As Shabazz Muhammad announced live on ESPNU that he would attend UCLA over Kentucky and Duke, a huge sigh of relief was let out in Westwood.
Having missed the tournament two out of the past three years, the pressure is on to win next season. Ben Howland's final four teams of '06, '07, and '08 seem but a distant memory given the teams recent struggles on and off the court.
When sports illustrated came out with an article in February chronicling Howland's lack of control over the program, it marked a crucial point in time for UCLA basketball. Howland was right in the middle of putting together a top recruiting class to re-energize the program, and he was well aware the article had the potential to break it up.
Luckily, for UCLA, it proved to be nothing more than a minor setback.
Now, having secured commitments from Shabazz Muhammad, the number two rated player in the country according to scout.com, Kyle Anderson, number four, Tony Parker, number twenty, and Jordan Adams, number 76, the Bruins are looking at a potential number one rated class.
What makes this class special for UCLA fans is the fact that it fills a bunch of different needs on the roster.
UCLA is getting an elite scorer and a guy who can create for himself in Muhammad. With Anderson, they are getting a natural distributor and a guy who thrives on making those around him better. At 6'8” Anderson is considered a point forward, and it will be interesting to see how Howland utilizes him given that UNC transfer Larry Drew will be eligible.
Jordan Adams is an elite shooter with unlimited range. He will benefit immensely from having guys like Anderson and Muhammad with their ability to get in the lane. Adams will almost certainly get a good amount of wide open looks and if he can knock those down like he is supposed to, that will only open up the floor even more for Muhammad and Anderson.
Finally, with Parker, UCLA is getting a force inside and one who is already in good playing shape. The battle between the Wear twins, Josh Smith, and Parker for starter's minutes will be a very intriguing story to watch come next season.
Unlike the 2008 class, which was also rated number one by some recruiting services, the 2012 class is filled with guys who have a desire to be great and aren't expecting anything to be handed to them. It has been well documented that former players in the '08 class such as Jerime Anderson, Drew Gordon, and J'mison Morgan, simply did not have the right attitude or work ethic to succeed at the college level.
Shabazz Muhammad has been tabbed by several recruiting experts as the hardest worker in the entire 2012 class and when you put that together with his talent, the sky is the limit.
Then, factor in that these four guys have become close friends throughout the recruiting process and want to play together and return UCLA to prominence, the optimism is warranted. Nothing less than a deep run in the tournament will be acceptable for Bruin fans. And, as it turns out, Howland is quite okay with the expectations already being put on his team. In fact, he should embrace them.
He knows these four players are going to play a large role in determining his future as the head coach at UCLA.
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