UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad gets NCAA clearance to play
Shabazz Muhammad will be suiting up for UCLA’s next basketball game.
The NCAA reinstated the highly touted freshman swingman Friday, and he will make his college debut Monday night when the No. 13 Bruins (3-0) face Georgetown (2-0) in the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The NCAA had ruled Muhammad ineligible, saying he violated its amateurism rules, just hours before UCLA’s opener on Nov. 9.
“My family and friends were very supportive of me throughout the process and I couldn’t have gone through this without them,” Muhammad said in a statement released by UCLA.
UCLA had appealed on Muhammad’s behalf on Wednesday. That appeal was declined, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who was not allowed speak for the record. However, the NCAA then ruled that the university’s sanctions against him — repaying about $1,600 and missing three games, which he has already done — were sufficient.
“I understand that the NCAA has a job to do and we were happy to fully comply with their investigation,” Ron Holmes, Muhammad’s father, said in a statement released by the family. “His mother and I are excited Shabazz will be joining his teammates and have the opportunity to represent UCLA.”
Said UCLA Coach Ben Howland, also in a statement: “I am relieved that this long, arduous process has come to an end.” UCLA said in a media release that Howland and Muhammad would not be available for comment until after Monday’s game.
Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said UCLA is “extremely grateful” the matter was over. “This entire process has been challenging on many fronts, but we believe strongly in the principles of fairness, integrity and due process,” he said in a statement.
The NCAA ruled that Muhammad broke rules by accepting impermissible travel and lodging benefits during three unofficial visits to Duke and North Carolina.
The trips were paid for by North Carolina-based financial advisor Benjamin Lincoln. The Muhammad family said Lincoln was a longtime family friend whose assistance should be allowed under NCAA rules.
“I’m appreciative of the tenacious effort by the UCLA administration to try and help Shabazz in this,” said Robert Orr, Muhammad’s attorney. “They’re to be commended for all they’ve done.”
Said Lincoln: “As someone who’s watched Shabazz grow up, it will be an absolute thrill to see him finally be able to play Monday.”
The NCAA’s ruling came a day after The Times reported that an attorney had overheard a conversation on an airplane in August that suggested an NCAA investigator had possibly prejudged Muhammad’s case.
The attorney wrote a letter to the NCAA that said a man who identified himself as the investigator’s boyfriend was loudly telling other people on the plane that his girlfriend would make sure Muhammad never played because he broke rules. That conversation was overheard just eight days after the NCAA first requested documentation from Muhammad’s family and long before any of it was received.
The girlfriend was identified as “Abigail.” Abigail Grantstein, an assistant director of enforcement, was the NCAA’s lead investigator on the case.
The Times obtained a copy of the letter and wrote about it in a story that appeared in Thursday’s paper. Although it’s unclear what role, if any, the attorney’s letter played in the NCAA’s decision, Bill Trosch, the attorney for the Muhammad family, believed it was a factor.
“When the L.A. Times sheds light on information that the decision makers would not otherwise have, that’s extremely helpful in coming to a fair decision,” he said.
The attorney, who confirmed her story to The Times in a telephone conversation, said in another phone interview Friday that she was happy Muhammad had been cleared to play.
“Coincidences happen for a reason,” she said, “and I think this what was supposed to happen for him.”
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.