Shabazz Muhammad and the Long Road Here

Every year, NBA Twitter feeds fill themselves with minuscule hype videos of an NBA prospect destroying inferior competition on the AAU circuit. Say what you want about AAU, but there is still no denying the exposure it gives young basketball players with NBA aspirations.

Unfortunately, you cannot spell exposure without expose. In the case of Shabazz Muhammad, expose has been the word of his basketball life both on and off the hardwood.

Growing up like most young NBA studs, Muhammad was supremely talented as a basketball player. The difference between Muhammad and your everyday viral baller on Twitter is that Muhammad was put into every possible situation to succeed.

As early as his sophomore year in high school, Muhammad had already received scholarship letters from Duke, Kentucky, and UCLA. His legend continued to grow on the AAU summer circuit where his father, Ron Holmes, would orchestrate ways to align his son with the best possible talent to showcase his skills. Holmes had played for USC in 1985 and said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that he tried to give his son the opportunities he never had.

Growing up with Tourette’s syndrome, Muhammad’s play fueled his fire to work harder knowing he had no other choice. That work finally paid off, both literally and figuratively, during college recruiting season his senior year.

As a highly touted prospect, Muhammad received recruitment letters from across the country, as close as UNLV and as far as the University of North Carolina. Most high school students can’t afford to tour the country seeking the right college and neither could Muhammad.

In spite of his cross-country options, Muhammad decided to enroll at UCLA, a decision his father attributes mostly to the opportunity to play. Unlike his AAU teams, Holmes felt that Muhammad was good enough to be the lone star of a team, an opportunity he would not receive had he played at Duke or Kentucky.

Before the ink dried on his letter of intent, Muhammad was already projected to be the no.1 overall NBA draft pick. There was a ferocity and aggression Muhammad played with that made it seem like he was playing to get away from something; or someone. Before Muhammad could get his feet wet in collegiate waters, his father’s exploits as his son’s agent backfired.

In what would turn out to be a NCAA violation, Holmes had his friend and financial planner Ben Lincoln pay for Muhammad to visit five NCAA schools. Reported by the Los Angeles Times, Muhammad had received up to $1600 for travel and lodging for campus visits. The amateurism violation then led to reports that Muhammad had lied about his age so that NBA teams would see more upside in him at 19 years old rather than 20.

Having the chance to play in front of his father at every home game, Muhammad would often play with everything to lose. Muhammad took on a me first mentality on the court, in basketball terms having a scorer’s mentality, but in general terms playing selfishly.

As undermanned as UCLA was, Muhammad expected the ball every time down the court and would not be content with standing in the corner watching his teammates steal all the attention. His infamous late-game tirade in a game at home against Washington, in which he incessantly clapped for the ball during the final possession and then proceeded to walk angrily off the court after his team had won the game finally let the cat out of the bag.

Muhammad had everything given to him on the court as a result of his father pulling strings in the background.  Under Coach Ben Howland, Muhammad’s play and the team were devoid of his father’s influence.  After playing with some of the best amateur talents across the nation, Muhammad was humbled under the national spotlight. NBA prospects saw a player with a score first, second and third mentality, that would check out of plays he was not involved in. Muhammad would rarely pass, a trait that has followed him to the NBA. Per ESPN, he is on pace to have the lowest assist rate of any player in NBA history.

Defensively, Muhammad is too undersized to play small forward at 6’6 220 pounds, but couldn’t handle the ball well enough to be a shooting guard.

So far, through 3 and a half seasons in the NBA, Muhammad’s days of ruling NBA Twitter feeds are over. Now it is clear he was the beneficiary of an over-involved father’s ambitious basketball dreams. Muhammad’s upside is limited seeing that this would be his senior year in college had he stayed four years at UCLA, and the same player remains; Aggressive to a fault, always trying to show his teammates and his dad, how good he is.


photo via llananba