The biggest enhancement to the fan experience at Pauley Pavilion will cost UCLA only a scholarship.
Top high school prospect Shabazz Muhammad announced Wednesday he would become a Bruin, immeasurably boosting the $136-million makeover of the team’s home court that will be unveiled next season.
The 6-foot-6 swingman from Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, widely considered one of the top two seniors in the country, made his announcement during a nationally televised recruiting special on the first day of the spring signing period.
Muhammad ended months of suspense by picking UCLA over Kentuckyand Duke, saying on the ESPNUbroadcast that the Bruins’ recent struggles were among the deciding factors in his decision.
"I just think it’s a challenge, knowing how bad they were these last two years and it’s a challenge to really get them back up to the top knowing they’re the leaders in championships with 11," Muhammad said. "And with Kyle Anderson as a great addition to that program and Jordan Adams and hopefully if Tony Parker will come, then there’s a lot of bits and pieces to that team that could make it a really great team."
UCLA could add another player to its spring class if the highly touted Parker opts to become a Bruin; the 6-8 center from Miller Grove High in Lithonia, Ga., is deciding among UCLA, Kansas, Duke, Ohio State, Memphis and Georgia.
The Bruins already have received signed letters of intent from Anderson, a 6-8 point guard from Jersey City (N.J.) St. Anthony, and Adams, a 6-5 shooting guard from Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy.
Recruiting analysts said Muhammad’s decision gives the Bruins one of the top recruiting classes in the country and could immediately reverse the fortunes of a team that has missed the NCAA tournament in two of the last three years.
"Given where the program has been for the past couple seasons, Muhammad's commitment is probably the most important for UCLA since Kevin Love’s," said Greg Hicks, Scout.com’s West Coast recruiting analyst. "Muhammad has the skill level and athleticism to make an immediate impact on the court. He's already physically very strong and is college-ready in terms of his body.
“But in addition to his impact on the court, Muhammad has a chance to help change the culture in the Bruin program. He's a terrific competitor, with a great work ethic, and he is the kind of player that can lead by example.”
Muhammad and Anderson are expected to be immediate starters, giving UCLA an infusion of young talent in a college basketball landscape increasingly dominated by star freshmen and sophomores. Kentucky won the national championship last week with a core that included three freshmen starters.
"We have some great talent on the team right now, the kids that are returning are great and with Shabazz I think we can go really far," Anderson said recently.
Arizona could give UCLA a battle for supremacy in the recruiting rankings. The Wildcats have already landed a class that includes McDonald’s All-Americans Grant Jerrett of La Verne Lutheran and Brandon Ashley of Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep plus point guard Gabe York of Orange Lutheran and center Kaleb Tarczewski of Southborough (Mass.) St. Mark’s.
While Muhammad is already projected as a top NBA pick in 2013 on several mock draft boards, his father, Ron Holmes, said in a recent interview with The Times that there was no guarantee his son would leave college after only one season.
"Now, I think Shabazz is going to do well," Holmes said, "but you don’t know. How does he deal with adversity? How does he deal with kids who are envious or jealous there? There’s a lot of things that can go wrong; how do you deal with that? You never know.
"We’re looking at it like, you’re going to go to college to get a degree, so that takes four years unless you’re going to go to summer school. Now, if things work out better, then you look at those options."
Muhammad, who averaged 29.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists last season while leading his high school team to its third state title in his four varsity seasons, comes from an athletic family.
His father was a wing player at USC from 1981-85 and his mother, Faye Muhammad, was a basketball and track star at Long Beach Poly High and Long Beach State. Muhammad’s uncle Stephone Paige was a wide receiver with the Kansas City Chiefs for nine seasons and his sister, Asia, is a pro tennis player.