- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 29, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Players and staff members from the past four UCLA basketball teams say that coach Ben Howland allowed an influx of talented but immature recruits to undermine team discipline and morale as the once-proud program has struggled to live up to its storied history, Sports Illustrated reported Wednesday.

The report on Sports Illustrated’s website, which says SI spoke with more than a dozen players and staff members from those teams over the last two months, outlines a program in disarray. Teammates have come to blows, several players routinely used alcohol and drugs _ sometimes before practice _ and one player intentionally injured teammates but received no punishment, according to the story, which quotes its sources anonymously.

“Obviously this is not a great day for our program or for me,” Howland said on a teleconference Wednesday. “I’m responsible for this program and everything that happens in it. If there’s any need to make changes, I will make them.”

UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero didn’t answer directly when asked about Howland’s job status for next season.

“We’ll go through the rest of the season, and then we’ll sit down and talk about the situation like we always do,” he said on a separate teleconference. “The article certainly raised some issues, but believe me we were aware of some of the issues.”

In 2008, Howland agreed to a new seven-year contract, which runs through the 2014-15 season. He is due to receive $2.3 million in the final year of the deal. Now in his ninth year in Westwood, he has a record of 205-96 going into the final weekend of the regular season.

“I am very confident of my abilities to lead this program into the future,” he said.

Guerrero said some of the allegations mentioned in the story were known by Howland and his staff and they consulted with the athletic director or his staff. Other issues were handled by Howland and his staff, while some allegations came as a surprise to Guerrero, who said they would be investigated.

“Could decisions have been made differently in some regard?” he said. “I would venture to say … yeah, we probably should have done things differently.”

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said about Howland, “He’s not perfect. He’s admitted both publicly and privately some of his shortcomings and mistakes.”

According to players who spoke to the magazine, Howland had little contact with his athletes beyond practices and games. The report says the task of indoctrinating a new player fell to veterans. Howland’s former players told the magazine he had very little to do with instilling camaraderie.

“That’s hurtful,” Howland said on the teleconference. “If you talk to my former players, that may be the opinion of a specific player, I would think that actually would not be considered to be accurate.”

Several players from the 2008-09 team who spoke to SI say that some of that year’s freshmen affected the team’s unity and performance because of behavior that included drug and alcohol use, sometimes before practice.

The report says older players tried to counsel them with little success.

“We’re talking about a few isolated incidents with a few young men who have made bad decisions,” Guerrero said, adding that UCLA has alcohol and drug testing programs in place.

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