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UCLA Basketball has become a disappointment on and off the court

These must be trying times for sports enthusiasts. As if the rising cost of peanuts wasn’t bad enough, there is plenty of talk about how coaches are offering bounties to free your team of its star players. And, here I thought, bounties went out with the covered wagons and Larry King. Apparently, Gregg Williams has a lot of questions to answer, outside of those pertaining to the presence of an extra “g” on the end of his name. Apparently, college sports is not much of a refuge these days either.

Just in case your local mailman has a penchant for pilfering your weekly issue of Sports Illustrated, UCLA’s basketball program was dealt another public relations blow this past week by the magazine, citing a number of anarchistic revelations so damning that a Caesar might cringe at the full mention of them. The drinking, the fighting, the rule breaking: Either I misread John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, or the new coaching geometry in Westwood has turned into a distorted rhombus.

There was once a concept of the UCLA way. That ideal now seems about as paradoxical as healthy dorm food. Stories about how the great Coach Wooden was for the most part able to reel in future Hall of Famers like Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton during times of great social change.

Ben Howland, in his ninth season, has become the longest tenured basketball coach at the school since then. He took over a program that had come off its first losing season since the Wizard of Westwood came to town in 1948, but soon had the team NCAA tournament-bound in a couple of years, then going to three straight Final Fours from 2006 to 2008. However following losses to Florida in the 2006 final and 2007 Final Four, as well as the 2008 defeat to (vacated), the program has seemingly plunged into the Morgan Center’s version of the abyss. It used to be that anything other than a national championship at the school was a failure, frowned upon by UCLA supporters in much the same way as my parents looked at me when I told them I wanted to have a career in sports media.

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Reeves Nelson says SI took apology out of context, almost all stories are false

Reeves Nelson already had a bad reputation for being kicked off the UCLA basketball team for poor behavior, but what remained of it was shredded by a damning article published in Sports Illustrated this week. Reeves reacted swiftly and hired a lawyer who sent a letter to SI demanding a retraction. He continued the damage control with an interview on NBC Los Angeles Thursday night.

In the interview, Nelson says Sports Illustrated writer George Dohrmann took his remorseful apology out of context. He also says almost all the stories in the article are false.

“My attitude towards the team and the program as a whole just was very immature,” Nelson said of the behavior that led to his dismissal. “I was defiant, I walked out of a team practice without coach’s permission, I missed a team flight to Maui — which obviously doesn’t look good — you never want to do. And then, I think the final straw was when I was just showing disrespect by laughing on the bench at the end of a loss against Texas.

“That’s why I was really dismissed, and those were the mistakes I was speaking about when I gave my original statement,” Nelson said.

Sports Illustrated responded to the demand for a retraction and stood by Dohrmann, saying “Time Inc. and Sports Illustrated unequivocally stand behind George Dohrmann’s story, Not the UCLA Way. Dohrmann has multiple sources on the facts uncovered during his reporting. This includes a detailed conversation with Mr. Nelson in which he was given an opportunity to respond to the facts and, to his credit, he did.”

Nelson contradicts SI’s statement and described his conversation with Dohrmann as brief, and one where he did little protesting because he figured Dohrmann made his mind up about the article and was going to write it regardless of what some “punk kid” would say (Nelson seemed to really lose credibility when making that statement). He disputes the accuracy of the article.

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Reeves Nelson hires lawyer who demands retraction from SI for pointing out Reeves was jerk

Sports Illustrated did in one article what Ben Howland could not accomplish in three years: hold Reeves Nelson accountable for being a jerk. SI exposed Nelson for being a bully who injured teammates during practice, fought them, and intimidated them, all without coach Ben Howland saying anything. Howland chose to play Nelson over other talented players, causing at least one player to transfer (Mike Moser, who’s now starring at UNLV). Howland’s lack of discipline resulted in another talented player transferring (Matt Carlino, now starring at BYU) because he was constantly bullied. After Reeves’ troublemaker ways became too much, Howland finally kicked him off the team. By then the damage was done, and choosing to allow Reeves to run free hurt the program the past few years and this season.

Nelson actually confirmed the bullying incidents to SI and seemed to take responsibility for his actions.

