Fresh off a 21-point MVP performance in the McDonald's All-American Game, small forward and ESPNU No. 2 prospect Shabazz Muhammad is an awfully hot commodity. Muhammad is so in demand that he trimmed his list of college choices down to three, but he made a major error in omitting UNLV.
According to Ray Brewer of the Las Vegas Sun, Muhammad, a Las Vegas native, dropped UNLV from consideration and is now trying to decide between Duke, Kentucky and UCLA. It may not have seemed like UNLV was a legitimate candidate from the start, but I ultimately believe it was Muhammad's best option.
Don't get me wrong, Muhammad is going to get more exposure at Duke, Kentucky or UCLA since they are higher-profile programs, but UNLV has a great history as well and is a perennial NCAA tournament team in its own right.
All three of Muhammad's final choices have shown that they are capable of showcasing a freshman, but there wouldn't be any question about Muhammad being the main guy at UNLV. I don't want to speak for Muhammad as I'm not sure of his intentions, but if he plans to be a one-and-done player who enters the NBA after one collegiate season, UNLV would have been a fine choice.
There is also a strong possibility that UNLV could land another top recruit in power forward Anthony Bennett. Although Bennett currently resides in the Las Vegas area, he is originally from Canada and that has given him a strong UNLV connection.
Fellow Canadian Khem Birch is a close friend of Bennett as they played together in Canada, according to Brewer. Birch has transferred from Pittsburgh to UNLV and has regularly tried to recruit Bennett to play for the Rebels. UNLV seems to have a legitimate shot to land Bennett, and that would have given Muhammad an elite running mate.
With Muhammad and Bennett in the fold, the Rebels could easily have been a top-10 team in 2012-13 provided both players lived up to their immense potential. The Rebels were able to beat North Carolina this past season, so they already had a solid group of players to begin with. Unfortunately for UNLV, I feel like its affiliation with the Mountain West Conference clouded that for Muhammad.
Should Muhammad have chosen UNLV?
Regardless of where Muhammad ends up, NBA scouts are going to take notice, so they most definitely would have been following him as much at UNLV as they will at Duke, Kentucky or UCLA. UNLV also figures to have a much easier schedule than those other teams, so the potential for Muhammad to put up eye-popping statistics were there.
Perhaps Muhammad just feels the need to leave his home base and explore another area of the country like many people his age do, but I have to say that the ideal landing spot was right in his backyard. If Bennett wants to win a National Championship, then he might have made the right choice, but if he wanted to be showcased, then UNLV was the place for him.
Muhammad had an opportunity to make UNLV one of the premier programs in college basketball much like it was in the early 1990s, and while that may not have counted for much, it would have been a really good thing for college basketball.