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NOT THE UCLA BRUINS WAY
GEORGE DOHRMANN
March 05, 2012
AFTER THREE STRAIGHT TRIPS TO THE FINAL FOUR, BEN HOWLAND'S BRUINS UNEXPECTEDLY BEGAN TO STRUGGLE. FORMER PLAYERS AND STAFF MEMBERS TELL A CAUTIONARY TALE OF HOW DISCIPLINE PROBLEMS AND MISTAKES IN JUDGMENT CAN SABOTAGE EVEN A STORIED PROGRAM
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March 05, 2012

Not The Ucla Bruins Way

AFTER THREE STRAIGHT TRIPS TO THE FINAL FOUR, BEN HOWLAND'S BRUINS UNEXPECTEDLY BEGAN TO STRUGGLE. FORMER PLAYERS AND STAFF MEMBERS TELL A CAUTIONARY TALE OF HOW DISCIPLINE PROBLEMS AND MISTAKES IN JUDGMENT CAN SABOTAGE EVEN A STORIED PROGRAM

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Three members of the team, not all of them freshmen, ignored Howland's orders and attended a giant rave at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. "We did what you do at a rave: We took Ecstasy," says one of the players. The trio did not get back to Westwood until between 4 and 5 a.m. and barely slept before arriving at Pauley Pavilion for an 8 a.m. practice. The players bragged about their night to teammates and commented on how they were still feeling the effects of the Ecstasy.

A few days later an assistant coach phoned the players who attended the rave and asked if they had gone out on New Year's Eve. They denied it, but soon afterward each was ordered to submit to a drug test. "I took something that was supposed to get [the drugs] out of my system," says one player. "I never heard anything about the results [of the test], so it must have worked."

From the outside, UCLA did not appear to be a program in disarray. Veterans of the 2008 Final Four team, including Collison, Aboya, Shipp and Nikola Dragovic, combined with Holiday to help UCLA finish second in the Pac-10. But it was a team divided from start to finish. Just before the postseason, in a last ditch effort to create team unity, the upperclassmen organized a bowling night, but the freshmen blew it off.

UCLA lost to Villanova by 20 in the second round of the 2009 NCAA tournament, ending the Final Four streak. Many on that team would look back on the season as more than just a lost opportunity. Howland had failed to correct discipline problems that would compound themselves in the years ahead.

"Guys drinking, guys doing drugs, guys not taking practice seriously, guys fighting," said one player. "You won't find that on the Pyramid of Success."

On April 15, less than a month after the season ended, Howland summoned to his office one of the student managers, a sophomore who was known to party with the players. The manager had mentioned to an assistant coach that some players drank and smoked marijuana too often during the season and that they needed to get more serious for UCLA to improve.

Howland told the manager that he needed to know who those players were and exactly what they were doing. The manager refused to name names, so Howland told the manager that if he didn't tell him, he would be terminated.

"I tried to be vague at first, told him some of the freshmen had problems, but he kept on me," says the manager. "I was just a college student, and Coach Howland is telling me I have to tell him everything."

The manager eventually told Howland what he knew, but the coach still terminated him. According to the manager, Howland said, "You are just as guilty as the players."

Howland told SI he couldn't discuss any specifics of the situation but said, "In my 18 years as a head basketball coach and nine years as the head basketball coach at UCLA, if I found out that a student manager was partying with some of our players, I would have told him to leave the program. In our program the managers are more closely related to the coaching staff than they are to the student-athletes. In fact, many of my former managers are now successful coaches, and I'm very proud of what they have accomplished."

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