What Happened in Vegas Will Restore Greatness: Shabazz Muhammad
July 16, 2012 § Leave a comment
by Kevin Harrington
Throughout every season since 2006, sports fans across the country witness a temporary wave of new superstars that enters the one-year stopgap to the NBA that college basketball has become. We’ve already seen the likes of pro-ready athletes such as Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, John Wall, and Kyrie Irving graduate high school, dominate college competition for a year, carry their school to the tournament, then immediately depart for the NBA. This seems to be the way that college basketball is viewed to top-flight NBA prospects of late, and I see no end to this perception anytime soon…at least for as long as the NBA minimum age-requirement stays in place.
We’ve seen some of these athletes excel during their lone college season, and others fail to meet lofty expectations such as former North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes. Although I think the Associated Press has learned from their mistake of bestowing pre-season All-American honors upon a freshman who is yet to step on a college basketball court, it would be foolish to think that we have seen the last freshman who can establish himself as the most dominant basketball player in the NCAA by season’s end. I believe the next one will be an 18-year old from Las Vegas by the name of Shabazz Muhammad.
While John Calipari and defending national champion Kentucky may have brought an Anthony Davis clone to Lexington (Nerlens Noel), UCLA has secured a supremely talented wing with the athletic/playmaking ability the program has lacked since the likes of Russell Westbrook. Despite the questionable status of UCLA basketball over the past few seasons, Shabazz Muhammad has embraced the challenge rather than cruising to the NCAA tournament with one of the other schools in his top three, Kentucky and Duke. Instead, Muhammad will step on the court with arguably the most talented, yet under-proven team in the country this year. UCLA head coach Ben Howland has to be salivating at the potential, yet losing sleep at the thought of maturing the young Big Three this year that is Muhammad, point-forward Kyle Anderson, and big man Tony Parker in what will almost definitely be his only chance with all three super-recruits on the court together. If Howland can’t squeeze every ounce of potential out of this star-studded group, he may have coached his last season in Los Angeles.
However, I believe that Shabazz Muhammad may have provided the spark necessary to get Howland and UCLA back over the hump. After making the Final Four in back to back years in 2007 and 2008, the Bruins failed to make the NCAA tournament twice in the past four years and haven’t advanced past the second round in the two years they did qualify. While the program has lost a bit of its luster, Muhammad appears more than ready to restore the greatness. Shabazz has already shown his elite scoring ability, putting up over 25 points per game as a junior for Bishop Gorman high school, then over 30 points per game last year which earned him Nevada player of the year honors as well as the Parade National Player of the Year award. He has even shown that he can dominate elite competition, as he won MVP at the McDonald’s All-American game this year.
While scoring dominantly at the high school level is expected for the nation’s top guard, elite rebounding is not. This is why Shabazz Muhammad stands out from recent top guard recruits as he averaged over 7 rebounds during his junior year, somehow managed to improve to an astounding 10.4 rebounds per game during his senior campaign. In a league where 6’7” Andre Roberson led the Pac-12 with just over 11 rebounds per game, the 6’6” Muhammad has a solid chance at contending for more than just the league’s scoring title.
On top of an incredible rebounding ability, Muhammad possesses a post game unheard of for an 18 year-old guard. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time on defense, which results in plenty of steals, rebounds, and blocks, but the real beauty of his game comes in the form of a sweet lefty hook when he gets close to the basket. As pretty as his hook can be, the jaw-dropper of his inside game is his ability to finish above the rim. Muhammad not only has shown his ability to create his own shot, but his ability to finish it. Flat out, the kid can throw it down. Not only did he take home the MVP trophy from the prestigious McDonalds All-American game, he also showed off his vertical creativity when he won the McDonald’s slam dunk contest during the same weekend.
With a resume like Shabazz Muhammad’s, I think it’s clear that it is more than possible for him to achieve any collegiate honor his unstoppable work ethic will allow, including the Naismith trophy in my opinion. Even though he will most likely be in Los Angeles for only a year before he turns his attention to the NBA like many stars before him, he currently has his sights on restoring greatness to UCLA and bringing the program back to where it rightfully belongs…the Final Four.