LOS ANGELES (AP) –– Players and staff members from the past four UCLA basketball teams say that coach Ben Howland allowed an influx of talented but immature recruits to undermine team discipline and morale as the once-proud program has struggled to live up to its storied history, Sports Illustrated reported Wednesday.
The report on Sports Illustrated’s website, which says SI spoke with more than a dozen players and staff members from those teams over the last two months, outlines a program in disarray where teammates have come to blows, several players routinely used alcohol and drugs — sometimes before practice — and one player intentionally injured teammates but received no punishment.
UCLA officials issued a statement Wednesday saying the school would address issues and concerns.
“It is disheartening for our Bruin community to be confronted with the type of assertions contained in the Sports Illustrated story,” Chancellor Gene Block said in the statement. “We take seriously any challenge to who we are and what we are about, and I am confident that any issues in our men’s basketball program will be rectified.”
Howland added: “Like everyone else, I am always looking forward to improving as both a person and as a coach. I am proud of the coaches, staff and student-athletes in our program, and I look forward to our future.”
According to players who spoke to the magazine, Howland had little contact with his athletes beyond practices and games. The report says the task of indoctrinating a new player fell to veterans. Howland’s former players told the magazine he had very little to do with instilling camaraderie.
Several players from the 2008-09 team who spoke to SI say that some of that year’s freshmen affected the team’s unity and performance because of behavior that included drug and alcohol use, sometimes before practice.
The report says older players tried to counsel them with little success.
Players also spoke to the magazine of an alarming number of fights to begin the 2009 season, including one that began when Reeves Nelson, then a freshman, hit fellow player Mike Moser in the chest with his forearm and shoulder.
Nelson confirmed on-court 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 was eventually dismissed from the team last December after twice having been suspended for insubordinate behavior this season.
The report says that team members who spoke to SI were unanimous in their belief that leadership from Howland would have prevented or at least curtailed the damage to the program.