Shabazz Muhammad is projected to be picked early in next year's NBA Draft, but the route he takes to the beginning of his professional basketball career has been hit with a potential road block: The NCAA has reportedly declared the wing ineligible as it investigates his college team, the UCLA Bruins, for possible recruiting violations.
Muhammad has only been ruled out for the team's upcoming exhibition tour in China so far and therefore everything might be all right by the time the games start to matter. Considering there have been questions related to his eligibility for quite some time; however, being declared ineligible for the entire season could only be a matter of time for the 18-year-old.
Those that have followed his career seem to believe that if Muhammad is indeed ruled ineligible he already has an NBA-ready game and that attending college was simply a formality as he waited out the NBA's inane age rule. If playing college ball isn't an option there are going to be other opportunities for Muhammad as he prepares himself for the professional game.
Muhammad could choose to sit out all season and work with a trainer, but that wouldn't seem to be the best option considering rookies already have pace adjustments going from the amateur ranks to playing professional basketball -- and he seems to have the size and skills, already, negating the need for a full season with a trainer.
The Bishop Gorman star could elect to head to Europe -- a la Brandon Jennings -- but the game across the pond is typically not too kind to the American youngsters taking their talents abroad.
Jennings had early transitioning issues, current Golden State Warriors big man Jeremy Tyler almost ruined his career by signing in Israel before he was ready to play professional basketball and the most recent example of a high-profile player getting into hot water with the NCAA -- fellow Bruin Reeves Nelson -- was cut after just six games in Lithuania.
The owner of Nelson's Euroleague team summed up the issues of youngsters playing abroad quite well in the press release announcing his release:
"He is a good player, but he needs time to get used to European basketball and Zalgiris," club owner Vladimir Romanov said on the team's website. "But we don't have the time. We needed Nelson to play at the top level already now."
It's a different game over there and, combined with a win-now mentality and a big non-guaranteed salary not allowing for growing pains, a difficult place for one to get his first taste of professional basketball.
Luckily for Muhammad, there is another option if the NCAA ultimately decides that he won't be able to play basketball for the Bruins this season. The NBA Development League gets its fair share of flack for lower salaries and the like, but it also offers one of the best situations available for a player caught in Muhammad's possible predicament.
The D-League, instituting an 18-year-old age limit for circumstances like Muhammad's, would allow Muhammad the opportunity to get his feet wet playing professional basketball without the culture shock of playing overseas (provided that playing in a locale like Des Moines wouldn't be too shocking as he moves from Las Vegas, anyway).
Playing in the Development League would provide Muhammad an opportunity to get familiar with NBA verbiage under the NBA's set of rules against veterans of professional basketball while playing for an NBA-level coach (Del Harris and Eric Musselman are currently head coaches in the D-League).
There aren't any other options that allow all of that while keeping his eligibility alive for the 2012 NBA Draft. The D-League might not be as glorious as some of his other options, but it'd best prepare him for the rigors that lie ahead -- and it would likely maybe NBA executives pretty happy, too.
There are 11 NBA teams with direct control of a D-League affiliate, and because Muhammad won't be eligible to be called up by another team during the upcoming season due to the NBA's age limit all 11 of those teams would likely do everything in their power to acquire Muhammad for the Development League squad: Imagine being able to have your team's staff get 50 games worth of a first-hand, behind-the-scenes look at a sure-fire lottery pick while the rest of the league looks on.
Muhammad is likely looking to find a way to stay eligible and play at UCLA before exploring the options laid about above. If that option is off the board, however, it would seem the D-League would be his best bet in getting ready for his NBA career.
And hey, who wouldn't want to be the top pick in both the NBA and D-League drafts?
Talk about the Muhammad situation with UCLA fans at Bruins Nation and SB Nation Los Angeles, as well as with Pac-12 fans at Pacific Takes. Check out the SB Nation college basketball hub for more coverage.