(Sports Illustrated)–UCLA’s fall has been something of a mystery. It has most often been blamed on players jumping early to the NBA (six Bruins have done so in the last four years, including Love and fellow first-round picks Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday), players transferring (five have departed) and even a supposed dearth of quality big men coming out of high schools on the West Coast. Inside the team, however, more fundamental problems have been at work, eroding the sense of unity, leading some players to leave the program and sending the blocks of Wooden’s Pyramid tumbling down. Over the last two months SI spoke with more than a dozen players and staff members from the past four Bruins teams. They portrayed the program as having drifted from the UCLA way as Howland allowed an influx of talented but immature recruits to undermine team discipline and morale. Fistfights broke out among teammates. Several players routinely used alcohol and drugs, sometimes before practice. One player intentionally injured teammates but received no punishment. Such problems are often symptomatic of underachieving teams, and UCLA provides a fascinating case study. The former players and staff members who spoke to SI offer a detailed inside account of how seemingly minor problems, if left unaddressed, can quickly sabotage even a storied program led by one of the nation’s most respected coaches. The Bruins’ struggles tell a cautionary tale of the risks of recruiting hyped players, the challenges of managing recalcitrant teenagers and the consequences of letting discipline and accountability break down. Most of all, the problems at UCLA underline the precariousness of college basketball success.
This is the big story in college basketball right now. Sports Illustrated wrote an article talking about how out of control the UCLA Basketball program is and it may end up costing Ben Howland his job. This whole thing bothers me a little. I like when the traditional powers are good. Ben Howland brought UCLA back for a while. Back-to-back Final Four appearances is nothing to sneeze at. Having said that…Howland deserves to get fired. I know you’re not supposed to stereotype people based on how they look, but at the same time stereotypes exist for a reason. If I had to pick one guy who would get busted for doing ecstasy at a club and then intentionally injure teammates in practice for “being snitches”, I would pick a guy who looked like Reeves Nelson a thousand times out of a thousand. I mean just look at him. Tattoos of ying-yangs coming out of his ying-yang. Then on the other arm he has a tatoo of a handgun, next to a grenade, next to a switch knife, next to an assault rifle. Not a lot of peace and harmony coming out of this guy. Call me crazy, but if I am in Ben Howland’s chair that’s not a guy I want to have on scholarship. Doesn’t exactly live up to the standards set by John Wooden.
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