An already disastrous season for the UCLA basketball program has taken an off-court turn for the worst.
Sports Illustrated has released a special report by George Dohrmann detailing the fighting, drinking and drug use that has apparently been rampant within the UCLA program since the Bruins appeared in three straight Final Fours between 2006-2008. The story, titled "Not the UCLA Way," paints a portrait of a program in complete chaos being captained by a man - head coach Ben Howland - with no idea how to restore order.
Throughout the story, Howland is made out to be a man fully aware of the problems within his program, but one also afraid to face them head on.
On the final day of 2008, Howland met with the team and told players not to go out on New Year's Eve. The Bruins had an early-morning practice scheduled for New Year's Day and were departing for Oregon in the afternoon. Howland stressed that it was time to get serious.
Three members of the team, not all of them freshmen, ignored Howland's orders and attended a giant rave at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. "We did what you do at a rave: We took Ecstasy," says one of the players. The trio did not get back to Westwood until between 4 and 5 a.m. and barely slept before arriving at Pauley Pavilion for an 8 a.m. practice. The players bragged about their night to teammates and commented on how they were still feeling the effects of the Ecstasy.
When informing the players of the bed check, Howland remarked, "So there will be no party bus," which led some underclassmen to conclude that they had an informant in their midst. Nelson thought that Honeycutt, one of his roommates, was the rat, and he got his revenge. A short time later, Nelson returned home from a night of partying, piled Honeycutt's clothes on Honeycutt's bed, and then urinated on the clothes and flipped the bed over. When asked by SI about the incident, Nelson said, "I would dispute that that is exactly what happened, but I understand people would say that is what happened. But I think, most of all, you should know that Tyler and I are still friends."
Reeves Nelson, whose bullying of his teammates is described in extensive detail by Dohrmann, was finally dismissed from the team by Howland during the first half of the current season. The dismissal came after several suspensions for unspecified violations of team rules and a highly publicized incident where Nelson missed the team flight to Hawaii for the Maui Classic.
Howland's unwillingness to address his team's issues was further outlined in a story from the 2007-08 season where he was upset with now Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook.
In a game during the 2007-08 season, several players on the bench noted Howland's frustration with the shot selection of Westbrook, whose freelancing had resulted in several baskets. But rather than substituting for him, Howland informed one of the officials that Westbrook was wearing socks bearing an NBA logo, which violated NCAA uniform guidelines. Howland told the official he had an obligation to remove Westbrook from the game because of his socks. The official claimed to be unaware of the rule and let play continue.
If details of excessive partying and extreme lack of leadership weren't enough, there are also potential NCAA violations to address. In particular, this paragraph stands out:
There were nights out with current and former NBA players, television stars and models. One evening the partying started at the Beverly Hills mansion of a wealthy UCLA fan. The Bruins were then chauffeured in a Rolls Royce to a West Hollywood club, where several players were ushered past a long line of people and given VIP treatment at a table in the back. Says one player, "We'd go back to the campus bars and students would say, 'Where have you been? We'd be like, 'if you only knew.'"
Taking a preseason top 25 team and turning them into one of the worst teams in an awful Pac-12 is one thing, but this piece would seem to be a death blow for Howland's tenure in Westwood. As Bruins Nation points out, this is the same proud program that once fired Jim Harrick for lying about a meal tab.
This is perhaps the lowest moment for arguably the most storied program in the history of college basketball, and I don't see how the man who captained the descent can survive it. Ben Howland is finished.