Shabazz Muhammad, the centerpiece of UCLA’s 2012 basketball recruiting class, will try his hand at the next level in 2013.
Muhammad said Tuesday he would enter the NBA draft in June, a decision that came as no surprise. Muhammad, one of the top players in the nation as a senior at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High, was considered a sure-fire one-and-done college player even before he signed a letter of intent.
His departure leaves the Bruins with six players who came to UCLA on scholarship, including the three remaining members of the 2012 recruiting class, which was ranked second nationally.
Those recruits created high expectations for last season. The Bruins finished with a 25-10 record and won the Pac-12 Conference regular season championship, but it wasn’t enough to save Coach Ben Howland, who was fired after the season.
Freshman guard Jordan Adams, who is recovering from a broken foot, was expected all along to stay at UCLA. Guard Kyle Anderson was considered a possible one-and-done player, but his father has said he would return. Center Tony Parker considered transferring but posted “I’m a Bruin” on his Twitter account last week, signaling his intent to remain in Westwood.
That trio, along with twin forwards Travis and David Wear and guard Norman Powell, give first-year Coach Steve Alford an experienced nucleus. UCLA has also signed three players, guards Zach LaVine and Allerik Freeman and forward Noah Allen, leaving Alford with four scholarships.
Muhammad is expected to be a lottery pick in the June 27 NBA draft, with projections placing him from sixth to ninth overall. During the season, NBA scouts at UCLA games gave him mixed reviews. Some were impressed with his offensive skills; others questioned his defensive abilities.
Muhammad did not return phone calls seeking comment. In a statement released by UCLA, he said, “I am so thankful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play at UCLA and will always be proud to be a Bruin. From a young age, I have dreamed of playing in the NBA, and I believe that this is the right time for me to move to the next level.”
Muhammad’s departure ends a year of turmoil. He was in the spotlight and under scrutiny long before he donned a UCLA uniform.
The NCAA balked at granting him athletic eligibility while it investigated the circumstances of his recruitment, including trips he took to the campuses of Duke and North Carolina that the family said were paid for by a friend. He was declared ineligible before UCLA’s season opener and sat out the Bruins’ first three games before it was revealed a key NCAA employee may have prejudged Muhammad’s case.
The NCAA restored Muhammad’s eligibility after a Times article was published, in which a witness described overhearing a man who identified himself as the boyfriend of an NCAA investigator telling fellow passengers on an airplane that Muhammad would be found ineligible and never play for UCLA. That conversation had taken place in August, only eight days after the NCAA first requested information from Muhammad’s family and long before any was received.
Muhammad, out of shape and rusty, labored in his first few games but quickly got up to speed, averaging 17.9 points per game to lead the Bruins. He waded through minor injuries, illness and controversy throughout the season, including the revelation he was 20 years old, not 19, the age listed in his media guide biography.
Muhammad’s season ended with a woeful performance against Minnesota in UCLA’s NCAA tournament opener. He scored 20 points, but missed all six of his three-point shots and was six of 18 shooting overall.