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Is Coach Ben Howland’s Discipline Fair?

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Jerime Anderson's arrest and quick and indefinite suspension from UCLA has raised questions about whether his suspension was a "different standard" than the one used against Nikola Dragovic.  It also raises a question about whether Howland treats all his players the same. 

Let me take the second first. Should a coach treat all players the same?  

At a coaching clinic in the Catskills . . .  I heard him say, "You do not treat them (players) all alike."

Who said that?  Only the greatest coach of all time: none other than our beloved John Wooden.  But what does it mean?  Take one of the greatest centers in the history of college basketball, Bill Walton.  Bill Walton was probably the second best (top honors being KAJ, of course) player Wooden coached but was even more likely Wooden's biggest pain in behind.  Walton always pushed every limit Coach gave him.  But it was that same intense desire that made him the best high post center ever and such a masterful student of the game (my favorite example of that is Walton always tried to block shots to teammates instead of volleyball spikes).

Everyone knows about the hair-cut story but who remembers that Wooden bailed Walton out of jail? Bill got arrested following a peace protest (not exactly something criminal, like stealing someone's laptop), but Wooden was very angry with Walton, reminding him he was the returning player of the year representing UCLA.  In fact, Walton even stole Coach's letterhead paper to write a letter protesting the president and sent it without Wooden's permission. 


I guess a great example is the penny story.  Every year Coach would open with a story and the punch line was finding a hidden penny. The lesson being that one should be ever vigilant, and that luck plays a role.  For his senior season, Walton who knew what was coming, snuck in and stole the penny.  Wooden was flummoxed and as he looked for the penny, Walton stood up and said: "Coach, we are a great basketball team, we don't need luck.  We know what to do."  These are just a few stories in three pages of one book.  Walton never stopped challenging Wooden's authority at every turn (on a side note, ironically, Walton says one of the reasons they didn't win the championship his senior season was his stupid stealing of the penny and not listening as Coach was right as always).

Was Walton ever suspended? Nope. Was Walton benched? Nope. Would the ninth player on the bench have gotten away with one tenth of the crap that Walton did? I doubt it.  But Wooden realized this was who Walton was and dealt with him. 

Today, one member of this UCLA team is probably Howland's most challenging player: Reeves Nelson. Reeves works out harder than every other current player and, as you'd expect, his body is in phenomenal shape.  He asked (or demanded, depending on who you believe) to cover two lottery picks in big games last year and shut them both down in key wins.  He is one of the best ball-handling true power forwards I have ever seen. 

He is also a person who threw a ball at a teammate during a game, has the worst body language I have ever seen, said playing the USB Trogans was just another game and joked around in the closing minutes of a blowout loss to Arizona. 

But that is who Reeves is. He is an intense hard worker, a very good basketball player, possibly the worst poker player (as he could not hide his emotions to save his life) and oblivious at times in his own world.

When I was watching the VCU game at MSG last year, my wife points at one of the players and said "it's over now, look at that guy, you guys have given up."  I didn't even have to look where she was pointing to know it was Reeves but this was early in the second half and we came back to within a missed three (ironically by Reeves) of sending the game to OT.  And Reeves played well, having 20 points and 10 rebounds in that game.

Most guys get that look that my wife saw on Reeves and you pull them right away.  But Reeves bounces back quickly.  Howland and even his teammates understand Reeves is different and the price of Reeves is his unique and visible baggage. 

To be clear throwing the ball at Lane as Reeves did is not acceptable, I don't care who you are.  But I would rather have Reeves abrasive personality and work effort than a laid back underachiever or a guy who works hard but does not have high major Division 1 talent.  Reeves should not be judged by the same standard as every other player. 

My point, coaches should be fair but not treat everyone equal.  Coach didn't and CBH shouldn't. 

Now, onto Dragovic versus Anderson. Dragovic was in a fight with witnesses on both sides. It was a "he said, she said" sort of situation.  Dragovic was suspended and then reinstated and ultimately prevailed, with the Los Angeles County District Attorney dismissing the felony assault case against him.  It is no secret that he was disliked here at BN (his shot selection didn't help) but he was not in CBH's dog house.

At this moment in time, it appears Anderson, at a minimum, made an error in "judgment" according to his lawyer.  In other words it appears, unlike Dragovic, he has admitted doing something wrong.  What that something is, that is what we don't know yet.  Earlier, Anderson joined LJ by getting his Ben Ball Warrior initials here at BN in a post titled "Earning the Trust Back of Coach Ben Howland and BN".  As that post implies, Anderson had earlier much less serious problems that had caused BN and Howland to question his judgment. 

So while BN has taken back the reference to Anderson being initialed as a Ben Ball Warrior, in comparison to other UCLA basketball cases, IMO, CBH is being fair in indefinitely suspending Anderson.

It's just sad that Anderson, who seemed to have finally turned the corner at UCLA, has once again run into the wall.

Go Bruins