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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Report Uncovers Partying, Drugs Among UCLA Basketball Team

Coach Ben Howland allegedly allowed chaos to take over the team, undermining their unity and discipline, according to the article.

Scandal is rocking the University of California Los Angeles men’s basketball team as a Sports Illustrated story released Wednesday revealed disarray, drug use and even violence off the court.

A Sports Illustrated article revealed drug use and violence by the UCLA men's basketball team. (Photo Courtesy AP)
A Sports Illustrated article revealed drug use and violence by the UCLA men's basketball team. (Photo Courtesy AP)

The source of the struggles seems to be Coach Ben Howland’s distant and lazy approach to leadership, with several members of the past four teams saying he allowed talented but immature players to disrupt and undermine the unity and discipline of the team.

Sports Illustrated has spoken with over a dozen past and present players, all who paint the same picture – one of complete disorder. They claim players routinely used drugs and alcohol, even before practice, and that physical altercations were common.

They even report that one player intentionally injured his teammates but received no punishment.

Reeves Nelson, a player on the 2009 team, confirmed an on-court incident where he hit teammate Mike Mosner in the chest with his forearm and shoulder.

Nelson, who has since been dismissed from the team due to insubordinate behavior, accepts responsibility for his actions. He said, “I have no trouble admitting that I lost control of my emotions sometimes. I take responsibility for my actions. I’m really just trying to learn from the mistakes I made on all levels.”

The Sports Illustrated report says that all players they spoke to agreed that Howland could have prevented such chaos.

It was, ironically, Howland’s reputation for disciplined teams that got him the job in the first place. After being named coach of the year in 2002 for his success with the University of Pittsburgh Panthers, he was brought to UCLA in 2003. His structure and authority were praised, after Steve Lavin, his predecessor was said to lack control of the players.

Players said that not only did Howland lack control over the team, but a relationship as well. He was negligent in instilling camaraderie, and left veteran players to guide and welcome the freshman, who often took advantage of the lack of control with drug use and partying.

“It is disheartening for our Bruin community to be confronted with the type of assertions contained in the Sports Illustrated story. We take seriously any challenge to who we are and what we are about, and I am confident that any issues in our men’s basketball program will be rectified," UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in response to the article.

As far as Howland, he views this article as an opportunity to change and thrive in the future. “Like everyone else, I am always looking forward to improving as both a person and as a coach," he said. "I am proud of the coaches, staff and student-athletes in our program, and I look forward to our future.”

Read the Sports Illustrated article here.


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