UCLA on the Verge of a Meltdown?Posted by AMurawa on November 15th, 2011
Less than a week into a season where UCLA was picked by the media to win the conference, Bruin fans are beginning to have flashbacks to the 2009-10 disaster of a year. That season got off to an ignominious start with a double overtime home loss to a southern California afterthought, Cal State Fullerton, and proceeded downhill quickly, with an oh-fer 76 Classic close on its heels and sophomore big man Drew Gordon having some run-ins with head coach Ben Howland that ended in his eventual transfer out of the program. The season was “highlighted” by some awful guard play and an inability to stop anyone on the defensive end, and after a 2-6 start, ended in a 14-18 record.
Although this vintage of the Bruins has only played one game, they’ve already got the loss to a southern California afterthought in the books, a game in which they displayed awful guard play and an inability to stop anyone, and with yesterday’s revelation that junior forward and preseason all-conference selection Reeves Nelson has been suspended indefinitely by Howland for poor conduct in the opening days of the season, they’ve got the attitude problems too. Aside from skipping Monday’s practice, Nelson’s immature behavior also reared its ugly head in the opener against LMU, where he failed to participate in a timeout huddle on more than one occasion, yelled at teammates, and made progressively more erratic shot selections. The length of the suspension will be determined in a face-to-face meeting between Nelson and Howland soon, but there have already been whispers that Nelson is considering moving on from UCLA. And with a trip to the Maui Invitational to face a stacked tournament field around the corner (luckily, the Bruins drew host Chaminade in the opening round), the Bruins are on the verge of a complete meltdown.
The Nelson situation has been brewing for some time now. While a fan favorite at Pauley Pavilion in his first two years thanks to his scrappiness and emotional nature, Nelson has also let that emotional side be an albatross when things go poorly. He has been known to disappear from games when things don’t go his way early; he has a history of yelling at teammates on the court; he’s been known to sulk on the bench during timeouts rather than participate; and, he has reportedly had other run-ins with Howland over the past two years. In short, Nelson is still immature – not a rare situation for a 20-year-old kid. Nelson was suspended for multiple games during high school for his attitude, so this is clearly not something that has just appeared recently.
Depending on how Nelson’s meeting with Howland goes, it is possible that he’ll be welcomed back into the fold after serving a one-game suspension (missing Tuesday night’s game with Middle Tennessee State is already confirmed) or it could mark the end of his time in Westwood. Sophomore center Josh Smith told Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times that “there’s not really any information to tell me where he’s leaning. I want him to stay.” Smith, himself, has displayed a healthy dose of immaturity, tweeting “just lost to some straight bums lol” after the LMU loss, and coming back for his sophomore season at roughly the same weight he played at last year, a body mass which caused conditioning problems throughout the season, limiting his minutes and effectiveness. Throw in senior point guard Jerime Anderson’s arrest in the offseason for stealing a laptop, and this Bruin team seems to be lacking in leadership.
But, again, this team has played exactly one game this season. They’ve still got talent on the roster, with or without Nelson. David and Travis Wear, newly eligible transfers from North Carolina, were impressive in their first game in blue and gold, even bringing the threat of the perimeter shot that UCLA’s guards are unable to muster. If the Bruins can tighten up things defensively, get even competent play out of Anderson and fellow senior Lazeric Jones at the point, and find somebody – anybody – to knock down a perimeter jumper now and then, they’ve got enough talent along the front line to still compete for a Pac-12 title. But if this team doesn’t mature soon, things could go downhill fast.