A friend of mine is a high school football coach in the equivalent of a high major program. He told me how he was disgusted watching his son's peewee football game. The peewee coach ran a version of a trick play which worked and won the game. His point was simple, this is peewee football, and it should be about learning the game and not wining every game at all costs.
If this volunteer peewee coach felt such a need to win at all costs, imagine the pressures on Ben Howland. How much does he feel the need to win? But here is the punch line: the volunteer peewee coach lost in the playoffs to the same team later. Ben Howland trying to win at all costs has resulted in him likely missing the NCAA tournament in two of the last four years and failing to get past the first weekend in the other two. Ben's trying to win so hard, cost UCLA.
Let me be clear this is not about the Sports Illustrated article per se. A number of things in the article show the article is an overzealous attack. Simple errors made to make a point stronger that basic fact checking could have caught such as when the article says UCLA finished third in 2010-11, it was second. Statements that don't add up such as the fact Gordon and Nelson have always been close friends and it seems unlikely they got in the fight the article claims as neither seem the forgiving type. Reeves is now denying the article and specifically that he "confirmed the incidents to SI." IMO opinion AHMB had a strong point when he called out George Dohrmann for repeatedly falsely attacking UCLA as a
LA Trojan Times reporter and later SI reporter. Dohrmann obviously has a beef with UCLA and is trying to get Howland and UCLA. He is not an impartial reporter and it seems likely he exaggerated certain incidents and did not follow good journalistic ethics (It has been said his main source was the fired team manager who he portrays as a victim in the piece). Reeves has a point when he says that most of the quotes are from unnamed sources.
But put aside the Reeves stuff, the specifics, and focus on the current team right now. I am still deeply troubled.
1. Jerime Anderson. Let's not beat around the bush. Jerime is/was a partying idiot who has disgraced the four letters multiple times. According to the SI article he was a drunken/stoned idiot his freshman year who did not try in practice which we have heard for years. By any stretch he was a terrible player his sophomore year. And after his "good" campaign his junior year he
found stole an "unattended laptop" and was still planning to host a party until the bad publicity forced him to back out.
For all his bad antics Jerime received a benching for a half game, a suspension for an exhibition game, and a suspension for a season opener. Why the heck is this guy still at UCLA?
Simply put because Ben Howland wants to win. Tyler Lamb or D'End Parker as a backup Point Guard did not work for Howland. Anderson's initial "indefinite suspension" was reduced to one real game. In that game we lost in part because our then Point Guard Jones tried to be his high school teammate Derrick Rose and went 1-11. Howland felt he had nowhere else to turn and had to keep Jones in the game.
But did that really work? UCLA is 16-13 and
NITCBI bound. Anderson has had some good games but has not played well in the clutch. Only time will tell but if Parker or Norman Powell turn out to be good players, but if they do people will again be wondering why Howland stood by Anderson in order to win right now on an NIT team. (Like Nikola Dragovic over Mike Moser). If he went to Parker or Powell earlier because Anderson was either kicked off or meaningfully suspended does anyone think UCLA would have been worse than their 2-5 start? And what message does that send to the team when the senior has been getting a pass for four years?
2. Josh Smith.
Josh's Freshman year Howland would not let him pick up a basketball for weeks. He made Josh ride an exercise bike and work out to lose weight at the start of the season and before. He was not sure what he had in Josh and was certainly not relying on him. That UCLA offense was supposed to "push it" and run more. It was built around Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson, good rebounding and ball handling bigs. But Josh turned out to be the best offensive weapon by the end of the year and the team did not run like the start. It was becoming Josh's team, at least on offense. In 2011-12 it was going to be Josh's team and even Reeves knew it.
But then this year Josh comes in more overweight than ever and what does Howland do? He still builds the team around Josh. Again we started 2-5 while Josh could barely get up and down the court. Josh is potentially the best player on the current team. The keyword being potentially.
Would we have been a lot worse in the first seven games if Josh does not play or practice with the team but instead spends his time with Richard Simmons or the UCLA equivalent to get in shape for two months? Brendan Lane is not a great player, heck I am not sure he is good enough to play in the PAC 12, but why not play him those first months when we are playing many of the kind of teams Lane should have been playing for in the first place. Again do we go worse than 2-5?
Josh and UCLA would have been better served instead of the façade of Josh Smith trying to play himself into shape. Again, what message does it send to the players? It seems if you are a star, there is nothing you can do to lose that place in Howland's universe.
3. Reeves and the Wears
I get the feeling from the article if Travis and David Wear were not on this team, Reeves Nelson still would be. Forget the unsourced quotes in the SI article. The fact is Reeves lost it in the first game of the season when the Wears started shooting. The rise of the Wears was something Reeves could not accept and it showed in that first game against LMU. Reeves lost his cool and would not even sit with his teammates as the Wear twins took most of the shots. Why?
Reeves at a minimum has some mental health issues and did not deal with the change well. But the real issue is Reeves got his way before that because Howland needed him. With the Wears Howland felt he had an alternative and Reeves was not needed as much. Reeves was jealous of the Wears and, in a fitting irony, was a victim of the double standard for those who produced. Howland did not wait to reign in or discipline Reeves until he had an alternative. It was not because Reeves became more of a cancer this year that he was finally kicked off but rather because Howland had another player to play for Reeves. If the Wears were not on UCLA right now, Reeves still would be. And that is scary.
If Reeves Nelson intentionally injured James Keefe as described in the article Dan Guerrero (who knew everything according to Howland) and Ben Howland need to be fired today.
But even if that story is not true UCLA needs to clean house of an AD and coach who in trying to win right now, ended up leading UCLA Basketball to the worst period in its recent history. All season Howland has been saying how he is only focused on winning the next game. That narrow focus has seriously damaged UCLA for the long term.