When news of Shabazz Muhammad’s college decision reached the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity house on the UCLA campus, there was jubilation.
“Everybody was screaming down the halls,” Kumar Nadhan, a psychobiology student, said Thursday of the reaction to one of the nation’s top two recruits announcing that he would become a Bruin.
Dan Chikanov, another psychobiology student, said his roommates “were jumping up and down and we were all chanting ‘Sha-bazz!’ for five minutes straight.”
Chikanov also heard similar chants from nearby fraternities — which is saying something. “I’m hard of hearing,” said Chikanov, who uses a cochlear implant, “but I could hear that.”
Outside Westwood, there were some whispers.
Why would a player said to be NBA-ready pick a team that missed the NCAA tournament twice in the last three years, the skeptics wondered. Did the family’s ties to Adidas play a role in Muhammad’s choosing a program affiliated with the shoe company?
Cynics pointed out that Muhammad’s sister, Asia, a professional tennis player, has a contract with Adidas, which also sponsors Shabazz’s club team, Dream Vision.
“Adidas, um I mean UCLA, wins the Shabazz Muhammad Sweepstakes,” wrote CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman. “Shabazz stayed loyal to adidas entire way.”
Ron Holmes, Muhammad’s father, heard some of the remarks that accompanied his son’s college choice. He wasn’t laughing.
“I don’t understand when they say Adidas had a presence here,” Holmes said in a telephone interview from his Las Vegas home. “Adidas didn’t tell us where to go to school. … If they’re saying that Adidas is giving me money, that is a downright lie.”
Holmes pointed out that his son played for Bishop Gorman High, a Nike-sponsored school, and that the amount Adidas gave Dream Vision covered only a portion of the team’s travel needs.
“What they end up giving us is usually half the budget for the summer,” said Clayton Williams, coach of the Las-Vegas based club team. “It’s a struggle. If you’re looking for the hidden whatever, you’re not going to find it …"
Williams said that although Dream Vision is sponsored by Adidas, most of the team’s players end up at colleges affiliated with other shoe companies. “Ninety percent of our kids wear Nikes in the winter [with their high school teams],” Williams said. “But no one wants to speak to that.”
Holmes said his son’s future prospects played no role in the contract Asia Muhammad signed with Adidas when she turned pro.
“She was a standout junior tennis player and she got a contract off those merits,” Holmes said. “Shabazz Muhammad wasn’t on the lips of Adidas at that time. He was 5 [feet] 11 and coming out of the eighth grade. Bishop Gorman didn’t even want him.”
Holmes said Asia, currently ranked No. 386 in the world according to the WTA, is negotiating a new contract commensurate with her ranking, one that could be 85% less than her original deal.
Adidas representatives haven’t broached the topic of a possible contract with Muhammad once he enters the NBA, Holmes said.
“Those conversations don’t come up because I don’t allow them to come up,” Holmes said. “No coach throughout his whole recruitment offered me a penny because I didn’t represent that.”
Holmes, who was a wing player at USC from 1981-85, said his son picked UCLA hoping to restore the faded luster on a onetime juggernaut.
“I think the biggest thing was the challenge of bringing a storied program back to prominence,” Holmes said. “At the end of the day, Kentucky didn’t have that. At the end of the day, Duke didn’t have that. Those programs are so great, but Shabazz and [incoming freshmen] Kyle [Anderson] and Jordan [Adams] and the Wear twins and Josh [Smith], if they can bring this program back to prominence they will go down in UCLA lore and college basketball lore.”
Bruins fans apparently believe in Muhammad’s ability to revive the program.
A UCLA spokesman said the school experienced an increase in men’s basketball season-ticket purchases and memberships in the Wooden Athletic Fund since Muhammad signed his letter of intent Wednesday, although specific numbers were not immediately available.
Web traffic to UCLA’s main athletic site, UCLABruins.com, increased 30% between Monday and Wednesday, according to the spokesman, who also said web traffic to the university site where men’s basketball tickets are sold nearly quadrupled.
“The last couple [of] years, UCLA has had a few ups and downs,” said Chikanov, the psychobiology student, “but we’re really excited to be back.”