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Nelson, the team's leading scorer and rebounder last season, has dealt with behavior issues throughout his career at UCLA and they seemed to have gotten worse since this season began. Howland said he delivered the news during a half-hour meeting with Nelson Friday morning.
"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. "He's disappointed but he also understands that this is a final decision. This is it. We are moving forward without him."
Nelson has a history of sulking on the court and failing to hustle when things aren't going his way. He has also had volatile moments of lashing out at teammates and coaches on the court and on the bench. But there have also been periods of brilliant play where he could carry the team through stretches of games.
There has been more of the former and very little of the brilliant play this season, however. In the season opener, Nelson did not participate in team timeouts and got into a verbal altercation with Howland after showing up late for a team film session the next day.
Howland suspended Nelson after those incidents but reinstated the forward for a three-game trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. Nelson missed the team plane for that trip.
He averaged 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds last season, but was averaging only 5.7 points and 4.5 rebounds this season.
UCLA (2-5) has defeated only one Division I opponent this season and has lost to mid-majors Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee.
"Honestly I think it will be a positive for our team," Howland said of dismissing Nelson. "The distraction of all this has not been a positive for our team. The negativity is not a positive for our team. When I suspended him the first time, the two practices we had after that were the best two practices of the year. Hopefully this is going to be a unifying thing for our team."
The final straw in Nelson's career came Saturday against Texas when Nelson was benched for the second half because of failing to hustle during the first half. A section of the crowd chanted Nelson's name and he continually pointed at the fans while smiling and laughing.
"I didn't want to turn this into a thing where this is the focus of UCLA basketball, this continued issue with Reeves," Howland said. "So in the best interest of the program and the team and UCLA basketball, I felt it was appropriate to make this decision and move forward."
Howland said Nelson now has three options on the table: He can continue to attend UCLA but not play basketball; he can transfer to another school, sit out a year and still have a year and a half of eligibility remaining; or he could turn professional.
Howland made it clear that dismissing Nelson was a difficult decision to make because as a college coach, he is in the business of trying to help young players grow and mature. He said he would continue to do that for Nelson.
"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."
Peter Yoon covers UCLA for ESPNLosAngeles.com.