If you’ve wondered why the UCLA men’s basketball program has fallen from grace the last three seasons, George Dohrmann of Sports Illustrated has discovered the possible answer.
The Ben Howland regime in Westwood has been filled with rampant fighting, drinking and drug use — all while the head coach looked the other way a majority of the time.
Dohrmann spoke to dozens of players and former staff members from the last four seasons. But the true star in this lengthy piece is former Bruin Reeves Nelson:
Nelson was the ringleader among the freshmen. Because of his toughness, the 6’8″ forward from Modesto, Calif., was called “the prototypical Ben Howland player” by ESPN.com when he signed with the Bruins, but teammates came away with a different impression of him after only a few practices. Nelson could be a nice guy, but he had what one player calls “this crazy side.”
Nelson often reacted to hard fouls or calls against him in practice by committing violent acts against teammates. He did not deny to SI that he would stalk his targets, even running across the court, away from a play, to hit someone.
Once, Nelson got tangled up with forward James Keefe while going for a rebound. Keefe was playing with a surgically repaired left shoulder, and Nelson pulled down suddenly on Keefe’s left arm. That reinjured Keefe’s shoulder, and he missed several weeks. Later in the season Nelson hacked walk-on Alex Schrempf, the son of former NBA player Detlef Schrempf, from behind on a breakaway, knocking Schrempf to the ground. The back injury Schrempf suffered sidelined him for months. In another workout Nelson threw an elbow at Lane after the whistle, injuring Lane’s ribs.
Walk-on Tyler Trapani was another Nelson victim. After Trapani took a charge that negated a Nelson dunk, Nelson went out of his way to step on Trapani’s chest as he lay on the ground. Trapani is John Wooden’s great-grandson. (Nelson confirmed all these incidents to SI and expressed his regret, saying, “On all that stuff, I have no trouble admitting that I lost control of my emotions sometimes. I take responsibility for my actions. I’m really just trying to learn from the mistakes I made on all levels.”)
Nelson would go on to bully fellow teammate Matt Carlino (wh0 eventually transfered to BYU) during the 2010-11 season and was eventually dismissed from the program last December after arriving late to a team meeting and missing a team flight to Hawaii.
According to Baxter Holmes of the Los Angeles Times, UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero will hold a media teleconference at 12:30 p.m. and Howland will hold a separate call at 1:30 p.m.
With UCLA struggling (16-13) again this season, it’s only a matter of time before Howland gets the boot.