CHICAGO — Shabazz Muhammad has essentially said “no” to UNLV’s basketball program.
But the Bishop Gorman High School senior made sure to turn in a performance Las Vegas can be proud of Wednesday night.
Muhammad had 21 points and six rebounds on his way to Most Valuable Player honors to help the West team hold on for a 106-102 victory over the East in the McDonald’s All-American Game at the United Center.
Some UNLV fans might wake up broken-hearted today, however. The dynamic 6-foot-6-inch swingman confirmed after the game that he has trimmed the list of colleges he is considering to UCLA, Kentucky and Duke.
Muhammad had also been considering scholarship offers from UNLV and Kansas as the April 11 beginning to the spring signing period approaches.
“It’s at three right now, yeah,” Muhammad said. “UCLA, Kentucky and Duke. Right now, those are probably the last three before I make my decision.”
Muhammad told a group of reporters he liked UNLV and Kansas, but wanted to be honest with coaches who kept ringing his phone.
“I just think it was the calls,” Muhammad said. “The schools that I took out, I liked them, but I wasn’t really interested in going. I didn’t want to lead them on. I want them to do the best they can to recruit other players and not recruit me any more. I just thought that was the mature thing to do.”
Asked when he would announce his college choice, Muhammad said: “I haven’t finalized it yet. It’ll probably be April 14 on ESPN, hopefully, and go from there.”
The recruiting news after the game overshadowed a masterful performance by Muhammad, who joined a list of McDonald’s MVPs that includes NBA stars LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant.
Muhammad scored nine points in less than three minutes to start the game and had 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting in the first half to help the West build a 58-46 halftime lead. He finished 10-for-18 from the floor.
“It means a lot,” Muhammad said of winning MVP. “There were so many talented players out here. Everybody’s just terrific players, and to win the game MVP was a terrific thing, and our team played really well.”
Asked whether he was motivated to show an ESPN television audience he was the nation’s top player, Muhammad gave a glimpse into his rare intensity.
“When you come to every event, you want to be known as the best player at the event,” he said. “Knowing everybody’s talented, this is the elite 24, top 24 guys in the country, and just coming in knowing everybody’s competing, competing is a beautiful thing.”
Muhammad’s recruitment has unfolded under the hovering cloud of 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, said the NCAA has not provided any timetable for whether Muhammad could be suspended for a number of games as a college freshman, but said any ruling would come after Muhammad signs a national letter of intent.
“I had a conversation with one of (the NCAA) staff attorneys who confirmed until he selects a school, they really have no jurisdiction over him,” Orr said in a phone interview.
A world of basketball fans is getting to know Muhammad’s game this week, as national media covering practices have highlighted his relentless intensity.
“From what I hear from everyone, he’s really stood out this week, not just talent-wise, but his competitiveness and how hard he goes,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said before the game. “I think people were shocked the first week of practice when they saw him diving on the floor and just outworking guys.”
Findlay Prep also was well represented at the game. Senior forward Anthony Bennett had nine points and six rebounds, and fellow senior forward Brandon Ashley supplied six points and 10 rebounds for the West.