|UCLA's problems may have been more extreme than some cases, but lots of programs have in-fighting. (US PRESSWIRE)|
By Jeff Goodman
It's been a mess at UCLA over the past few years.
Sports Illustrated's George Dohrmann painted a telling picture that certainly has contributed to Ben Howland and the Bruins' recent struggles in Westwood.
Drugs. Fights. A chemistry killer. Hardly a novel concept within the workings of a big-time college basketball program.
"We've had all that stuff before," said one high-major assistant coach. "There's no bombshell there."
The shocker, honestly, is that it involves Howland -- forever considered a strict disciplinarian -- and a program like UCLA.
Everyone close to the Bruins program was well-aware of Reeves Nelson shortly after he arrived on campus. Talented, but a bad kid. He was described to me by more than one person as "the worst teammate ever to wear a UCLA Bruins uniform."
Dohrmann has plenty of Nelson stories. Fights with numerous teammates. Cheap shots. Urinating on ex-teammate Tyler Honeycutt's clothes.
Ultimately, Howland sold out and gave Nelson opportunity after opportunity instead of cutting ties early. That wouldn't have been the case had the Bruins been in the midst of three straight Final Fours from 2006-08. Instead, this is a program that has become irrelevant on the national landscape and Howland is fighting for his future on the left coast. The Bruins were 14-18 two years ago, made the NCAA tournament last season and will likely be headed to the NIT this year.
Howland can coach. There's no doubting that. Let's not forget what this man did his last couple years at Pittsburgh and during that impressive three-year stretch where they were a constant in the Final Four. He can also develop talent as many NBA guys have told me that UCLA Bruins are as prepared as anyone to come in and make a rapid adjustment to the pro game.
But he's apparently lost some measure of control within his own program. Former players, whether it's guys in the NBA or at other schools, are bashing his methodical system which doesn't promote freedom. Howland and his staff have been unable to recruit at the level necessary to compete at the highest level.
He's made mistakes on the recruiting trail, whether it was by taking kids that aren't talented enough or kids that doesn't fit his system and personality.
This story, which sheds a poor light on Howland and the program overall, certainly won't help his job security in Westwood.
Kids blowing off curfew to party and do drugs. Fights both on and off the court between teammates.
But let's not pretend this is an anomaly, either.
It happens on college campuses with students. It happens within soccer and lacrosse programs.
And it's happening with Howland's UCLA Bruins basketball team.
Howland has signed one of the nation's top recruits, 6-foot-8 point forward Kyle Anderson, but he had to go all the way to the northeast to do so. He hired a former AAU coach from Atlanta on his staff this past offseason. People can talk all they want about the lack of talent coming out of the west coast, but Howland and his staff were unable to beat out Arizona for Brandon Ashley and Grant Jarrett. They
UCLA isn't UCLA right now.
But it's not all that different than many other programs.