UCLA Coach Ben Howland reiterated that he has “made mistakes, along the way,” in judging the abilities and character of players during recruiting in recent seasons.
But he said that was “surprised by the assertions” in a Sports Illustrated story that portrayed his program as out of control.
“Some [of the instances] I had no knowledge about, some were taken out of context and some were not true,” Howland said.
As to whether he expected to return as UCLA’s coach, Howland said he and Athletic Director Dan Guerrero meet every year to “talk about our strengths and weaknesses and what we need to get better at. … I am very confident that I will lead this program lead in the future.”
The story cited instances in which former UCLA forward Reeves Nelson intentionally went after teammates during practice without repercussions from Howland.
Nelson was kicked off the team in December after being suspended twice. Neither suspension was for a practice incident that involved physical abuse of a teammate. Nelson was the only “named” source in the story.
“The instances they were talking about had to do with hard fouls, cheap shots,” Howland said. “Never, during my watching, was there an assault.” He said that instances were “heat of the battle, with elbows flying,” and added that “a cheap shot is different from a fist directed at someone.”
Howland said, “Anything I felt was something serious in nature, I would bring to Dan. We would deal with it first-hand.”
As to why Nelson received so many chances before being thrown off the team, Howland said: “Once a player is in the program, I want to do everything I can to help him realize his potential and overcome obstacles.”
As to drug and alcohol problems, as cited in the article, Howland said that UCLA has an “unbelievable support system here for players to help them off the floor. We provided education and there is a punitive policy in place.”
Under UCLA’s drug testing policy, an athlete is suspended for one game after a third positive test. A fourth positive test can result in the scholarship being revoked.