Shabazz Muhammad was the most talked about player of the 2012 recruiting class until Nerlens Noel entered the picture earlier this year. Kentucky fans and John Calipari alike have had their eyes fixed upon the 6’6″ offensively-minded wing player for quite some time. After a long back-and-forth debate as to Muhammad’s final destination, much to the chagrin of the ever-impatient Big Blue Nation, he’s finally chosen to attend UCLA for his college basketball career.
On the ESPN Signing Day Special earlier tonight, Muhammad quietly and seemingly mournfully announced “I chose to be a Bruin.”
Shabazz was undoubtedly the best offensive talent in the 2012 class. No matter what scorned Kentucky fans are saying this morning, every program in the country could have made a spot for him. He’s long, athletic, quick, and surprisingly powerful given his size. Shabazz is a hard worker that would have fit into Calipari’s system with an adjustment to his sometimes-selfish shot total. Only time would have shown how Muhammad and already-signed Archie Goodwin would have played together, but now Goodwin will take full control at shooting guard if Doron Lamb does indeed depart for the draft.
As crowded as his position would have been at Kentucky, Shabazz faces even more competition for his spot at UCLA. The Bruins have assembled a surprisingly strong class, including another top 10 prospect, Kyle Anderson. Jordan Adams is the third top 100 player joining the squad, also the third wing player coming in as a freshman this year. Muhammad, Anderson, and Adams will all be fighting for a spot on the wing and likely competing for minutes. A lack of competition certainly wasn’t the deciding factor for Shabazz, and a number of insiders are reporting that Muhammad’s decision was based solely on UCLA’s Adidas contract, setting the star on track for an ideal sponsorship deal down the line.
Muhammad passed up a chance to play with the new number one recruiting class at Kentucky, also turning down college basketball’s biggest and most-fervent fan-base. Even a star-powered smoothly-paved path down Adidas row won’t make up for the exposure Shabazz would have received as a member of the Big Blue Nation. As soon as he announced his intent to attend UCLA, Twitter was overtaken with pleas to “#UnfollowShabazz”, and he did in fact lose a few thousands followers before the night was over.
The most telling comment of all may have come when Shabazz addressed his aspirations for UCLA. “Hopefully we can sell out Pauley,” Mumhammad proclaimed during his announcement, referencing UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. His comment provided a stark contrast given Pauley’s meager 12,829 seat capacity. As a Bruin he hopes to fill 12,000 seats. As a Wildcat, he could have counted on Rupp Arena being routinely sold out at nearly twice the capacity. Despite UCLA’s record number of NCAA Championships, they are a program on the fall. Kentucky remains a program at the top.
Each player has to make the decision they feel is appropriate, and Shabazz will likely have a fruitful career as a UCLA Bruin. He’ll be close to home, be able to enjoy 365 days of sun, and showcase his talents in a star-laden city. Unfortunately for Shabazz, he won’t be playing the best players the country has to offer, and he won’t be winning championships any time soon.
Filed Under: Basketball
About the Author: Corey Tincher is a lifelong Kentucky fan and professional writer who couldn't keep the two worlds apart. He is the lead contributor for StraitCats.com and literally wrote the book on the 2012 NCAA Tournament Championship run, Big Blue Articles: Kentucky Basketball in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Follow @Corey_Tincher on Twitter for more Kentucky news and discussion.