Shabazz Muhammad's wild ride to the NBA

Mike Stobe

Muhammad was once on top of the basketball world as a senior in high school. After a humbling freshman year at UCLA, Muhammad is ready to start his NBA career with the Timberwolves.

Every college coach in the country was vying for Shabazz Muhammad's commitment 18 months ago.

The stocky wing did it all during high school and on the AAU circuit. He attacked the rim with ease and drilled shots from every spot on the floor, earning offers from college hoops powerhouses from coast to coast. He made high-profile visits to Duke, Kansas and Kentucky, among other universities. Most too-early mock drafts had him as a possible No. 1 selection after what would surely be only one year of college.

After a productive but somewhat underwhelming freshman season at UCLA, Muhammad finally realized his NBA dream when he was tabbed with the No. 14 pick in the draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves. For Muhammad, it's validation of a lifetime spent on the basketball court. But the past 18 months were a bumpy ride, to say the least.

April 2012: Muhammad controversially commits to UCLA

A long, sketchy recruitment from start to finish finally came to an end when Muhammad committed to then-UCLA coach Ben Howland and the Bruins, despite frequent warnings from the NCAA about his eligibility.

The major issue came with Adidas. Adidas is a sponsor for Shabazz's sister, Asia, a professional tennis player. Adidas sponsored Muhammad's successful AAU team, Dream Vision. The UCLA Bruins are, of course, backed by Adidas, one of the few programs in the nation not backed by Nike.

There were also concerns about the Muhammad family's ties to financial advisors out of North Carolina.

For a program that had really struggled in recent years, it was odd to some that such a highly touted recruit would head to UCLA. Nevertheless, he was a Bruin.

Summer 2012: NCAA investigates Muhammad, misses China trip

The NCAA spent months determining when Muhammad was cleared to begin playing collegiately. As UCLA's team headed to China for a series of exhibition games in August, the NCAA ruled he was not allowed to play as they continued their investigation.

November 2012: Muhammad finally ruled eligible

After missing the first three regular-season games of the year, the NCAA finally rules Muhammad is eligible to begin playing immediately. He is ordered to pay the NCAA $1,600. Hope is restored in Westwood.

January 2013: The Gucci backpack "scandal"

After finally getting the NCAA out of his hair, Muhammad is seen in late January sporting a Gucci backpack that had an estimated value of over $1,000. That's quite the item for a student-athlete who isn't supposed to be receiving any money. Normally this would be a non-story, but given his background, an investigation is launched. It is then determined the backpack was a (very expensive) gift from his family.

February 2013: Shabazz gets mad when teammate hits winning shot

This was not a good look for Muhammad.

It's tough to imagine many NBA GMs seeing this video and having good thoughts in their head.

March 2013: Report shows Muhammad lied about age

Shabazz told everyone he was 19 years old. His family, somehow, led everyone to believe he was 19 years old and dropped him a year back in school.

So when the Los Angeles Times reported Muhammad was actually 20, it was a huge deal.

All of Muhammad's dominance on the court during his high school years looked far less impressive than before. He was technically old enough to graduate with the class of 2010. Instead, he graduated in 2012. When discussing amateur athletes, an extra year of physical and mental maturity can mean a world of difference. And while he had a mostly-successful freshman campaign at UCLA, the thought that he was technically a sophomore and would already be eligible for the NBA if he were not been held back took some of the glamour away.

May 2013: Concerns over height, ability arise during scouting process

Muhammad checked in to the draft combine at 6'6.25 and 222 pounds. His wingspan is 6'11. For a player who projects to play small forward at the next level, he is undersized.

Once you dig a little deeper into Muhammad's game, you find a one-dimensional player. He did not rebound well at UCLA, and he seldom set up a teammate with an assist. He doesn't defend well. And despite having a handful of quality NBA prospects as teammates, the Bruins lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as he went 6-for-18 from the field.


In a way, draft night had to feel like a clean slate for Shabazz. For a prospect who was on top of the basketball world 18 months ago, very little has gone right since.

In the NBA, prospect rankings mean nothing. The NCAA can't force you to miss games for making money. It won't really matter how tall he is or how long his arms are once the games begin. It's all about if you can play or not.

It might just be exactly what he needed. The Timberwolves are ready to reap the rewards.

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Draft resources: Scouting reports | Team Needs | Big Board

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