- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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UCLA coach Ben Howland held a conference call with reporters to discuss a Sports Illustrated article that alleges multiple wrongdoings by Howland and his players. Here is a transcript of Howland's call:
BEN HOWLAND (Opening statement):
Obviously this is not a great day for our program and of course for me. As I said yesterday I knew some of the details of the Sports Illustrated story but did not read the entire text until late last night. As you can imagine I was surprised at some of the assertions that I had no knowledge of, or were simply untrue, were taken out of context. I'm responsible for this program and everything that happens in it. If there's any need to make changes, I'll make them. I'm proud of our current and former players and I'm confident in where we're going as we head forward.
Q: Have you changed as a coach from when you went to three consecutive Final Fours?
BEN HOWLAND: I'm pretty much the same person. You're always trying to improve as a coach and a player. That's something that I preach to my players constantly is that you never stay the same. You’re always trying to get better. I hope that I would actually be a better coach than I was during that three year run of Final Fours.
Q: What changed, if anything?
BEN HOWLAND: I'm very proud of our team. Two of the last three years we're going into the last weekend one game behind the leaders with a chance to win the conference and have been right there. Our expectations at UCLA are very high. The highest in the country. For most programs that's a level of success that's pretty solid. For us it's disappointing because we want to win championships and championships are what UCLA is about, having won the most national championships of any basketball program or any athletic department. I understand that's what comes with being the coach here at UCLA.
Q: What do you think you’ve mismanaged the last couple of years?
BEN HOWLAND: Last year in an article in the L.A. Times, I so much as admitted that there's no question I've made mistakes along the way when you look at recruiting in terms of evaluations of players or character in an instance or two. This is not to be taken with all our players. I think for the most part we've been very, very blessed and lucky to have great kids, that's something we've pride ourselves on since we've first arrived here. The number one thing is we want to recruit great kids, good people that are going to continue to get better, good people on and off the floor. I think for the most part we've done that.
I would say that there's no question we've really worked hard these last two recruiting classes to continue to make sure we're recruiting great kids. I'm really excited about the two commitments we have for this campaign in Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams.
Q: Did you have a shift in the type of kids you were recruiting and if so, why?
BEN HOWLAND: I don’t know that it was the type of kid. In other words, you would never knowingly try to make a mistake.
Q: But was there a different type of player?
BEN HOWLAND: Not really. In my opinion, we've been very blessed. When you look at the whole body or work here over the last nine years, we've had a lot great players, great kids, kids that have gone on to the NBA, kids that are playing overseas, but also kids that have gone on and done a great job beyond basketball with their lives and their livelihoods and their futures. I'm proud of all those kids.
One thing we don't control is the turnover in guys leaving early. There's no question that's sped up the process of having to bring in more kids, kids quicker and the whole recruiting process when you have that kind of situation, but that's again part of the culture and where we are. That’s something we talk about a lot now and have really tried to work hard to deal with that.
Q: Do you think that you have lived up to the Wooden standard?
BEN HOWLAND: I hold coach in such high esteem. I think anyone who knows me and has followed the program knows that. I also said that nine years ago when I arrived here, the very first thing out of my mouth was that there will never be another John Wooden. I would never purport to be able to live up to him and what he accomplished and who he was as a man and as coach. Of course I strive to follow his ideals and try to support that in our teaching with our players and in our program. I had a great relationship with Coach Wooden. That's one of the great blessings of my entire life, both as a coach and as a person. For me and my family to get to know him was such an honor to be able to talk to him and learn from him. I’m just so blessed to be able to have that opportunity.
Of course there's been tough times. Some of the maxims of coach. I keep his little book, "Thoughts and observations by John Wooden" as a devotional that I look at and read all the time. Be observant and learn from your mistakes and try to improve. The one thing is: Always do your very best. That's what I truly believe I've tried to do, as has my staff, and that's something we've tried to implore on our players whether it be in the classroom, on the floor or in our personal lives.
Q: Do you agree with the assertion that you do little to instill camaraderie?
BEN HOWLAND: I don't think that. I think if you talk to my former players. That may be the opinion of a specific player. No one came forward and said that they said that. I think that if you talk to my former players, whether they be here at UCLA or Pitt or Northern Arizona or as an assistant at UCSB, over the last 31 years, that actually would not be considered to be accurate. That's hurtful because I feel like I've had great relationships. One of the great joys in coaching for me has been and continues to be the relationships I have with so many of my former players. That I stay in close contact with them and their families from all those years past. That to me is one of the great joys is having those relationships and the love that you’ve because of being involved in athletics and the closeness that brings to teams and to relationships.
Q: Have you talked to the current team about the fallout from the story and do you plan to?
BEN HOWLAND: We have spoken to them about that. Now that the story has come out, we’ll talk to them today before we practice.
Q: Did you try and stop the physical abuse that allegedly took place?
BEN HOWLAND: The instances that you're talking about in the article have to do with hard fouls or cheap shots. Never was there any -- during my watching and being there for every minute of every practice -- an assault where I felt like it was prudent that there was some kind of assault going on. Often times in the heat of battle elbows are flying or guys are being physical. A cheap shot is different than a closed fist punched in someone's face or directed at someone. I think there's varying degrees of your question. Anything that I felt was something of a serious nature, I would always bring to Dan [Guerrero] or my superiors and I would deal with whichever players were involved.
Q: What kind of assurances has Dan given you that you will be the head coach of UCLA next year?
BEN HOWLAND: I've been here, this is my ninth season now and I'm really, really proud of what we've accomplished both in terms of wins and losses and also just the help in developing players and moving them forward from when they first get here as young kids out of high school to young men and adults as they leave the program.
I feel very blessed to be the coach at UCLA. It's my dream job. It's something I dreamed of as a young coach. And I'm appreciative of every day I'm allowed to be the coach here. At the end of every season I sit with Dan and have an end-of-the-season evaluation where we talk about our strengths, weaknesses, what we need to get better at. What he felt was positive versus things that need improvement and we'll do that again this year.
But I am very confident of my abilities of my abilities to lead this program in the future and feel very, very good with our current recruiting class and also the kids we're involved with right now, coming down to the final weeks of their recruiting process before they make a final decision.
Q: Why was Reeves Nelson given so many chances?
BEN HOWLAND: I can’t speak about specifics relating to any player in terms if the law, but I'll tell you this: I've always been about my players and doing everything I can in my abilities to help them. To help them as men, to help them as basketball players, to help them improve.
UCLA, one of the biggest reasons why I so coveted this job, is I think this institution, this program appeals to kids who are so special and are so wonderful. We have an unbelievable support system here for our players in reference to helping them off the floor.
We've got an unbelievable counseling center, I know in the article for example there were assertions of drug and alcohol abuse. We have a great policy in place for our student athletes at UCLA that is educational but is also punitive in terms of discipline.
But my thing is, incumbent on me as a coach, once we have a player in our program to help him realize his potential, to help him improve, to help him overcome obstacles and I truly try to do that with each and every one of my players.