Should He Stay Or Should He Go: My Thoughts On Reeves Nelson


John Wooden, the legendary coach of UCLA basketball who won ten championships in a 12-year span and was voted the greatest sports coach of all time by Sports Illustrated, had as one of his many famous maxims this saying:

“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change may be.”

That definitely applies to Bruins forward Reeves Nelson, who has been suspended by coach Ben Howland for the second time this week for misconduct; apparently he didn’t take his first suspension, in which he missed five days and the game against Loyola Marymount at the Sports Arena, to heart as he missed the plane for the Maui Invitational soon after Howland lifted that initial suspension.

The second “last straw” happened when after he missed a defensive assignment and generally played poorly against Texas, he spent the second half on the bench pointing and laughing at fans in the stands.

When Howland said he had conduct unbecoming a UCLA basketball player, he wasn’t kidding. Nine year-olds on YMCA teams don’t behave like that.

“It’s been an ongoing problem the past two years which has gotten worse,” Howland commented.

It has become apparent, while reading about all of this drama in the Los Angeles Times and in other sources, that Nelson has an emotional problem that negatively effects his maturity, as he has become known for having a bad attitude at times and doing things like throwing the ball at teammates when they make mistakes and shutting down when things start to go wrong – stuff that should be well out of a player’s system when he is in high school, let alone when comes to college.

This young man’s antics remind me of an eight-year old who throws a “That’s not fair!” style fit when things don’t go his way, and takes the ball and goes home.

When I heard that his high school coach had suspended Nelson numerous times for similar issues throughout his prep career, that raised a red flag for me and made me wonder if Howland  knew about these issues when he was recruiting him.

And if the Bruin coach did know, how could he have recruited this guy, no matter how good he was?

John Wooden, a champion of and a stickler for character who emphasized that more than anything else during his years as UCLA coach, would have certainly stayed away from Nelson and not have touched him with a fifty-foot pole.

The frustrating part of all this is, the 6′ 8″ junior is a standout basketball player who has had some glory days in Westwood, earning all Pac-10 (now Pac-12) honors while leading the conference with 9.1 rebounds a game; he even made the cover of Sports Illustrated’s College Basketball Preview issue for the West Coast region.

I know, some may say that he’s falling prey to that magazine’s cover curse, but  I don’t think so.

In my view, Reeves Nelson is a great talent on the hardcourt and a much-needed beast on the boards who has a lot of growing up to do, particularly in light of the fact that the Bruins are 2-5 right now, which he has had a hand in with his mostly bad play.

And I’m not sure if he will be able to effectively mature under the spotlight and the pressure that is UCLA basketball, winners of more NCAA titles than any other school.

That’s why, much as it grieves me and as much as I regret to say it, it may be a good idea for everyone involved if he stays off the team f0r a long time, if not permanently.

In fact, it may do Nelson some good if he transfers to another school, gets a fresh start at a place like UNLV, where Chase Stanback, a UCLA recruit who didn’t work out as a Bruin, is flourishing, or New Mexico, where another hot ex-UCLA recruit, Drew Gordon, is prospering quite nicely after clashing with Howland.

Time will tell if Nelson will straighten up and be the player that all of Bruin Nation knows he can be and has been, but one thing is for sure…

Nelson can’t go on the way he has, or else his whole future, in basketball as a whole as well as at UCLA, will be in jeopardy.

In other words, his failure to change will definitely become fatal.