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Instead, another player was sent packing. In early December after Gordon departed, Howland told the Los Angeles Times: "We have expectations of how our players represent the university on and off the court. When those standards aren't met, there are consequences." Gordon had certainly done enough to warrant getting kicked off the team, but team members felt it was not his hard-partying ways that sealed his exit. Gordon was the rare player who second-guessed Howland's coaching, both in practice and to the media. Just before Gordon left the team, he and Howland had a heated exchange in practice over the way Howland wanted Gordon to defend a certain play.
The message some players took from Gordon's departure was this: At UCLA you could fight, you could drink alcohol and do drugs to the point that it affected your performance, but the one thing you could not do was question Howland's knowledge of the game.
Gordon's exit failed to change the culture of the program, and New Year's Eve was once again a flash point. Several underclassmen had arranged for a party bus to shuttle them around town, but at the last minute Howland instituted a bed check. An assistant coach would visit the players' apartments and dorm rooms and make certain no one had gone out.
When informing the players of the bed check, Howland remarked, "So there will be no party bus," which led some underclassmen to conclude that they had an informant in their midst. Nelson thought that Honeycutt, one of his roommates, was the rat, and he got his revenge. A short time later, Nelson returned home from a night of partying, piled Honeycutt's clothes on Honeycutt's bed, and then urinated on the clothes and flipped the bed over. When asked by SI about the incident, Nelson said, "I would dispute that that is exactly what happened, but I understand people would say that is what happened. But I think, most of all, you should know that Tyler and I are still friends."
It didn't appear that Nelson was punished for the incident, but players say that Honeycutt was given his own single dorm room. (Through his agent, Honeycutt declined to comment.)
A few months later, when UCLA lost to Cal by 13 in the second round of the Pac-10 tournament, the careers of the program's three seniors, Keefe, Roll and Dragovic, came to a close. For the following season, the only returning scholarship players would be from the two recruiting classes that had caused so much discord.
The program now belonged to them.
BY ALL accounts the 2010--11 season was an improvement. According to five people associated with the team, the atmosphere was better. In March 2010, Howland announced that Morgan was being dismissed from the team for undisclosed reasons, leaving only Anderson and the dependable Lee from the Baby Bruins class. UCLA lost Moser, who transferred to UNLV, but forwards David and Travis Wear transferred in from North Carolina and would be eligible to play the following season. Joining them was a four-man class of recruits. Center Joshua Smith's indolence was a worry, but guards Tyler Lamb and Matt Carlino were hardworking and respectful, and the final recruit, guard Lazeric Jones, was the school's first significant junior college transfer since 1986.
UCLA opened the season 5--4, including an embarrassing loss to Montana at Pauley Pavilion. But the Bruins loaded up on victories against nonconference lightweights and took advantage of another down year in the Pac-10 to finish third in the conference at 13--5 (23--11 overall). UCLA returned to the NCAA tournament, a sign of recovery even though the Bruins lost to Florida in the round of 32.
"It was better," says one team member, "but remember: Reeves was still there."