The saga of Shabazz Muhammed has been well documented. Last year’s high school player of the year committed to the UCLA Bruins and helped secure Ben Howland the number one recruiting class for 2012 and gave the Bruins the No. 13 ranking in the preseason Associate Press poll.
But Muhammed’s playing status has been put in jeopardy on two different fronts. The highly touted freshman guard strained his shoulder on October 25, which has kept him from fully participating in preseason practices since then.
During UCLA’s “Pauley Madness” last week, however, Muhammed threw down a windmill dunk that made it appear his shoulder was fine. Howland confirmed that the shoulder was almost healed and that Muhammed was “real close” to being healthy enough to play in UCLA’s season opener against the Indiana State Sycamores.
More troubling, though, is the NCAA probe which is investigating ties that Muhammed’s family and AAU team allegedly had with two financial agents to determine whether or not Muhammed received improper benefits. They have yet to clear the star guard, but there has been some confusion about whether or not he will still be able to play tonight.
While the NCAA is conducting their investigation, there is a 45-day window that allows a player under investigation to continue participating in “team activities” even if they have yet to be cleared. If a player isn’t cleared within that time, he must cease participating in all team activities until a decision is reached.
But does “team activities” include playing in games? That seems to be where there’s some confusion. According to Baxter Holmes, of the LA Times, Muhammed would be able to play in games during this window. However, another NCAA rule may conflict with that, saying that a player may not be allowed to play in a game without NCAA clearance.
Muhammed’s “window” began October 12, when the NCAA started their investigation (though even that is not for certain). That would give the freshman guard until November 26 to participate in “team activities,” which includes the Bruins’ first five games with a November 19 showdown with the Georgetown Hoyas.
There is no set timetable for the NCAA to conclude their investigation and reach a decision. Investigators did sit down with Muhammed’s parents, Ron Holmes and Faye Muhammed, in Las Vegas last week according to people close to the situation. For now, UCLA and Muhammed must patiently wait to find out his fate.
Howland would like to see his prized recruit on the floor for the Bruins sooner rather than later. The head coach of UCLA finds himself on the hot seat as the season begins after a disappointing stretch. Since reaching the Final Four for the third consecutive time in 2008, the Bruins have failed to make it out of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament and have twice missed the tournament all together.
The fate of the Bruins this season, who are favored to win the Pac 12 and make a Final Four run this year, rests squarely on the shoulders of Shabazz Muhammed. Or at least it will if he’s able to play.