Former UCLA player Reeves Nelson filed a lawsuit against Sports Illustrated and reporter George Dohrmann Wednesday and the suit includes declarations from 18 current and former UCLA players who reject various claims made in a March Sports Illustrated article that depicted Nelson as a boorish player with a propensity for violence and out-of-control behavior.
Some, such as Drew Grodon, and Tyler Trapani, were alleged victims of Nelson's violent antics who said Nelson never did to them what the Sports Illustrated story said. Others, such as Blake Arnet and Alex Schrempf, said they spoke with Dohrmann and told him the information he had was incorrect only to see it end up in print anyway.
All of them disagreed with the Sports Illustrated depiction of Nelson as a player who intentionally injured teammates and was coddled by coach Ben Howland, who turned a blind eye to Nelson's transgressions.
"I never saw Nelson intentionally hurt or intentionally try to hurt any member of the UCLA basketball team or staff, nor do I believe that Nelson ever intentionally hurt or tried to hurt any member of the UCLA basketball team or staff," reads a passage in each of the 18 declarations. "I did not observe and do not believe that Coach Howland favored Nelson over the other players in any fashion, not with respect to discipline or anything else."
Some players addressed specific incidents alleged in the article. Gordon, for instance, was reported to have gotten into an off-campus fight with Nelson that resulted in a black eye for Gordon, but Gordon's declaration stated "The article’s description of Nelson’s behavior toward me is false. We have never had a fight, not at a teammate’s apartment or anywhere else, nor has Nelson ever given me a black eye from a fight or otherwise."
The Sports Illustrated story also reported that Schrempf, a former UCLA walk-on, suffered a serious back injury as a result of a Nelson attack during practice. Schrempf's declaration said that never happened. In his declaration, Schrempf acknowledged speaking with Dohrmann but told Dohrmann his facts were wrong.
"During our conversation, Dohrmann specifically told me that he had 'heard' that Nelson intentionally injured me during practice by knocking me to the ground from behind," Schrempf's statement says. "According to Dohrmann’s 'source,' Nelson’s conduct caused me to suffer a serious back injury. I explained to Dohrmann that this version of events was incorrect."
Trapani says in his declaration that a reported practice incident involving him and Nelson never happened. The report states that Trapani drew a charge against Nelson that negated a Nelson dunk and that Nelson went out of his way to step on Trapani's chest.
Trapani, who is John Wooden's great grandson, says in his declaration that "I did take a charge from Nelson during what we call a '3 on 2, 2 on 1' drill. Contrary to what was written in the Sports Illustrated article, Nelson did not go out of his way to step on me. Moreover, I do not believe he in any way tried to harm me during this or any drill."
In perhaps the most memorable Nelson incident depicted in the Sports Illustrated story, Nelson was reported to have urinated on Tyler Honeycutt's clothes because Nelson thought Honeycutt had foiled plans for a New Year'e Eve party. Honeycutt's declaration said that never happened.
"Contrary to the story told in Dohrmann’s and SI’s article, Nelson did not pile my clothes onto my bed on New Year’s Eve, and he certainly did not urinate on my clothes," Honeycutt's statement says.
The report also stated that Nelson would frequently disrupt practices and argue with Howland over foul calls and would routinely get preferential treatment from Howland, who refused to discipline his budding star in fear of having practice interrupted. In 15 of the 18 declarations, the players said that was not the case.
With the exceptions of Honeycutt, Schrempf and Joshua Smith, the players all declared "I never saw Nelson 'lose it' during practice or otherwise 'disrupt' practice, not because of foul calls or otherwise. I do not believe that Coach Howland gave Nelson 'the benefit of the doubt on foul calls in practice so [Nelson] wouldn’t lose it,' nor did I see or hear Nelson yell at Coach Howland if a foul was called against him during practice."
The 18 players who signed declarations included in the lawsuit are: Jerime Anderson, Arnet, Matt DeMarcus, Larry Drew, Gordon, Honeycutt, Kenny Jones, Lazeric Jones, Tyler Lamb, Malcolm Lee, J'mison Morgan, Norman Powell, Schrempf, Smith, Anthony Stover, Trapani, David Wear and Travis Wear.
Some other interesting notes from the declarations:
David Wear, Travis Wear, Anderson, DeMarcus, Lazeric Jones, Lamb, Gordon and Stover each stated that Nelson's treatment of former guard Matt Carlino was not a factor in Carlino's transfer after only one semester. "I never saw or heard Nelson “yell at Carlino to leave the locker room” or call him “concussion boy” after Carlino suffered a concussion during the preseason, nor do I believe that Carlino “dreaded practice” because of Nelson," they each declared. "I personally understand and believe that Carlino transferred to B.Y.U. not because of Nelson’s behavior but because Carlino believed he was not receiving sufficient playing time during games."
Anderson, DeMarcus, Gordon, Morgan, Schrempf and Stover each declared they were at the practice in which Nelson reportedly intentionally yanked on James Keefe's surgically-repaired shoulder and stated that the incident was incorrectly reported. "The article’s description of Nelson’s behavior toward teammate James Keefe (“Keefe”) is false," those six declarations state. "I attended the practice at which Keefe’s shoulder was re-injured. This injury was not caused by any intentional conduct by Nelson against Keefe."
Smith denies getting any preferential treatment by Howland. "According to the article, Coach Howland favored me over the other players, 'allowing [me] to miss meetings and to arrive late or unprepared for workouts” and otherwise did not 'hold [ me] accountable,'" Smith's declaration says. "This is false. Coach Howland did not favor me this way over the other players, not by refusing to discipline me or by any other method."
Anderson, DeMarcus, Gordon and Morgan declared that the reported incident in which Nelson and Mike Moser got into a fight never happened. The story reported that Nelson repeatedly set illegal screens on Moser and that Moser retaliated by fighting Nelson. "The article’s description of Nelson’s behavior toward teammate Mike Moser (“Moser”) is false," those four declarations say. "I never saw Moser fight with Nelson not at practice or anywhere else, nor did I see or hear Moser threaten to punch Nelson in the face."