The Indefensible UCLA Bruins

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to defend the UCLA Bruins.

Last week, the Bruins lost at “home” to Loyola Marymount. Their first loss to the cross-town non-rival since 1944. The same team that turned around and lost to Middle Tennessee State a day later. They’re malcontents, overrated, and undisciplined.

In the midst of writing a defense of this Bruins team, the news of Reeves Nelson possibly quitting the team broke (Nelson has since been indefinitely suspended). I could no longer finish my post.

I can no longer defend Ben Howland and his UCLA program.

I started that post early Monday afternoon. That was a time when I thought, “Hey, these Bruins simply have some personnel issues. They just need to reestablish roles, let the learning curve play out, get Zeek to shoot less and distribute more, and they’ll be fine.” I was going to ask everyone to be patient with this team and let them improve with more and more games.

I repeat: the UCLA Bruins are indefensible.

At first it was the early departures. We could excuse those as talent being talent. UCLA was talent rich, making annual appearances in the final four. But when the departures just never stopped, when they went from lottery picks (Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook) to second round picks (Malcom Lee, Tyler Honeycutt) the red flags began to fly. Go ahead and toss Dominic Artis’ decommitment into this category, too.

And at first we could also excuse Drew Gordon’s 2009 departure to a basic conflict of personalities. It happens. Not every relationship is a great one. Gordon’s departure, while somewhat heated, happens.

But a closer look shows us that of the last three recruiting classes (’08, ’09, ’10), UCLA brought in fourteen players, seven of which are no longer with the program; four by transfer, three by NBA draft.

And now there’s Nelson. Another discontented star willing to drastically change his basketball trajectory at the cost of his UCLA jersey. While Nelson isn’t about to win anyone’s award for teammate of the year (Josh Smith, either) this obviously isn’t the first case of someone trying to leave Westwood early.

Simply put, people not wanting to stay in your program doesn’t bode well for your program.

The one constant through all this (am I quoting Field of Dreams?) has been Ben Howland. The aforementioned issues and excuses have been piling up. Either he’s insufferable or he can’t recognize who’s going to be successful with his tough love style. Whatever you want to call it, there would certainly seem to be a lot of smoke leading to the inevitable fire, as they say.

UCLA had best rein this in (calling Dan Guerrero!) before it gets much further out of hand. The saving grace right now is Howland’s 2012 recruiting class but indefinitely suspending your best player is not step one.

Like I said, I want to defend this program, it’s storied and important; but if no one wants to wear the blue and gold, what’s the point?

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