Worst SI Cover Jinx. Ever.

And here it is:

The man who donned the cover of Sports Illustrated’s college basketball (regional) preview is no longer on a college basketball team. Reeves Nelson has been indefinitely suspended (for the second time) from the UCLA basketball team by head coach Ben Howland.

On paper, Nelson won’t be missed. The enigmatic junior was averaging just 5.7 points and 4.5 rebounds and had played just 22 minutes in the Bruins’ last two games. He’d missed practices, team flights, and the point.

It’s not as if the writing hasn’t been on the wall. Prophetically, in this LA Times piece, Howland acknowledges that Nelson’s behavior has been “totally uncharacteristic of what [Howland] want from a UCLA basketball player representing this history and tradition.” Howland continued, “It’s something that is going to be dealt with when we get together again. It’s been an ongoing problem the past two years which has gotten worse.”

It appears they’ve gotten together again. It appears it’s been dealt with.

And what I want to believe is that more than just a malcontent has been dealt with. That Howland and his Bruins are turning the corner onto Winning Street and getting back to the place where UCLA is the spot. Where the Bruins are feared, not laughed at; proud, not embarrassing; winning, not losing.

But – and I refer back to the LA Times article – Howland sounds like a defeated man. His quotes lack urgency, his actions lack decisiveness, his team lacks heart. The sour faced coach comes across as hoping, fingers crossed, as his under-skilled, overweight band-o-Bruins go through the motions of a 2011-12 season.

On Josh Smith, “We had high expectations for him, but he didn’t do the work necessary in the off-season to be in the condition necessary.”

This is a player in your program. There are expectations and there is work. One is tangible.

On turning things around, “I believe we’ll be competitive in every game.”

Winners do and losers hope. Has it really come to a belief in effort?

With this suspension, I hope Howland takes himself seriously. To steal from the NCAA, he’s lost institutional control and needs to get it back. It starts with accountability. Reeves doesn’t want to be a team player? Then no team. Smith doesn’t want to get into basketball shape? Then no basketball.

I hope Howland can once again find the bite with all that bark.

If he doesn’t, UCLA fans can look forward to another thrilling coaching hunt – because the football one is going so well.

As for the tattoed bandit? Who knows. He’s packed a lot of baggage at this point and likely wont end up on another college campus. His NBA prospects are bleak at best and he ain’t winning any beauty contests.

Ultimately, you hope for the best for the young man. We’ve all lost our way before – not necessarily in the fish bowl of major college athletics. He has lessons to learn, the kind often learned in team sports. He’s had opportunity on top of opportunity to figure it out, to grow up and thrive in an excellent basketball environment.

That opportunity has been squandered.

And it’s not the SI cover’s fault.

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