Nelson confirmed all these incidents to SI and expressed his regret, saying, “On all that stuff, I have no trouble admitting that I lost control of my emotions sometimes. I take responsibility for my actions. I’m really just trying to learn from the mistakes I made on all levels.”

Nelson went to play pro ball in Lithuania after being kicked off the UCLA team and only lasted five weeks. Now that he’s in a bad spot he’s finally expressing regret. But guess what? He hired a lawyer who sent a letter to SI demanding a retraction.

The lawyer’s letter states:

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SI article on UCLA tells us what we already knew: bad characters, Ben Howland’s lack of discipline took down program

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.

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UCLA’s Athletics Have Gone Completely Down the Crapper

It was 1995. I can remember watching those precious few seconds tick away as Tyus Edney drove the length of the floor against Missouri in the Final Four. For some reason, I watched the end of the game in Solvang, California, apparently a dose of smorgasbord giving me the amnesia that is making it impossible to remember why I was there. The behind-the-back dribble to get by Jason Sutherland, the right hand lay-up over Derek Grimm to give the Bruins an improbable win. Later, a win over Arkansas in the national title game to set off a riot in Westwood of antediluvian proportions.

A few years later, the football team, rolling over opponents like an illegally-obtained SUV, debuted as the first ever top-ranked team in the BCS, only to be undone by Hurricane Georges, then two typhoons named Edgerrin James and Ron Dayne. Throw in one too many losses to USC in a variety of sports, and UCLA’s stock has fallen quicker than a Duke basketball player committing a flop.

Last week was yet another disappointment. UCLA’s run-up to Rivalry Week turned out to be more pointless than Geraldo playing tour guide to Al Capone’s vault, or an antiquated, 25-year-old reference made in one of my articles that hardly anyone understands anymore. Prior to last week’s UCLA-USC football game, the score of which more closely resembled a tennis match or a cricket massacre, Bruins head coach Rick Neuheisel exulted how Westwood was closing the gap on USC. Apparently, that statement had about as much meaning coming from Michael Strahan’s orthodontist.

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UCLA Forward Travis Wear Injures Foot While Snorkeling

Things are not looking up for the UCLA men’s basketball team. Their last two losses — in fairness — came against ranked opponents, but a 1-4 start is not exactly what the Bruins were hoping for to kick off the 2011-2012 season. To make matters worse, they became the latest victim of the weird injury bug on Thursday when leading scorer Travis Wear hurt his foot.

According to the L.A. Times, the sophomore forward was snorkeling in Hawaii when he cut his foot and needed five stitches.  Apparently the Maui Invitational did not include a presentation about the dangers of coral and how deceptively sharp it can be.  Of course you’re going to snorkel when you score a free trip to Hawaii, but at least know some basic guidelines before you embark.

Wear missed practice on Saturday and is scheduled to be reevaluated on Monday.  Athletes really need to start paying more attention when they’re around sharp things.  With important games on the line, we can’t have guys slicing their hands open with scissors and injuring their hands trying to clean a blender.  Didn’t these guys learn anything about safety when they were growing up?

UCLA’s Joshua Smith Apologizes for Calling Loyola Marymount ‘Straight Bums’

UCLA lost its season opener to Loyola Marymount on Friday night, 69-58. What was already a difficult loss for the nation’s 17th-ranked team to stomach was made worse by a bonehead tweet from center Joshua Smith. According the the L.A. Times, Smith tweeted, “Just lost to some straight bums lol” after the game.

It’s never a wise decision to go on Twitter and start name-calling after a game.  Doing it after a loss makes even less sense.

The UCLA center apologized on Saturday by tweeting, “What I said wasn’t smart and was bad sportsmanship. I apologize for the comment i made yesterday. We lost to a team that just outplayed us.”

Widely considered to be one of the Bruins’ best overall players, Smith should realize everything he does will be heavily scrutinized. He managed only five points and four rebounds in 16 minutes against LMU. Those numbers certainly don’t give you the right to talk trash, much less disparage the opposing team.

Obviously Smith’s remarks stemmed from frustration, but he needs to use better judgment. Insulting your opponent on Twitter will never score you any points with the fans or media.  When your team loses to lesser competition you’re only adding insult to injury.