Heading into national signing day, there were five high school All-Americans who have yet to decide on which college to attend in the fall, and one of them was Shabazz Muhammad.
The 6-foot-6 forward from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman was named the MVP of the 35th annual McDonald’s High School All-American Game in Chicago, scoring a game-high 21 points in leading his West team to a 106-102 victory. He was easily the best player on the court, and his good friend Kyle Anderson (who is headed to UCLA) was the only player close enough to challenge that claim.
Muhammad put on a show for his three college suitors: Duke, Kentucky, and UCLA. He displayed a skill level that is already tailor-made for the NBA and his approach was very business-like. He recently put on an impressive show at the Nike Hoop Summit in Oregon, and one NBA scout said “he’s the only one who can play in the NBA tomorrow.”
On April 11, Muhammad told the college basketball world that he is going to be a Bruin, instantly making UCLA one of the favorites to make it to the 2013 Final Four.
Muhammad is the No. 1 rated high school senior by almost all of the prominent recruiting services, with the exception of ESPN. The Worldwide Leader inexplicably has center Noel Nerlens of Everett, Mass. as the top college prospect. Why? Not quite sure, especially after watching Muhammad clearly distance himself from the field with his performance at the McDonald’s game. Not too long ago the Worldwide Leader had Xavier Henry as the nation’s No. 1 recruit. Where is Henry now? He’s currently struggling to keep a job in the NBA. We’ll forgive the Worldwide Leader for putting Muhammad at No. 2 . . . for now.
The three schools on Muhammad’s wish list were three of the most storied programs in the nation. Under John Calipari, Kentucky has become a landing spot for blue chippers looking to rent space for seven months until they become draft eligible. Duke is in the running because, let’s face it, it has living legend Mike Krzyzewski. How can you say “no” when Coach K calls your cell! And then there is UCLA headed by a coach who badly needs a hug after a recent Sports Illustrated article painted his program as an out-of-control institution.
If you go by recent performance, it seems the choice is clear: Kentucky or Duke. But why take the easy route. If Muhammad really wanted to make a big splash in what appears to be his one and only season in college basketball, he should choose a school that needs him more than he needs it. Here are five reasons Muhammad chose UCLA:
1– Location, location, location: Shabazz’s parents are from Los Angeles and it would make for an easy transition to move from Las Vegas to L.A. if the Bishop Gorman High star decides to enroll in Westwood. The only drawback would be the simple fact that Shabazz’s dad, Ron Holmes, went to rival USC. But that’s a minor hurdle given the state of USC’s basketball program.
2– Pipeline to the NBA: Howland has sent more players to the NBA than any college coach in the last 10 years, more than Coach K and Coach Cal. Just take a quick glance at the who’s who of Bruin alums in the NBA: Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo, Jordan Farmar, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Hollins, Malcolm Lee, and Jrue Holiday. All the players mentioned transitioned well into the Association mainly because of Howland, whose defensive techniques and principles are in line with the pro game. If you play for Howland, you’ll become a very good two-way player.
3– New digs at Westwood: Pauley Pavilion will no longer have the feel of an old gym for 2012-13 season. And from all the blueprints that have been shown so far new Pauley Pavilion is well on its way to becoming one of the hottest tickets in L.A., maybe ever hotter than The Standard hotel. What better way to christen the hottest college gym in the country with the hottest incoming freshman in the nation. And in Hollywood, it’s all about who’s hot and what’s hot.
4–Head of the class: The Bruins already have commitments from St. Anthony’s (N.J.) Kyle Anderson and Oak Hill Academy’s (Va.) Jordan Adams, and they’re also in the running for Miller Grove (Ga.) center Tony Parker. The Bruins already have a boatload of returning players next season, starting with Travis and David Wear and North Carolina transfer Larry Drew III takes over for the inconsistent Lazeric Jones. If Parker and Muhammad take their talents to Westwood, the Bruins instantly turn into Final Four contenders.
5–Follow the Pyramid of Success: Duke is always near the top 10 in the national rankings and they’re on ESPN almost as often as Tim Tebow. Kentucky just won the national championship so they’ve already reached the pinnacle. Meanwhile, the Bruins are coming off a disappointing 19-14 season and wasn’t even invited to the NIT. Ouch! Compounding things was the damaging SI piece that put the program in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Last year, coveted high school recruit Cody Zeller chose Indiana because he wanted to help bring a once proud program back to the top. Muhammad should follow the same path. The Bruins are in hibernation right now, and all it takes is a little Shabazz to awaken a sleeping giant and help raise a 12th national championship banner at Pauley Pavilion.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.