard for players to enjoy playing for him. It’s why players that get a chance to leave do so at the earliest possible moment.
Just because this story didn’t uncover a huge drug bust, though, doesn’t mean it wasn’t damning and it wasn’t telling. The dysfunction of our program was a result of Howland giving in to his most talented players while failing to get rid of divas that had completely effed up team cohesion. His inability to reign in egos and to reign in emotions — a direct result of his alienation — messed everything up.
And things aren’t going to get better — if Shabazz Muhammad acts like a total diva (and he might, considering his entire junior and senior years have been broadcasted left and right), there’s no telling how Howland deals with that. Kyle Anderson, a five-star UCLA commit, might end up the same way.
This falls on everyone and everything. Dan Guerrero, for hiring such an egotistical control freak. Ben Howland, for alienating his players and almost pitting them against one another. And the players, for not acting like Bruins and instead acting as if they were at some damned state school/usc where parties are the only reason to attend college.
I have no idea what the fallout from this might be. The worst case scenario is that there is no fallout, and everyone stands pat — that Guerrero keeps his job, Howland gets to coach another year and the players go undisciplined.
The best case scenario? Cleaning house, and getting rid of the clowns who have brought shame to UCLA.