UCLA Basketball: Why Shabazz Muhammad, Bruins Are on Verge of Major Breakout

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IDecember 27, 2012

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 08:  Shabazz Muhammad #15 of the UCLA Bruins waits on the court during the game against the Texas Longhorns during the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Showcase at Reliant Stadium on December 8, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

When UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad finally made his collegiate debut in a mid-November game against Georgetown, he looked, as the LA Times' Baxter Holmes described, "slow, heavy and somewhat overmatched."

Because of Muhammad's sluggish start, the Bruins lost three of their first five games. Not exactly the return to the glory years of John Wooden that everyone predicted.

Fast forward five weeks, and Muhammad is progressively becoming what college basketball experts, analysts and fans expected him to be from the first time he stepped onto the court for the Bruins: dominant.

But this isn't happening coincidentally or automatically.

Muhammad, with the help of his father, Ron Holmes, and a few of Holmes' former USC teammates, is putting in extra time to work on his game and his conditioning.

ESPN's Chad Ford commented (ESPN Insider-subscription required):

Muhammad has been working incredibly hard on his game. He's already lost 13 pounds, is putting in daily extra sessions with his father and two former USC players, and the results are starting to show up on the court. His conditioning is returning, and so is his explosiveness.

The fantastic freshman is no stranger to investing additional hours on his craft. One of the reasons he became one of the best high school prospects over the last several years is his willingness to put forth the necessary effort in working out during his days at Las Vegas' Gorman High School.

The improvement in Muhammad's game is unmistakable. Over the last three games, he is averaging 24.3 PPG, while shooting 55.3 percent (26-of-47) from the field and 50 percent (6-of-12) from beyond the arc.

But more than just Muhammad coming into his own, the Bruins are on the verge of a major breakout that could impact not only this year's Pac-12 race but 2013 March Madness as well. Three other UCLA starters are elevating their games at the same time.

One of the unexpected positives of Muhammad's slow start is the emergence of fellow freshman wing Jordan Adams, who is averaging 18.2 PPG. Adams not only provided an early-season scoring punch, but his production hasn't dropped off with Muhammad's rise.

Multi-talented Kyle Anderson has slid to the 4 and become the Bruins' top rebounder (8.7 RPG on the season). Anderson has averaged 14.7 PPG, 11 RPG and six assists per game over the last three games.

With all of this outstanding output from UCLA's fab freshmen, some may be overlooking the crucial role that Larry Drew II is playing in the Bruins' recent progress. LD2 has been exceptional at running the show, averaging 8.5 APG while only turning it over 19 times in 12 games. Wow, without his selfless floor leadership, this team would still be struggling.

UCLA's 9-3 record may be unacceptable for some. But if the most recent advancement continues, few will remember the team's erratic start to the 2012-13 season. 

Even if you are not a Bruins fan, if you want to see some edge-of-your-seat college hoops action, set your DVRs for January 24th and March 2nd. Those are the dates that UCLA will face Arizona in their Pac-12 matchups.

Can't wait!