Muhammad, Howland fight adversity at UCLA
by David Leon Moore, USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES – Shabazz Muhammad is going home this week and going home in style.
“A conquering hero,” his UCLA basketball coach, Ben Howland, says of his star freshman leading the Pacific 12 champion Bruins into the conference tournament in Las Vegas, Muhammad’s hometown.
Muhammad says it will be as fun as you’d imagine it to be, and very meaningful as well. There were, of course, NCAA eligibility questions about Muhammad — considered the No.1 recruit in the country last year — that prompted an investigation and caused him to miss the first three games of the season.
“That was a pretty down time for me, missing games and thinking I might not be able to play,” Muhammad, a 6-6, 225 left-handed swingman, said in an interview Tuesday with USA TODAY Sports. “Now you look and we’re Pac-12 champs and going into the tournament feeling really confident. I feel so blessed.”
So does Howland, who this time last year was both fending off criticism from fans upset at the Bruins not making the NCAA tournament and taking a defensive posture in the face of a Sports Illustrated article that portrayed Howland and some of his veteran players in a very unflattering manner.
Despite the hubbub, Howland brought in perhaps the top recruiting class in the country, headlined by Muhammad and also including highly rated Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Tony Parker.
How did that work out? Not great at first. Three of Muhammad’s first five games were UCLA losses to Georgetown (understandable), Cal Poly (unexplainable) and San Diego State (somewhere in-between).
But a hot streak came next. Muhammad scored more than 21 points in five of six games, and the Bruins ran off 10 consecutive wins.
A few conference road losses lay ahead of them, including an embarrassing 12-point loss just last week at Washington State. But there were many more good times, primarily by the freshmen but also by the 6-10 junior twins Travis and David Wear and point guard Larry Drew … [For more on 'Blessed' Muhammad, Howland fight adversity to put UCLA on top, click here.]