- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Ben Howland still has hope for Reeves Nelson.
He still believes in Nelson and wants to help Nelson, but he can no longer do so with Nelson as a member of the UCLA basketball team.
Not if Howland has any hopes of turning around UCLA's lackluster season, anyway.
Nelson has his troubles as well as his talent, but the negatives finally outbalanced the positives and Howland dismissed Nelson from the team Friday, unable to help a player who had a hard time helping himself.
He sulked, pouted and lashed out at teammates and coaches. A strong-minded individual, Nelson rarely feared repercussions. Even after getting suspended earlier this season, his behavior regressed. His presence became a disruptive force in the locker room and with UCLA (2-5) continuing to struggle, Howland had little choice but to remove the capriciousness from the clubhouse.
"In fairness for the team, there’s a point where we have to move forward and do what’s best for the team," Howland said.
That doesn't mean Howland has given up on Nelson. Howland is a coach of college kids, after all. Part of his mission is to help young players grow and mature into men. It's difficult for someone in Howland's position to give up on one of his charges, but Nelson's deteriorating attitude problems finally reached the point where Howland had to take the most drastic action of all, yet even while showing Nelson the door, Howland couldn't help but want to do more.
"I’m not going to stop trying to help him," Howland said. "I explained that to him today even though he’s going to be leaving the team and we’re dismissing him from the team, I’m going to continue to try and help him and advise him and communicate with him in the future. This doesn’t end my relationship with Reeves Nelson."
One can only hope Nelson learns from this. His talent is enough to land him a place where he gets paid to play basketball. He was UCLA's leading scorer and rebounder last season and was an all Pac-10 selection.
But his mercurial personality, where his mood often directly affected the play of the team, does not mesh well in the world of team sports. Only time will tell if Nelson has what it takes to correct that problem.
"I really want to help Reeves and I’m really hoping that he in his future can continue to grow into a player that’s able to fit into a team and organization and be able to handle all the things that go with that," Howland said.
"I think that this hopefully for his sake is going to be something that’s going to be a real, have a real drastic effect on understanding that if he doesn’t behave appropriately and fit in and, there’s no reason to believe that this couldn’t happen again. He’s got to make some changes and I discussed that with him and I’m hopeful that by the severity of what just happened with him that he can learn from this and be better for it."
Howland deliberated over this decision. He suspended Nelson early in the season, but it had little effect. He took away playing time, but that didn't seem to help either. A second suspension gave Howland time to think, and Friday morning he summoned Nelson to his office to deliver the bad news.
"If I had been a professional basketball coach, he probably would have been dismissed earlier," Howland said. "But Reeves is a kid who just turned 20 this summer. He started college at 17. This is education. We’re trying to help kids grow and mature.
"I’m one that’s an optimist and wants to hope and believe and try to help kids grow and improve but it just came to a point where that’s too much of a negative and a distraction versus the patience of trying to continue to get him to grow."
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