In one of the biggest upsets of the recruiting season, UCLA overcame its dismal 2011-12 performance on the court to land star freshman Shabazz Muhammad. The 6’6” swingman, ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the nation by Rivals.com, has the talent to lead an instantaneous turnaround in Westwood.
All the pieces seem to be falling in place for Muhammad to be among the Pac-12’s brightest stars next season. Here are some of the reasons he’ll be All-Conference (and quite possibly All-America) as a small forward in 2012-13.
He’s an NBA-Caliber Talent
Muhammad is a top-tier athlete whose specialty is attacking the basket. His skills around the rim helped him lead all scorers at the McDonald’s All-America game, posting 21 points while shooting 10-for-18 from the field.
Muhammad is also the kind of aggressive defender who will fit perfectly on a Ben Howland team. Last season’s debacle notwithstanding, Howland’s Bruins have thrived in the past on high-pressure perimeter defense that forces turnovers and sets up easy scoring opportunities—especially for finishers like Muhammad.
The Competition Is Slim
In the rest of the Pac-12, there aren’t any perimeter recruits who approach Muhammad’s talent level, and few enough upperclassmen. The list of returning swingmen with even a remote chance to challenge Muhammad for the top spot in the conference boils down to three: Cal’s Allen Crabbe, Oregon’s E.J. Singler and Arizona’s Solomon Hill.
Hill is likely to move outside after a year at PF, meaning that Muhammad’s rebounding and defensive numbers will likely be at least as good (if not better) than any of that trio.
As a scorer, meanwhile, the soon-to-be Bruin will be a favorite to lead the Pac-12, and while Crabbe (15.3 points a night last year) will be high on that leaderboard as well, it’s hard to see any of those players matching the combination of numbers and highlights that Muhammad will produce.
UCLA’s Cupboard Isn’t as Bare as You’d Think
For a team coming off a 19-14 fiasco of a season, UCLA is in a surprisingly good position to help Muhammad succeed. The Bruins return two of the conference’s toughest post players in 6’10” twins Travis and David Wear.
On top of that interior talent, UCLA brings in another superlative freshman on the outside in 6’8” Kyle Anderson. Although Anderson has been largely a swingman himself, the expectation is that he’ll step into the Bruins’ void at point guard, giving Muhammad a first-rate passer to help him maximize his own extraordinary potential.