Shabazz Muhammad has had quite a year at UCLA. First, he was deemed ineligible by the NCAA back in November. Then, while Muhammad and UCLA appealed the decision, a bizarre report surfaced where an NCAA lawyer was overheard discussing the case and ridiculing Muhammad. Shortly thereafter, Muhammad was cleared to play with no further sanctions.
Then there was the sportswriter who saw him with a Gucci backpack at a press conference, and decided to turn it into a column full of passive aggressive allegations. (Sample: "I checked Gucci.com Thursday night and found 18 backpacks, with the cheapest going for $990 retail. But, hey, I'm sure these things can be found on sale, right?")
UCLA investigated said backpack, and cleared Muhammad of any wrongdoing.
So, how can this year get more ridiculous?
According to the L.A. Times, somewhere along the line, Muhammad's family began lying about his age. Or put a different way: Shabazz Muhammad might be the first superstar freshman on record to have fabricated his age to help his NBA Draft Stock. The reporting's buried in the middle of a bigger profile of Muhammad's father, Ron Holmes, and his Marv Marinovich-style of parenting/starmaking. From the Times:
According to the, he was born in Los Angeles on Nov. 13, 1993. But a copy of Shabazz Nagee Muhammad's on file with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health shows that he was born at Long Beach Memorial Hospital exactly one year earlier, making him 20 years old — not 19 as widely reported.
How and when he lost a year of his life are unclear. But competing against younger, smaller athletes, particularly in the fast-growing years of early adolescence, can be "a huge edge," said Eddie Bonine, executive director of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Assn. "People naturally look at the big, strong kids."
Asked about the discrepancy, Holmes insisted his son was 19 and born in Nevada. "It must be a mistake," he said. Several minutes later, he changed his account, saying that his son is, in fact, 20 and was born in Long Beach.
To give you an idea of the type of person we're dealing with in Shabazz Muhammad's father, the revelations above are followed with this:
Holmes expressed concern about disclosure of his son's true age and his own criminal record and questioned whether either was newsworthy. He followed up with a text message.
"Bazz is going to blow up in the NBA lets team up and blow this thing up!!!" Holmes wrote to this reporter. "I'm going to need a publicist anyway why shouldn't it be you. We can do some big things together."
It's a crazy side story to have buried in the middle there, but for now the reporting from the L.A. Times is pretty clear. Muhammad is a year older than we've been told, and now UCLA's website currently has him born in 1992, the correct birthday.
But we don't know how long the correct birthday's been included there, and everyone else in the country has been treating him like a 19 year-old all year. For example, ESPN's profile looks like this:
And, more importantly, draft profiles make the same assumption:
Why does this matter? Well for one, because it's pretty insane.
But also because, as the L.A. Times profile notes throughout, Muhammad has been groomed for the NBA since grade school, and even at UCLA this year, he's essentially in the middle of a prolonged showcase for NBA scouts. If he was a year older than his competition throughout high school and he's currently as old as college sophomores, scouts won't be quite as blown away by what he's done at either level. (To put this in perspective, Bradley Beal averaged 14 points-per-game as an 18 year-old freshman for Florida last year and became the 3rd pick in the draft. If he did all that as a junior or senior, he's probably a second round pick.)
If all that sounds bizarre and possibly stupid? Well, that's fair.
But skeptics may have a point, considering one of Muhammad's trademark skills has been his strength and physique relative to his high school and college peers. If he's a year older than his bio says, suddenly that skill isn't quite as impressive.
Anyway, this isn't Danny Almonte in the Little League World Series, but it's a bizarre footnote to add to a season that was already plenty bizarre, and after a freshman season on the court that's polarized the NBA community, Muhammad's new age won't help add much clarity.
For now we'll wait to learn more, and we'll wait to hear more from Shabazz and UCLA. The Bruins open NCAA Tournament play against Minnesota at 9:57 p.m. in Austin, Texas tonight.
For more, check out SB Nation's UCLA blog, Bruins Nation.