If you are a college basketball fan on any level I am sure you have already heard the breaking news regarding the coveted UCLA Basketball Program. As a current UCLA student and life-long Bruin fan, this news was very disheartening to hear. There have been rumors for several days now that Sports Illustrated’s George Dohrmann (Pulitzer Prize winner) was going to drop a bomb on us. Well, the anticipation is over and there’s nowhere to go but up from here.
I do not want to get too much into the details of what has happened to our program over the past several years but I will give you the take home points. UCLA felt on top of the world when Howland took the team to three straight Final Four appearances. UCLA sent numerous players to the NBA during this time, and currently has the most active UCLA alumni on NBA rosters (15 I believe). But with all that, UCLA has failed to bring home another banner to Pauley Pavilion to hang up next to the 11 championship banners that John Wooden worked so hard to get. So basically, Ben Howland is rumored to have lost control of his players, allowing them to get too distracted to live up to their expectations on the court. The team has seen a number of highly recruited athletes transfer schools, in addition to players being suspended and kicked off the team for poor behavior. Former forward Reeves Nelson seemed to be the root of much conflict as he has been sited for starting a number of on-court and off-court problems with teammates. His exit from the program looked to be the first step toward success, but UCLA is a disappointing 16 – 13, in a very weak Pac-12 conference. But, this is not the end of the most storied NCAA basketball program in the nation.
Now that the story is out, UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero has some decisions to make. The SI article puts much of the blame on Ben Howland and his inability to rightfully discipline his top athletes. Guerrero has already been scrutinized for UCLA football’s recent problems. It looked as if Jim Mora had to succeed with the football program if Guerrero expected to keep his job. But now with all this, there is a lot more added pressure. Dan needs to make a decision in regard to the basketball team quickly. If he is committed to Ben Howland with the highly recruited prospects that have already signed letters to play for UCLA, he needs to make sure the system gets improved. A line needs to be drawn and there needs to be a strict line of respect between players and coaches.
UCLA has never had a recruiting problem for basketball. Young stars across the nation want to come to UCLA and attempt to live up to past legacies that have been established in this fine university. Even if UCLA was hit with a tsunami (as it seems like it has), these problems needed to be addressed and now they forcefully will have to be resolved. All eyes will be on Ben Howland to see how he reacts to such a disappointing story. But, as a student and die-hard fan, I see this as the rock bottom. The program will obviously have a tough rest of the season, and potentially another one next year, but I can guarantee there will be a different attitude in the locker room. Players will better understand what is expected of them and hopefully Howland will better discipline those who blatantly break rules.
I am not saying I completely agree with the way George Dorhmann wrote this article. The problems described should not be viewed as a scandal, rather common issues that most sports programs across the country face. Yes athletes need to be held to higher standards, but they are still college students who need time off from sports to enjoy their free time. College athletes drink and smoke weed. They always have and they always will. I think Howland can fix this problem and get the team back on track so they can finally live up to their expectations. If you are a UCLA fan, don’t freak out. The article may have been frustrating to read but what happened is in the past and the only thing to do is more forward.