Shabazz Muhammad is in no hurry to make his college decision
The basketball standout from Las Vegas, who lists UCLA among the schools he is considering, wants to set his own timetable for picking a college.
By Ben Bolch
The Los Angeles Times
9:22 PM PDT, July 24, 2011
Reporting from Las Vegas
The retro UCLA jersey was endangered the moment it entered Shabazz Muhammad's house.
The basketball prodigy's mother had purchased the replica of the jersey that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wore when he was with the Bruins as a gift for her middle-school son, only to later find it hanging in his closet with a large hole cut in the middle.
Muhammad's father couldn't resist the urge to snip on.
He played basketball for USC.
"My wife was hot with me," said Ron Holmes, a wing player for the Trojans from 1981 to 1985. "She wouldn't talk to me for about a week."
Holmes probably would take a more hands-off approach if his son decided to slip on a UCLA jersey late next year. It would have "Muhammad" stretched across the back.
Westwood is a possible destination for the consensus No. 1 player in the Class of 2012, an explosive 6-foot-6 forward from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High who has been fawned over like a rock star during the Las Vegas club tournaments.
A stray ball could not bounce into the stands at one of Muhammad's games over the weekend without hitting a major-college coach. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Kentucky's John Calipari and Florida's Billy Donovan were at one game, along with at least half of the Pacific 12 Conference's coaching contingent.
UCLA Coach Ben Howland, saying something about the bleacher seats being uncomfortable, plopped down in a courtside chair next to former Nevada Las Vegas coach Jerry Tarkanian.
More comfortable -- and more visible.
"Sometimes when you're running back down the court, you see one," Muhammad said of the coaches at his games. "But most of the time you have to focus on the game."
Muhammad's list of suitors is so long that he often adds the caveat "and many more schools" whenever he ticks off his favorites, lest he hurt anyone's feelings.
The official list (in alphabetic order to avoid any message-board meltdowns): Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, Texas, Texas A&M, UCLA and UNLV.
Muhammad said the recruiting analysts who describe him as leaning toward the Bruins are not necessarily onto something.
"Everybody says that," Muhammad said as he sat in his family's den on the edge of a dark-paneled cabinet stocked with trophies and plaques. "They say I'm a Kansas lean, a Memphis lean, a UCLA lean. It's all rumors that everybody's talking about. At the end of the day, everybody's the same at this point."
Muhammad said UCLA will receive one of his coveted official visits, though he already has more than a passing familiarity with Southern California. His father attended Lake Forest El Toro before going to USC. His mother was a track and basketball star at Long Beach Poly and Long Beach State.
The family moved to Las Vegas in the mid-1990s, in part because the city reminded Holmes of Orange County. Shabazz received his name through the family's Muslim faith, with his mother, Faye, changing her last name from Paige to Muhammad.
For many years, Holmes tried to impose his USC allegiance on his son. He would break out footage of USC-UCLA games in which he went head to head with Bruins star Reggie Miller.
"It was so funny to watch him," Muhammad said of his father. "I mean, he had a big Afro and those guys had Converse on."
But USC coaches couldn't make as strong a push as Holmes. Largely because of recruiting restrictions the Trojans faced after NCAA sanctions related to O.J. Mayo's acceptance of impermissible benefits, they were unable to keep up with the pack of suitors.
"They've had some issues with not making phone calls because of the sanctions or couldn't come and visit, so it's hurt them," Holmes said. "Other coaches have recruited a little harder."
Muhammad is being pulled in so many directions that he might feel like Play-Doh in the hands of a 3-year-old. After prep star Jordan Adams committed to UCLA last month, he sent a text message to Muhammad: "I'm ready for you to commit now."
The friends discussed the possibility of playing together for the Bruins again Friday after Muhammad's Dream Vision club team edged Adams' Atlanta Celtics in the Adidas Super 64 tournament. UCLA's recruiting class is shaping up as a good one, with the Bruins receiving a commitment Sunday from top point guard prospect Dominic Artis of Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep.
"He was saying what we could do on the wings as freshmen," Muhammad said of Adams, a swingman from Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy. "We could open up everything."
Muhammad was also hearing it all weekend from UNLV fans who followed him from gym to gym, cheering his every move. And the Rebels have another strong ally in Grant Rice, Muhammad's high school coach and the brother of UNLV Coach David Rice.
There are other factors to consider. Muhammad likes Kentucky's up-tempo offense and has formed strong relationships with several of the coaches pursuing him. It's almost too much for a teenager to process.
"That's why he's confused. That's why I'm confused," said Holmes, who does not oppose UCLA, because he likes Howland and considers himself a West Coast guy.
"I mean, there's a lot of things that go into this and we want to make the right decision because I don't care what happens, he's not transferring."
Switching schools may be one issue that Muhammad won't have to confront. If his precociousness is any indication, he could easily be focusing on the NBA draft by the spring of his freshman season.
Kellon Hassenstab, an analyst for the recruiting website hoopniks.com, said Muhammad's tenacity and maturity separate him from the other top players in his class.
"He never takes plays off," Hassenstab said. "He finishes with authority at the rim and has a consistent jump shot that extends to the three-point range. His work ethic and coachability are refreshing and unusual for a player of his talent."
Muhammad's willingness to wait to make his college choice also is uncommon at a time when many elite players are making commitments as eighth-graders.
Muhammad said he would evaluate every aspect of his prospective schools during his official visits, scrutinizing the coaches, the academic environment and campus life.
"We're going to sit down after this AAU season," Muhammad said of his family, "and figure out when I'm going to commit and when I'm going to cut down the list."
Good thing for UCLA that Muhammad, and not his father, will be the one doing the cutting this time.