The UCLA Bruins have ridden the No. 1 ranked recruiting class to No. 13 ranking in the preseason Associated Press poll. After a down few years, many have even picked UCLA to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament this March. The biggest reason for this renewed belief in the Bruins? 6-foot-6 freshman guard Shabazz Muhammed, who might have to sit and watch the season-opener on Friday.
Muhammed has been out since October 25 with a shoulder strain. On Tuesday, head coach Ben Howland confirmed that the freshman had returned to practice and was “real close” to a full return. Howland says that Muhammed has reached the “day-to-day” phase of his recovery and barring any setbacks would be back to full strength very soon.
When asked if Muhammed would be healthy enough to play in the season opener on Friday against the Indiana State Sycamores, Howland said “Physically, there is a possibility for sure.”
However, the Bruins may not be able to play Muhammed even if his shoulder is healed due to an on-going NCAA investigation. There is no timetable for when a decision will be announced on whether or not Muhammed received improper benefits, so the Bruins are stuck waiting around even after the freshman’s shoulder heals to see when, or if, their star recruit will get to play.
Center Joshua Smith is optimistic about Muhammed’s return, saying: “We know the NCAA is going to handle that and hopefully he’ll be able to play…All of us want him to play. Everybody knows what he brings.”
Muhammed was the prize player from UCLA’s 2012 recruiting class who was largely responsible for the Bruins’ top rated class and Top 25 ranking coming into this season. The freshman is a dynamic scorer when healthy, was named the national high school player of the year last year and is already being projected as a first-round NBA draft pick.
The Bruins are looking to turn things around after a disappointing run. Since reaching their third consecutive Final Four in 2008, Howland and company have not been able to get out of the second round of the NCAA tournament. They have only made the NCAA tournament field twice in the last four seasons, which is inexcusable at a school with the basketball tradition of UCLA.
So for now UCLA is stuck waiting and hoping to see Muhammed take the floor sooner rather than later. If he is cleared and comes back healthy, Muhammed has the skills to spark a Bruins’ run back to the Final Four; something that Bruins’ fans are clamoring to see.