Shabazz Muhammad’s recruitment to play college basketball has often seemed to be a complex process.
But the Bishop Gorman High School senior’s reasons for choosing UCLA on Wednesday weren’t so complex, according to his father, Ron Holmes.
“What jumped out to Shabazz about UCLA was the opportunity,” Holmes said in a phone interview. “It’s a challenge. Shabazz loves challenges. As compelling as Kentucky and Duke were, it was the challenge.”
Muhammad, a 6-foot-6-inch swingman ranked as the No. 1 senior in the nation by Rivals.com and No. 2 by ESPN, ended years of heated speculation when he picked the Bruins over national champion Kentucky and Duke.
Muhammad made his announcement live on ESPNU on Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA’s spring signing period.
“I just think it’s a challenge, knowing how bad they were these last two years,” Muhammad said during the nationally televised broadcast. “It’s a challenge to really get them back up to the top, knowing that they’re the leaders in (national) championships with 11.”
Muhammad made his announcement in Charlotte, N.C., where he is scheduled to play in the Jordan Brand Classic on Saturday.
Muhammad could not be reached for comment following his announcement.
He told a national television audience that his decision was difficult.
“It feels good. It was so hard,” he said. “The three schools I had, I still really love. I’m still going to be fans of Kentucky and Duke, but I’m happy to be a Bruin.”
Muhammad also considered UNLV and Kansas before trimming his list of finalists to three in late March.
Muhammad’s father was a wing player on the basketball team at Southern California — UCLA’s bitter rival — from 1981 to 1985.
Muhammad will be joined at UCLA by friend Kyle Anderson, a versatile 6-8 forward from St. Anthony (N.J.) and also one of the nation’s top recruits. The duo hopes to provide a spark for a program trying to rebound from a 19-14 season that ended without an NCAA Tournament bid for the second time in three years.
The Bruins also were rocked by a Sports Illustrated story that reported coach Ben Howland had lost control of a program that was rife with immature recruits who fought with teammates in practice and abused drugs and alcohol.
Holmes said he has discussed the story with Howland and is not concerned about sending his son to UCLA.
Many have predicted for years that Muhammad would land at UCLA because of its status as an adidas program. Muhammad’s summer team, Dream Vision, is sponsored by adidas, and his sister, professional tennis player Asia Muhammad, has a contract with adidas.
Holmes, however, insisted adidas had nothing to do with his son’s choice.
“It does bother me,” Holmes said of the adidas questions. “Basically, what does that mean? I hear that I’m on the payroll of adidas. I’m not on the payroll of adidas. High school (Gorman) is a Nike team. Does that mean I’m on the payroll of Nike? There’s just so much misinformation out there.”
Muhammad’s recruitment unfolded amid a reported NCAA inquiry.
CBSSports.com reported Feb. 29 that the NCAA has contacted schools recruiting Muhammad and made them aware of financial dealings that could jeopardize his amateur status. Sources told CBSSports.com that the NCAA is interested in connections between Muhammad’s family and financial advisers Benjamin Lincoln and Ken Kavanagh concerning how previous unofficial recruiting visits had been paid for.
Muhammad’s attorney, Robert Orr, told the Review-Journal on March 28 that an NCAA staff attorney had informed him that the NCAA would have no jurisdiction for any ruling on Muhammad’s status until after he had signed a national letter of intent.
Holmes said that Muhammad’s unofficial visit to North Carolina as a sophomore was done using compliance forms, and that other reported unofficial visits came while Muhammad was already in town for AAU tournaments.
Many assume that Muhammad will play only one season at UCLA before heading to the NBA, but Holmes said not so fast.
“It’s very important to me as a father that he graduates from UCLA,” Holmes said. “I hope he will continue to do the right things academically.”
Muhammad was named Most Valuable Player of the McDonald’s All-American Game after scoring 21 points and pulling down six rebounds. His long list of senior honors includes the Naismith and Morgan Wootten national Player of the Year, Nevada Player of the Year by the Review-Journal and Gatorade along with a record 35-point performance in the Nike Hoop Summit.