I just finished reading George Dohrmann’s lengthy investigative story on the issues in the UCLA basketball program. It’s an interesting read. Is it damning of the UCLA program? No, it’s more of an indictment of Ben Howland and his handling of the program, his more talented players – specifically Reeves Neleson and the future.
The allegations of drinking and drug use by players isn’t eye-popping. Every team in college basketball deals with that. No matter how talented they are, or what NBA dreams they may have, they are still 18-21 year-old kids in college.
The real crux of the story is Howland’s coaching style, his treatment of assistant coaches and staff, his handling of players and his failure to deal with Nelson. Howland was known as a disciplinarian long before he came to UCLA, but this story makes it seem as though that reputation isn’t quite as justified. His handling of players of talented, but egotistical players like Nelson, Drew Gordon and others seems to smack in the face of what Howland has often preached publicly. The details of Nelson’s bi-polar-type behavior aren’t surprising in hindsight. Nelson admits being guilty of most accusations to Dohrmann in the story.
A conspiracy theorist might say that this started from players and alumni who are angry with Howland. For all his success, his rumored prickly behavior with the media, staffers, alumni and boosters hasn’t made him quite as beloved in Westwood as some expected.
Picked to win the Pac-12 in the preseason, the season has been a disaster. There were rumblings that Howland might be on the hot seat. This story will not help him.