Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports  |  Last updated 2/29/12

SI spent a few months interviewing players to write an article about the struggles of the UCLA basketball program the past few seasons. The article was hyped as an “expose,” but it turned out to be nothing more than a strong historical account of what led to the team’s struggles. The article also told fans very little that they didn’t already know, reinforcing the notions that poor character players and coach Ben Howland’s lack of discipline led to the downfall.

Ever since UCLA’s run of three straight Final Four appearances ended in 2008, the program has gone downhill. The program was turned over to younger players who were heavily hyped entering school. Many of these recruits were more focused on partying off the court than properly preparing as players — a departure from what made the previous teams successful. Howland failed to discipline these players, and many ended up leaving the program because of disputes with the coach or general unhappiness. From 2009-2010, Drew Gordon, Chace Stanback, Mike Moser, and Matt Carlino all left the program and are now starring elsewhere.

The main issue is what I said when Howland finally kicked problem child Reeves Nelson off the team in December: the choice to keep Nelson not only hurt this team, but past ones. Nelson was one of the leaders of the party group of players that included Jerime Anderson, J’Mison Morgan, and Drew Gordon (the latter two are not with the program). He injured teammates during practice and bullied Carlino mercilessly, to the point where Carlino transferred. Howland disappointingly let Nelson do what he wanted because he was producing, even at the cost of tearing apart the team.

I’ve know for quite some time that Ben Howland was a jerk and this article does nothing to dispel that notion. In fact, it only enhances that portrayal. It says Howland constantly yelled at his assistant coaches, and that could be part of the reason so many have left the program. Reaching three straight Final Fours allowed UCLA to attract more talented recruits, but those recruits entered the program with a feeling of entitlement. Howland never forced an attitude change and the program suffered as a result.

Maybe Ben Howland has learned his lesson and can make the necessary changes to become a better coach. He had a great run at UCLA, but if he were fired because of his inability to discipline his team, I would not have a problem with it. He hit the lottery with the two recruiting classes responsible for the program’s success, but he crapped out a few years in a row and it’s cost the program.

But this is about more than just the character of recruits: it’s about Howland departing from his miserably rigid ways and becoming more flexible. He also needs to instill the values from the Pyramid of Success that have helped UCLA’s program.

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