NBA AM: Shabazz Muhammad On NBA Fast Track?
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
Follow @Yannis KoutroupisYannis Koutroupis
The odds have always been against UCLA’s star recruit Shabazz Muhammad staying with the program for more than a year. He’s one of the best two-way players in the nation and he has a sizable role waiting for him that should allow him to showcase his abilities enough to remain a top-ranked prospect in the 2013 NBA Draft. However, at the 2012 adidas Nations championship game he was saying all the right things regarding his future.
“I’m not expecting to be one-and-done,” Muhammad said in an exclusive interview with HOOPSWORLD. “I want to get this college season started and try to make our way to Atlanta.
“It is hard (to block out all the draft talk), but you have to look at it as you put yourself in this position so I’m just going to keep continuing to work hard and see what the outcome is.”
Unfortunately for UCLA and Muhammad, his decision could be made for him by the NCAA. They are currently investigating whether or not Muhammed and his family accepted impermissible benefits that endangered his amateur status. He is not eligible to play in the team’s upcoming trip to China as the NCAA continues to research his case. The investigation dates all the way back to February; CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman and Gary Parrish had the details:
The NCAA has contacted each school recruiting the nation’s top-ranked high school basketball prospect, Shabazz Muhammad, and made them aware of financial dealings that could compromise Muhammad’s amateur status, multiple sources have told CBSSports.com.
The sources told CBSSports.com that the NCAA is specifically interested in connections between Muhammad’s family and financial advisers Benjamin Lincoln and Ken Kavanagh. Lincoln is a North Carolina-based financial planner whose brother, Geoff Lincoln, is an assistant coach for Muhammad’s high school team in Las Vegas. Kavanagh is a New York-based financial planner.
Muhammad’s father, Ron Holmes, acknowledged to CBSSports.com in multiple phone calls this week that he knows both men and has been questioned by an NCAA investigator about the relationships. Sources told CBSSports.com Lincoln paid for at least two of Muhammad’s unofficial visits to college campuses and that Kavanagh has helped fund Muhammad’s summer team, the Las Vegas-based Dream Vision Foundation. Holmes, who has hired legal counsel to assist with getting the NCAA inquiry resolved, confirmed both statements as true to CBSSports.com.
For what it’s worth, at Nations Muhammad did not sound like someone who was expecting to be ruled ineligible.
“Practice is going really well,” Muhammad said. “We’re looking really good as a team, Coach Howland is making sure to stress to us to get up and down the floor. With the freshman we have and guys coming back, we’re going to have a really good squad.
“It’s been great learning how to work harder on defense, always staying in a bent position. That’s pretty much it, learning from that, the guys that have been there. It’s been solid.”
During practice, Coach Howland has been preparing Muhammad to be a leader for them on the court. He’s already become one for them off of the court early on with his work ethic, attention to detail, and dedication on the defensive end. It’s still very early, but Muhammad sees the makings of something special.
“Oh absolutely we’re going in thinking we can (win a national championship,” Muhammad said. “Kentucky had a whole bunch of sophomores and freshman and that’s what we have with Josh Smith, Tyler Lamb, us four freshman, and the Wear twins. We have a lot of good pieces, if you add them up we’ll be a really good team.”
In relatively short order we should know whether or not Muhammad is one of those pieces. It never looked like he was going to be at UCLA long anyway, but if he’s ineligible than you can certainly pencil him in as one of the top picks in the 2013 draft. If Enes Kanter, who never played at Kentucky due to being permanently ineligible for playing professionally in Turkey beforehand, still went top three in the 2011 NBA Draft, it’s highly unlikely that Muhammad takes much of a hit either.
Bynum’s Teammates Share His Excitement
At Andrew Bynum’s introductory press conference with the Philadelphia 76ers, he was clearly as animated and excited as he’s ever been. The opportunity to finally be the centerpiece of a team and the pure joy of the fan base over his arrival had the typically mild-mannered Bynum looking out of character. That’s the kind of boost a change of scenery can provide, though, and a few of Bynum’s new teammates shared the enthusiasm that has taken over the city of Philadelphia as a whole.
“It’s exciting,” Dorrell Wright said to HOOPSWORLD at Baron Davis’ kickball game for charity. “Whenever you change it’s always exciting, it’s part of the business. That’s the one thing you have to understand going into it so I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a great year for us this year, we’re going to see where it takes us.
“(Getting Bynum) made us that much better. Having that post presence, that’s what the game is missing now and days is big guys and the post presence. There’s a lot of big guys who are playing out on the perimeter, so to add a big guy who can put his back to the basket and score, get easy baskets, rebound and block shots is big. I played with Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning, so I know how it is to have a big guy in there clogging up the paint. (I’m going to get) a lot of open looks.”
“It changes a whole lot,” added Nick Young, who will also be making his 76ers debut this season along with Wright and Bynum. “It makes us a reckon to deal with. We just have to live up to the expectations. They’ll be double-teaming him, I’ll be dared to knock down shots.”
While technically new teammates, Young and Wright are going into Philly somewhat familiar with each other. They have a friendship that dates back to being in Los Angeles around the same time. Forming chemistry early on is going to be critical for the 76ers. They seem to be on the same page early on an most importantly are confident in their potential once they do become intimate with each other’s games and how to play together. Their biggest leaps could come a year or two from now, but they’re definitely poised to be a team that will be very tough in the immediate future as well.
Ariza Motivated By Movement?
Washington Wizards small forward Trevor Ariza has been with four teams over the past five years and from seeing him a few times now this summer, you get the sense that he’s taken that personally. After winning a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009, they passed on re-signing him in favor of Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace). The Houston Rockets signed him afterwards, but then traded him the following season to the New Orleans Hornets. After two season in New Orleans, they shipped him off to the Wizards.
“I enjoyed myself in New Orleans,” Ariza said to HOOPSWORLD at Baron Davis’ kickball game for charity. “It was fun. It sucked to leave and not be a part of what they have going on now. But, it’s part of the business and stuff that we have to deal with.”
The bright side to Ariza’s move to Washington is that he’s going to a team that on appear appears to be better positioned to win now. As promising as the future is in N.O., the present could contain some serious growing pains just as the past two years did.
“It was really difficult playing for a team in transition but that’s the hand I was dealt and I made the most of the situation,” Ariza said. “I’m just ready to go into Washington and play. That’s all that really matters right now, trying to get in there with those guys, gel, and make things happen.”
Ariza has put in some work this offseason with big man Emeka Okafor, who he was traded with, at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s going to be nice for Ariza to have someone he has experience with there with him, but having Wizards point guard John Wall set him up could be most beneficial.
“I don’t know him well but I’ll get to know him,” Ariza said. “He’s cool. Fast, good, young, very athletic, and he wants to win. That’s good.”
With Wall running the show, Ariza should have plenty of chances to prove to the rest of the league that he’s someone worth holding onto, not trade every year or two.