Don’t be surprised to see Shabazz Muhammad in uniform -- and maybe even in the lineup -- for UCLA on Friday.
The highly touted Bruins freshman guard is recovering from a strain in his right shoulder, but he’s physically “real close” to being healthy enough to play in UCLA’s season opener against Indiana State, Coach Ben Howland said Tuesday.
Muhammad has yet to be cleared by the NCAA, which is investigating ties his family and AAU team allegedly had with two financial agents.
But NCAA rules allow players who have yet to be cleared a 45-day window during investigations in which to practice and play with their teams.
If a player is not cleared by that time, he must cease participating in team activities until a decision is reached.
Though exact dates aren’t known, Muhammad began preliminary workouts with UCLA about a month ago, meaning his 45-day clock would expire after about two more weeks.
What might keep Muhammad out Friday is his shoulder, which UCLA officials said he strained Oct. 25, adding that he was expected to miss two to four weeks.
But during UCLA’s “Pauley Madness” event last Friday, Muhammad threw down a windmill dunk during warmups that made it appear as though his shoulder was fine.
On Tuesday, Howland listed Muhammad as “day to day” and said he was “real close” to full strength. “At the end of practice, he was running with our team, and he’s able to shoot now,” Howland said.
In the meantime, the NCAA interviewed Muhammad’s parents, Ron Holmes and Faye Muhammad, in Las Vegas late last week, according to people close to the situation who are not authorized to speak publicly.
A timeline for when the NCAA might rule on Muhammad’s case is unclear.
“Right now, we’re game-planning and focusing as if he can’t play,” Bruins center Josh Smith said.
Smith added, “We have guys who know Shabazz does bring another thing to our team. But right now we’ve just got to make do with the players we have now. We can’t pout because he’s not playing. We can’t sit here and make excuses. We’ve just got to go out there and play.”