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COMMENTARY: Since shoe (adidas) fits, choice was easy

Grant Rice was scheduled to be at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet when the decision was announced, headed to coach in an all-star basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., high above sea level as the seemingly endless recruitment of Shabazz Muhammad came to an end.

“I think everyone involved is going to be really happy when it’s over and Shabazz can take the step towards playing at the next level,” the Bishop Gorman High coach said Tuesday evening. “Maybe I will get off my flight, check the Internet and be surprised at where he’s going.”

All intrigue officially ended Wednesday, when Muhammad before a nationally televised audience announced he would attend UCLA.

The Bishop Gorman player chose the Bruins over Kentucky and Duke, which undoubtedly will point many back to a CBSSports.com story from February, which reported that “industry sources claimed for more than a year that Muhammad would almost certainly land at UCLA because adidas is heavily invested in Muhammad through his AAU team and that the Bruins are one of the shoe company’s flagship programs.”

Muhammad’s sister, professional tennis player Asia, has a contract with adidas.

In the end, adidas won out over those from Nike.

Or, as one college coach tweeted immediately following the announcement, “Wow. Shabazz Muhammad to UCLA. Three stripes and Kentucky’s out!”

I’m guessing Rice wasn’t all that surprised upon landing.

Admittedly, he wasn’t intimately involved in the process over the past year.

Bob Knight spoke long ago about how the role of a high school coach changed dramatically once AAU teams were formed and entourages were created and egos of top prospects grew to colossal heights as others consistently lavished praise upon them.

Rice has led the Gaels to three state championships in the past four years and annually deals with a roster of players whose college options are many.

But none has offered the intense recruiting of Muhammad, who the CBS story reported also might face a suspension to begin his college career for financial dealings in regard to recruiting visits.

“His recruitment began two to three years ago, when it became apparent Shabazz had a chance to be among the best players in the country,” Rice said. “I told the family from the beginning that I was here for them, always here for questions or advice, but that it was obviously going to be a family decision. In the last year, Shabazz and his father were really the ones dealing with everything.

“(Recruiting) and my role has definitely been different this year and not just with Shabazz. I’ll be honest. It hasn’t been real enjoyable at times. It has often seemed like a lose-lose situation, definitely tough trying to do what’s right for all the kids and steer them in the direction that’s best for each one.”

The reason sits less than 15 miles from Bishop Gorman.

Rice is brother to UNLV coach Dave Rice, and when the latter returned to his alma mater to take control of the city’s most popular sports team, many assumed it opened a direct pipeline from the Gaels to the Rebels. But those are mostly fans thinking, unable to grasp the concept of a college program’s annual needs and number of scholarships available and what constitutes a good fit for both sides. Unable to grasp reality.

The top three players from Bishop Gorman this season all went elsewhere, with Muhammad to UCLA and Ben Carter to Oregon and Rosco Allen to Stanford. The Rebels did sign Gaels center Demetris Morant.

I never for a second believed Muhammad would choose the Rebels, would follow all the hype and attention he both received and drew upon himself via Twitter to remain home and play for a Mountain West Conference school over ones that made his final three choices.

Never believed it for a second.

Never thought it was a good idea, either.

He is a terrific player, a likely one-and-done prospect headed to the NBA at this time next year. But I’m not convinced he would have been the correct fit for what Dave Rice is trying to build at UNLV, not convinced in the least that, assuming Muhammad must sit games to begin his career, adding him to an already new mix of faces who immediately will expect minutes and shots would have benefited anyone for one season.

“Being a UNLV alumni and so close to my brother, I wouldn’t be telling you the truth if I didn’t say my hope is some Bishop Gorman kids go to UNLV,” Rice said. “I’d love them to end up there, but I’m not going to put any pressure on them in my role. That’s not fair for anyone involved. UNLV is a great fit for some kids. Other kids make different decisions.”

Shabazz Muhammad made his. He wants to be a Bruin, wants to help rebuild a suddenly losing program into a national contender, wants to see if his open-court game can speed up what has become a snail of an offense.

UCLA apparently was the right fit.

Just like a brand new pair of adidas.

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