The enigmatic career of UCLA’s Reeves Nelson veered into uncertainty Monday when Coach Ben Howland indefinitely suspended the temperamental forward for what was termed conduct unbecoming a member of the team.
Nelson, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season, will not be with the Bruins on Tuesday night at the Sports Arena when they play host to Middle Tennessee State. His status will be reevaluated after a meeting with Howland later this week.
“This is a very disappointing situation for Reeves and for our basketball program,” Howland said in a statement. “We have a high standard and code of conduct that our student-athletes are expected to adhere to, and Reeves has fallen short of our expectations.”
Nelson’s most recent behavioral lapses occurred during and after UCLA’s season-opening loss to Loyola Marymount on Friday. The 6-foot-8 junior seemed increasingly frustrated as the Bruins’ 69-58 defeat progressed, tuning out coaches during timeout huddles and appearing irked that he was not a focal point of the offense.
Nelson finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, taking eight of his 12 shots — and all three of his three-point attempts — in the second half.
Howland said on Monday afternoon that he planned to meet with Nelson regarding “just his behavior after the game, for example, walking off the court the other day, a number of things of that nature.”
Nelson, who last week appeared on a regional cover of Sports Illustrated, could not be reached for comment.
Asked whether he had spoken to Nelson about his status before the suspension was announced, sophomore center Joshua Smith appeared to indicate that Nelson was thinking of quitting the team.
“I’ve talked to him, but there’s not really any information to tell me where he’s leaning,” Smith said. “I want him to stay.”
Nelson has been a mysterious figure for much of his UCLA career, sulking when things aren’t going well on the court and occasionally berating teammates. He threw the ball at teammate Brendan Lane’s chest during a game last year.
Nelson can also be a galvanizing player, firing up the crowd with hand gestures and playing tight defense when inclined to do so.
He was a first-team All-Pacific 10 Conference player last season and a big reason the Bruins were picked by the media as the preseason favorite this year in the Pac-12.
“His biggest battle is mental,” said Gary Porter, Nelson’s coach at Modesto Christian. “It’s not the physical part. The kid is a specimen when he wants to play.”
Porter said he suspended Nelson for “quite a few games” during his senior season in high school because of a poor attitude.
“When things weren’t going great for him or the team, he would take his frustrations out on some of his teammates,” Porter said. “I had to get in his face many times. That’s what you have to do with him.”
Sophomore center Joshua Smith apologized to his teammates Saturday for a derogatory tweet he posted about Loyola Marymount after UCLA’s season-opening loss.
On the bus ride back to campus from the Sports Arena, Smith tweeted, “Just lost to some straight bums lol.” He then deleted the tweet after talking to teammate Tyler Lamb about whether it was inappropriate.
“It was just a little immaturity,” Smith said. “I said something I shouldn’t have said.”
UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero apologized to Loyola Marymount on Smith’s behalf.
Howland said he couldn’t ban players from tweeting because it would infringe on their 1st Amendment rights while attending a public university.
Sophomore center Anthony Stover, who has not played this season because of a shoulder injury, could resume contact drills later this week, Howland said.
UCLA, which opened the season at No. 17 in the Associated Press media poll, dropped out of the national rankings.