Black eye won’t keep UCLA’s Reeves Nelson down – LA Times

By Chris Foster
Los Angeles Times 

Reeves Nelson, UCLA’s 6-foot-8 freshman forward and amateur stuntman, loped through the hotel lobby Friday fielding jokes about his purple-and-black right eye, which was nearly swollen shut.

“You look like a boxer,” radio analyst Tracy Murray said.

Nelson laughed and replied, “got the hands of one too.”

Maybe the head of one, too. Nelson will be back in the lineup against Washington on Saturday, gruesome looks and all.

His Frankenstein appearance was the result of his dunk late in the first half against Washington State. One minute he was airborne, the next he was face-first on the ground, gushing blood.

After getting 15 stitches, and being checked for a concussion, Nelson returned to the bench with seven minutes left in the game and asked to go back in. The request was denied, but it showed the face-first nature of his game.

“I slept well, no problems,” Nelson said. “We’re just trying to keep the swelling down with ice. But I’m ready to play.”

This is the third time this season that Nelson’s right eye has been battered. He took a finger in it against Kansas and suffered a corneal abrasion. He took an elbow in the eye the next game against Mississippi State. Against California he suffered a concussion when he butted heads with Markhuri Sanders-Frison, the Bears’ 6-7, 275-pound center.

“Thank God he has a hard head, because it looked like he hit pretty good” in the Washington State game, Coach Ben Howland said. “He’s going to look pretty scary with all the eye injuries.”

Howland said he didn’t anticipate reducing Nelson’s minutes Saturday because of the injury. Nelson, meanwhile, laughs about the jokes — “he looks like Rocky Balboa,” Howland said — and the suggestions about how thick his head must be.

“It’s how I play,” Nelson said. “I can’t change that.” Even the suggestion that he might consider wearing goggles gets scoffed at, as Nelson said, “Nah, that’s not my style.”

As for Thursday’s incident, Nelson said, “I dunked on the guy and someone took my legs out from under me, so I kind of changed how I was going to land. I landed on my face, which is never good.”

Playing time?

Sophomore center J’mison Morgan — or Bobo to those who know him — was sentenced to the end of the Bruins’ bench, but may have received a reprieve with James Keefe out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.

With Howland short on big men, Morgan logged 21 minutes in the victory over Washington State on Thursday, six more than he had played the entire conference season.

The 6-10, 240-pound Morgan had only two points, but blocked three shots and had three assists.

“That was the first time I have played a lot of basketball since high school, so it was kind of a breathtaking experience” said Morgan, who missed three weeks with an injured quadriceps in January.

“I could feel as the game went on that I was getting more comfortable, it just kind of flows. I feel next game I can help the team a little more. I did pretty good defending the lane. I can probably get points and rebounds, and assists too.”

Morgan’s performance was solid enough that Howland has elevated him to Nelson’s back-up. Freshman Brendan Lane had that role the last two games.

“His three blocks and three assists were big,” Howland said. “There is still a conditioning issue from the three weeks he was out, but we’re going with Bobo the rest of the way.”

February 19, 2010