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Plenty of ex-UCLA players come to Ben Howland’s defense


Mike Miller

For a coach who reportedly either berates or ignores players, Ben Howland had more than a few of his former guys come to his defense the last few days.

A Sports Illustrated story casts the UCLA coach in an unflattering light and prompted an immediate reaction – and fairly soft defense – from the school. But a few players who were part of Howland’s Final Four teams and after found it a bit over the top.

“Man for this story to try and say it was on [Ben Howland] is beyond crazy,” tweeted Mike Roll, a UCLA guard from 2005 to 2010. “Coaches cant control how people act while they’re in their dorm ...or at parties after games. He supplied us with the work ethic and leadership needed to get the job done. [Because] some players didn’t want to do what was necessary to win, cant blame him. He will find the players that are willing to do so.”

Former UCLA forward Lorenzo Mata-Real told The Dagger that Howland wasn’t even an absentee coach, praising Howland’s role in his life. Even Josiah Johnson, a reserve forward who didn’t play much under Howland and left in 2005 because he was unhappy, told The Dagger that he later realized Howland “wants everyone to be accountable for who they are as men.”

Then there are the pros.

Kevin love, Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo and Luc Mbah a Moute all praised Howland in this story from the L.A. Times that was posted in January. That’s some strong support for the end product Howland helps create.

Even some UCLA alums don’t fully understand why the onus is completely on Howland. The school’s all-time leading scorer, Don MacLean, had this to say to the L.A. Times:

“Personally I’m disappointed in these guys more than what Coach [Ben] Howland has or hasn’t done,” MacLean said. “Not to minimize anyone who drinks alcohol or might experiment with other things because it does happen, I’m pretty sure it does at just about every college, but if it gets in the way of your practicing and performances in games, then it’s something that shouldn’t be there.

“I wasn’t a person who sat in my dorm room and studied all day but nothing I did got in the way of coming to practice ready to go. Being social is part of being in college and I’m not going to condemn anybody, but this got in the way of UCLA being a good basketball team and that’s on the players.”

That’s some decent support. Now, if the Bruins’ on-court fortunes improve, Howland will be in the clear.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.