Howland on Sports Illustrated Article

Ben Howland addresses the allegations from the Sports Illustrated story, and talks about his job status and the specific reports of abuse from the story...

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 by some of the assertions that I had no knowledge of, were simply untrue, or were taken out of context. I'm responsible for this program and everything that happens in it. And if there's any need to make changes, I'll make them. I'm proud of our current and former players, and our coaches, and I'm confident in where we're going as we head forward.

Q: I'm wondering, have you changed as a coach? Are you a different coach now, are you doing different things than when you went to three consecutive Final Fours?

A: I'm pretty much the same person. You're always trying to improve as a coach as you are as a player. Something that I preach to my players constantly is that you never stay the same. You're always trying to improve and get better. So I hope that I would actually be a better coach than I was during that three year run of Final Fours.

Q: What I'm asking is, what changed, if anything?

A: I'll tell you this, I'm very proud of our team. We're talking about the last three years, and two of the last three years, we're going into the last weekend of each season, one game behind the leader with a chance to win the conference, so we've been right there. But we didn't go to the Final Four. And again, our expectations at UCLA are very high, the highest in the country. We want to win championships, and championships are what UCLA's about, having won the most championships as a basketball program, or even as an entire athletic department. And, so I understand that, and that comes with the territory of being the coach here at UCLA.

Q: What do you think you've mismanaged, if anything, the last couple of years?

A: Last year, in an article in the LA Times, I so much as admitted that there's no question that I've made mistakes on the way, and when you look at the recruiting in terms of evaluations of players for character, in an instance or two. And this is not, you know, to be taken with all our players. I think for the most part I've been very very blessed and lucky to have great kids. And that's something that we prided ourselves on since I first got here. Number one, we wanted to recruit great kids, good people that are going to continue to improve and get better. That they're good people on and off the floor, and I think for the most part we've done that. But I would say that there's no question that we have really really worked hard these last two recruiting classes to really make sure that we are recruiting great kids. And I'm really excited about the two commitments that we have for this coming campaign that are seniors in high school, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, and that's something that we really really work hard to try to continue to evaluate.

Q: Do you feel you had a shift in the types of kids you were recruiting after the Final Fours?

A: I don't know about type of kid. In other words, you would never knowingly try to make a mistake. We have, in my opinion, have been very blessed. If you look at the whole body of work here, over the last nine years, I've been very fortunate. We've had a lot of great players, great kids, kids that have gone on to the NBA, kids that are playing overseas. Most kids that have just gone on and just done a good job beyond basketball with their lives and their livelihoods and their futures. And I'm proud of all those kids. And, we talked about this before, one of the things we don't control, that's very hard, is the turnover in guys leaving early. And there's no question that that's sped up the process of having to bring in more kids, and kids quicker, and the whole recruiting process when you have that kind of situation. But that's, again, part of the culture, and that's where we are. And that's something that we talk about a lot now, and we really try to work hard to be able to deal with that.

Q: Do you think it's an overstatement to say, based off that article, that you haven't lived up to the John Wooden example?

A: I hold Coach in such high esteem. I think anybody who knows me or who follows the program knows that, and I also said that nine years ago, when I arrived here, the very first thing out of my mouth at the initial press conference was that there'll never be another John Wooden, and I would never purport to ever be able to live up to him, to what he accomplished, and to who he was as a man and as a coach. Of course, I strive to follow his ideals, and to try to support that teaching with our players and in our program. I had a great relationship with Coach Wooden, and 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. It was such an honor to be able to talk to him and to learn from him. I just feel so blessed to have had that opportunity. Some of the maxims of Coach, you know, I keep this little book, which he has this little book called "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. And his thing, the number one thing, is always do your very best. And that's I truly believe that I've tried to do and as has my staff, do our very best. And that's something we're always imploring for from our players, whether it be in the class room, on the basketball floor, or in their lives.

Q: One of the reports in the story was that you had very little contact with your players outside of practice and games. Is that accurate in your opinion?

A: I think if you talk to my former players, and that may be the opinion of a specific player. No one came forward and said that they said that. But I think if you talk to former players, my former players, whether they be here, UCLA, the University of Pittsburgh, Northern Arizona, an assistant at UCSB, I would think over the last 30 or 31 years, that actually would not be considered to be accurate. That's hurtful. I feel like I've got a great relationship- one of the great joys of 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. And to me, that's one of the great joys, having those relationships and the love you have because of being involved in athletics, and the closeness that brings to teams and to relationships. So, yeah, to answer your question, I didn't agree with it.

Q: Have you talked to the current team about the story, or do you plan to?

A: We have spoken to them about it, and now that the story has come out, we'll talk to them before we practice.

Q: There are allegations of physical abuse of players by players. Were you aware of any of that?

A: The instances you are talking about in the article had to do with hard fouls and cheap shots. Never was there any, during my watching and being there for every minute of every practice, an assault or that I felt 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. And yes, a cheap shot is different than a closed fist punched in someone's face. Or directed at someone. So I think there's varying degrees of your question. Anything I felt was something that was serious in nature, obviously I would always bring it to Dan and to my superiors and I would deal with it first hand, whichever players were involved.

Q: What kind of assurances has Dan given you that you can relay to the recruits that you'll be head coach of UCLA next year?

A: I'll tell you, I've been here, this is my ninth season now. I'm really really proud of what we've accomplished, both in terms of wins and losses, and just developing players and moving them forward from when they first come here as young players just out of high school to young men and adults as they leave the program. I feel very blessed, and I've said that, I said that the very first day I was here when I was speaking in the press conference, how lucky I feel and how blessed I am to be the coach of UCLA. It's my dream job. It's something I always dreamed of as a youngster and as a young coach, and I am appreciative of every day that I'm 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 and weaknesses, what we need to get better at, what he felt was positive vs. what needs improvement. And we'll do that again this year. But I am very confident of my abilities to lead this program in the future, and feel very good about, as I mentioned earlier, our current recruiting class, and also the kids that we're involved with right now that are coming down to the final weeks of their recruiting process before they make a final decision.

Q: The antics of Reeves Nelson were pretty well documented in the story. Why was he given so many opportunities to come back?

A: I can't get into specifics about any player, you know, in terms of 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 young men, to help them as basketball players, to help them improve. One of the biggest reasons I so coveted this job is because I think this institution, this program appeals to kids that are so special, that are so wonderful. We have an unbelievable support system 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 use. We have a great policy in place for our student athletes at UCLA that is educational but also punitive in terms of discipline. But my thing is, it's incumbent on me as a coach, that once we have a player in our program, to do everything I can to help him realize his potential, to help him improve, and to help him overcome obstacles. And I have truly tried to do that with each and every one of my players.

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