Well this is a grim morning in BruinsNation. It's not the first time we have had stretches like his in BruinsNation thanks to the lost decade of UCLA Athletics. Just two years ago after grim losses against Southern Cal, the UCLA basketball team was imploding in Anaheim. Looks like we could be bracing for that kind of period again. But there is a silver lining - I think - in the latest setback in UCLA basketball.
First of all, I am fully supportive of Coach Ben Howland's decision to suspend Reeves Nelson indefinitely. IMHO from what I have read on this matter, Coach Howland did the right thing. He finally took some concrete measures to hold a student athlete accountable, who have pushing the boundaries (and crossing over them number of times) during his 2+ troubled years in Westwood. It was about time Howland stopped treated Nelson as if he was something special and "different" from rest of his team-mates. It was about time Howland stopped using his velvet covered gloves following the latest instance of Nelson quitting on his team-mates, pouting during games and practices, and generally ignoring the parameters of team discipline.
That said, I think this moment is a massive opportunity for Nelson, Howland and the entire UCLA basketball team to finally get out of the malaise that has shackled this team for 3+ years.
From Nelson's perspective, he doesn't have a lot of options. What the heck is he going to do? It's a little late to transfer to another program. The NBA is not a viable option for him. It's in a lockdown mode (oh hey! Helloooooooo! Malcolm and Tyler!). Even if NBA was not in a lockout, Nelson would not be drafted or given a chance in the league. His only pro options are probably going to someplace like Greece and Italy and get batteries and bags of urine (or something) thrown at him by opposing fans.
Instead, Nelson can come back, dedicate himself to the program, make up with his coaches and team-mates, and play up to his potential. If he clears his head, he can emerge as one of the better redemption stories in college basketball. I am rooting for this to happen badly. I am rooting for Nelson even though yours truly has been one of the harshest critics of Nelson right here on BN (for that matter I am also rooting for Joshua Smith to get his stuff together but that's a standalone post for another day).
And this is not just about Nelson. This is about Howland too. I don't need to go through litany of examples of student athletes either leaving Howland program prematurely through number of routes (transfers, NBA, going pro etc). It should be clear by now there has been a communication disconnect between Howland and his players in this program. What has happened with Nelson in last 24 hours ir something many of us saw coming. It was a matter of time this situation was going to implode infront of our eyes, as Howland was looking the other way last couple of years when Nelson was either quitting on his team-mates or acting extremely immaturely unbecoming of those four letters.
This is also an opportunity for Howland to finally establish much needed order and discipline in his program, which has been lacking for 3+ years. It is also an opportunity for him to send a message to his entire team that he is going to play those guys, who want to play for him, who work their rear ends of during practices, and who are completely committed to classic "Ben Ball," which is predicated on fundamentals, defense and most importantly all out effort.
I am rooting for Howland, Nelson and the entire team. We need all of them to get it together fast. Otherwise, the consequences are not going to be great for anyone who cares and love UCLA basketball.