No Shocker: Reeves Nelson Dismissed By UCLAPosted by AMurawa on December 9th, 2011
Just a month ago, Reeves Nelson was on just about everybody’s preseason All-Pac-12 team. As of today, according to a CBS Sports report, he’s no longer on the UCLA basketball team. “After much thought and deliberation, I have made the decision to dismiss Reeves Nelson from the UCLA men’s basketball team effective immediately,” said head coach Ben Howland in a statement released Friday morning after the coach met with Nelson following his final exams.
The fall from grace was swift and unexpected, but there were warning signs prior to this season. In previous years he had been known to openly yell at teammates for mistakes on the court, he famously threw a ball at Brendan Lane’s chest in disgust and just generally showed a lot of emotional immaturity. Even in high school he was repeatedly suspended for behavioral issues. This season things got worse, and fast. In the Bruins’ season-opening loss to Loyola Marymount, Nelson grew visibly frustrated as the game went on, and he failed to participate in a couple of huddles, earning his first “indefinite” suspension of the year. After sitting out the Bruins’ next game (another loss, this one to Middle Tennessee State), he was reinstated in time for the trip to the Maui Invitational, then he showed up late for the team flight. Howland somehow allowed Nelson to catch a later flight, and then benched him for a half in the tournament opener against Chaminade. Last weekend, Nelson blew a defensive assignment just before the end of the first half in a loss to Texas, got into a verbal altercation with Howland in the locker room, was benched for the second half there (during which he drew criticism for his behavior on the bench) and then subsequently suspended indefinitely again. Then today, the divorce became official.
Howland has taken a lot of heat in recent weeks for his reluctance to cut ties with Nelson, but you can’t really blame a guy for trying to get through to an immature kid. While winning games is the ultimate goal of a college basketball coach, teaching their student-athletes should be another aim. And the fact that Nelson was the most talented player on a talent-deficient UCLA team certainly didn’t make Howland’s trigger finger itch any worse. But in the end, he decided that it was in the best interests of team that Nelson no longer be a part of it. Certainly the dismissal clears up things along the front line of the Bruins. With sophomore center Joshua Smith unable to provide significant minutes because of his poor conditioning, the Wear twins are locked into serious minutes at the three and four spots. Sophomore center Anthony Stover and junior forward Brendan Lane should also see a bump in usage. And when JuCo transfer De’End Parker returns from his knee injury, he should be due for some minutes at the three.
The question remains as to what this will do for the team’s chemistry issues. The consensus view is that Nelson was a locker room cancer and that his removal will be a classic case of addition by subtraction; unfortunately, sometimes removing one tumor does not always cure the disease. For instance, Smith’s inability to get into basketball shape belies his commitment to this team’s success. For the Bruins to begin to right this listing ship, they’ll need senior guards Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson to become the emotional heart of this team, with the Wears and the rest of the front line displaying the raw effort that Nelson used to earn so many fans in his first two years in Westwood.
As for Nelson, the question remains, what now? He’s certainly not good enough to go to the NBA, so a transfer will be in order. He’ll have a semester’s worth of eligibility beginning about a year from now, but the question is, where? UNLV and New Mexico have been landing spots for three other very successful outgoing UCLA transfers (Chace Stanback, Mike Moser and Drew Gordon), so one would guess that Dave Rice and Steve Alford would get somebody on the horn with Nelson relatively quickly. But given all the press that his behavioral problems have earned him this season, you can bet that a head coach will need to be either sufficiently desperate or sufficiently convinced of Nelson’s ability to change to throw him a line. There is no doubt that Nelson has talent, though; he led a good-not-great UCLA team with 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game last season.