Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Kyle Anderson Sr. Says Shabazz Is Best Player in Country
Kyle Anderson Sr. says that when Shabazz Muhammad makes his season debut Monday night against Georgetown at the Barclays Center, the nation will see the best college basketball player in the land.
He also questions how UCLA head coach Ben Howland is using his son, Kyle Anderson Jr., a natural point guard who has played on the wing in the Bruins’ first three games.
“Watching [Muhammad] play, there are times when he looks like the best player in the country,” Anderson Sr., a former Division 1 assistant coach and current AAU coach with the Playaz Basketball Club, told SNY.tv on Sunday.
“I don’t think there’s anyone — at his best — that’s bettter than him now.”
That will certainly be an interesting theory to test over the next couple of days, considering UCLA could face No. 1 Indiana and Cody Zeller in Tuesday’s Legends Classic final. Zeller is considered by some the best college player in America.
The 6-foot-6 Muhammad was cleared Friday of amateurism violations and will debut tonight against the Hoyas after sitting out the team’s first three games.
The projected No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft by DraftExpress.com, Muhammad has been practicing with the team the whole time, however, and Anderson Sr. has been impressed with what he’s seen.
“He’s been practicing so everyone’s familiar with him, as far as what he can do,” Anderson Sr. said. “I don’t think there will be a major adjustment.”
It remains unclear if Howland will start Muhammad in his first game or bring him off the bench.
Either way, the coach is happy to have him back.
“He’s a great talent,” Howland said last week. “He’s a great kid. He works extremely hard. He’s got a great motor so I think he’s gonna be a heck of a player.”
Georgetown coach John Thompson III found it hard to disagree.
“If he plays it’s his energy and how hard he plays is what is special,” he said of Muhammad.
Meantime, Anderson Sr. expressed concerns over how Howland has so far used his son, who was groomed to be a point guard, but has been playing on the wing with redshirt senior guard Larry Drew II at the point.
“It takes a special coach to be able to to coach Kyle,” Anderson Sr. told SNY.tv. “Coach [Bob] Hurley did a fabulous job of coaching him. You gotta know when to put the ball in his hands and when to post him up.
“I’m not sure Coach Howland has found a way to use him to maximize his potential yet. I don’t think he has.”
Anderson Sr. stressed that his son hasn’t objected to how he’s being used.
“He has always been a ‘Whatever the coach asks me to do’ player,” his father said.
Through three games, the 6-9 Anderson is averaging 7.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and just 2.7 assists.
In UCLA’s second game, an 80-79 OT win over UC-Irvine in which Anderson injured his wrist, he finished with 10 points, 7 rebounds and 0 assists.
“Kyle had zero assists the other day,” his father said. “He’s never done that in his life. Kyle’s playing the wing, he’s not playing a lot of point guard so the’s ball not in his hands.”
He added: “I think they need Larry Drew to win, he’s very important. With that said, I think you need to have the ball in Kyle’s hands a lot. Kyle’s a proven winner. You put the ball in his hands and good things happen.
“That’s for Coach Howland to figure out. Every coach wants to win, so I’m sure Coach Howland is doing everything he can to win. But if Kyle goes with 0 assists in a game, something’s wrong.”
Anderson injured his wrist in that UC-Irvine game but returned to action after the injury. X-rays and an MRI were negative and he then had 2 points on 1-for-10 shooting to go with 12 rebounds and 4 assists in Thursday’s win over 100-70 win over James Madison.
Howland will not be made available again to the media until after the Georgetown game and was not immediately available to comment on Anderson Sr.’s comments.
Last week on a conference call, he praised Anderson for his rebounding, passing and leadership skills.
“I think the thing that Kyle’s doing best right now is rebounding the basketball,” Howland said. “[Thursday] night he had nine rebounds in the first half and did a great job getting on the defensive end.
“He’s such a good passer, he made some really nice passes, very unselfish and his leadership for a kid that’s just a freshman. He shows a lot of ability to lead the other players and he’s vocal.”
Seth Greenberg, the ESPN college basketball analyst and former Virginia Tech coach, said it will take time for Howland to integrate Muhammad and Anderson, who was also recently cleared by the NCAA after an investigation, into the offense.
“Kyle Sr. needs to understand that we’re three games into the season and developing an offensive identity takes time,” Greenberg told SNY.tv.
“The UCLA team has been a team in transition and uncertainty due to the ineligibility issues of Shabazz and Kyle. Kyle’s a very unique talent but for Coach Howland it takes time, especially offensively, to find a system to best utilize his players. And a team with as many different parts as UCLA possesses that’s going to be a process.
“Big Kyle had great confidence in Coach Howland. That’s why Kyle decided to attend there. He needs to let coach do his job and understand we’re three games into the season and these things take time.”
Anderson initially cut his list of potential schools to UCLA, Florida, Georgetown, Seton Hall and St. John’s, and his father said all five schools told him he would play the point.
Yet there have always been questions over what position he would play and what position he would defend at the college level because of his unique skill-set combined with his relative lack of quickness compared to other point guards.
Ironically, in Georgetown, Anderson will be facing one of the schools he cut from his list when he selected UCLA.
“Kyle is special,” Georgetown’s Thompson III said last week. “I mean, everyone who’s seen him play knows that.
“He makes eveyrone around him so much better just in terms of getting everyone else the ball where they need it, when they need it, and so his passing is unique.
“He’s doing a very good job of rebounding the ball. He’s really going after the ball and rebounding well.”
“And so he’s very unique.”
Anderson Sr. also said his son is looking forward to playing two games back home on the East Coast, where he led St. Anthony to back-to-back New Jersey Tournament of Champions titles.
“He sees New York as his second home,” his father said. “He’s very excited to be home.”
Beginning Monday, UCLA begins the Shabazz Muhammad Era and Howland will have to make all the issues work out for his own self-preservation.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.