NCAA: Shabazz Muhammad Can Prove He’s The Best
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
Follow @Yannis KoutroupisYannis Koutroupis
The outlook did not look good for UCLA star freshman Shabazz Muhammad. He was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for receiving impermissible benefits prior to the Bruins’ home opener and there was no telling when, or if, he’d be able to play this season.
His family, attorney, head coach and even Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers publicly went to his defense, but the NCAA rules themselves and Muhammad’s only hope was to win an appeal on Friday. Surprisingly, Muhammad won that appeal in resounding fashion. Not only did the NCAA reverse their decision, they deemed that he only had to pay back $1,600 and sit out three contests. The Bruins are already three games into their regular season, meaning Muhammad can play Monday against the Georgetown Hoyas.
The Bruins could not be more pleased with this result. They managed to go 3-0 without Muhammad, but that was against the likes of Indiana State, UC Irvine and James Madison. They actually needed overtime to squeak past UC Irvine, just barely surviving the near upset 80-79.
The addition of Muhammad helps make them legitimate national championship contenders. Muhammad is a dynamic shooting guard who will give them a major boost on both ends of the court. He’s considered the best prospect in the country by many and is currently at the top of our 2013 mock draft as well.
Muhammad is very mature for his age, both on and off the court, and understands that he has to make the most of this season as it will likely be his only with the program. The appeal of the NBA draft is going to be too strong at the end of the season to pass on, but Muhammad is well aware of the situation and ready to make the most of his freshman season now that he’s been cleared to play.
What will be interesting to see is how Muhammad’s arrival affects fellow freshman guard Jordan Adams’ play. Adams has really thrived with Muhammad out of the lineup, leading the Bruins with 24 points a contest. He’s needed just 25 minutes a game to get that 24 and has shot 55 percent from the field and 40 percent from distance.
While Adams and Muhammad can play together at the same time, odds are Adams’ minutes will decrease a bit since the Bruins are such a deep team. Bruins head coach Ben Howland is going to have a hard time finding 25-plus minutes for them both. However, this is the kind of problem most coaches in the country would kill to have.
The college basketball season would have been just as compelling if Muhammad was deemed permanently ineligible, but it’s going to be really exciting to see arguably the best prospect in the country take the court with such a talented Bruins team. There won’t be any guessing or debating over how good he really is, we’ll be able to see firsthand over the course of the next five months.
Kentucky’s Best Prospect: Year in and year out, the reason that Kentucky head coach John Calipari is able to keep his program amongst the elite is because he replaces star players better than any other coach in the country. He recruits on the premise that he’s only going to have a player for a year and starts looking for someone just as good, usually better, in the following year’s recruiting class immediately after signing them.
This summer all of the talk surrounded freshman center Nerlens Noel, who is trying to fill the shoes of Anthony Davis, which is an impossible task. Davis was the kind of dominant player who comes along every few years. It was clear from day one that he was just at another level and was capable of leading the Wildcats to their first championship under Coach Cal, which he did.
Noel, while an attractive prospect in his own right, is at least a year or two away from being able to come close to impacting the game the way Davis did. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s still a top-ten talent who is producing at a very respectable rate so far for the 2-1 Wildcats, putting up 11 points, eight rebounds, two assists, three steal sand two blocks a game.
However, the real gem of this Wildcats team appears to be forward Alex Poythress. Poythress has been the one assuming a leadership role for the Wildcats, putting in 16 points and six rebounds a night on 70 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent shooting from distance.
Slightly undersized for a power forward at the next level, Poythress simply plays like a man amongst boys. He’s so strong and athletic that he’s nearly impossible to stop inside the painted area. When he gets it out on the perimeter, he utilizes a quick first step or his nice touch to cause just as much trouble. He really has a nose for the ball as well. Keeping him off of the offensive glass is a nightmare.
As his averages indicate, Poythress plays a very efficient style of basketball. Nothing is forced with him. When he takes a shot, it’s very makeable. He’s made 18 of his last 22 attempts after shooting 3-8 from the field against Maryland.
When projecting his potential as a professional, many will get caught up in trying to figure out what position he will play at the next level. That’s something his coach will be able to figure out, though. He may be slightly undersized for a power forward and not a true small forward, but he just knows how to play. Look for him to really hammer that point home as the season progresses and he continues to grow comfortable in Calipari’s system.
Ollie Impressing Early: The UConn Huskies men’s basketball program is in a transition period with an uncertain future. The program was handed over to former NBA player Kevin Ollie after all-time great Jim Calhoun decided it was time for him to step away, but Ollie was only given a one-year deal. That put a lot of pressure on him to produce in a tough situation.
Not only are the Huskies banned from the postseason due to insufficient APR scores, they’re really thin upfront after losing senior center Alex Oriakhi, who transferred to Missouri. Yet the Huskies are 3-0 with a notable victory over No. 14 Michigan State in their season opener.
Ollie is getting solid production from his backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Both players have really stepped up as leaders. Boatright in particular is excelling under Ollie’s guidance, leading the team with 5.3 assists a contest. One of the questions about him out of high school was whether or not he would be much of a playmaker and he’s answering those doubts in impressive fashion.
It’s still early on and the Huskies have a daunting season in the Big East ahead of them without the possibility of playing in even the conference tournament, let alone the NCAA tournament. However, it looks like they have the right guy in Ollie to guide them moving forward. By the time the season is over, the athletic director should have more than enough reason to commit to him long-term.