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.
By DAVE SPAHNSpecial to ZAGSBLOGCHICAGO — The past college basketball season and ensuing months certainly could have gone better for Shabazz Muhammad.
First, the NCAA ruled Muhammad ineligible for the season just days before UCLA’s first game for receiving improper benefits. The ruling was voided after three games, but the cloud of an NCAA suspension still hovered over his head.
Next, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Muhammad failed to reach the lofty, arguably unrealistic expectations placed on him during his collegiate tenure. He quickly slid down from the top of draft boards and is currently projected at No. 10 on DraftExpress.com.
Then, reports began to leak about Muhammad being a full year older than originally believed. His father, Ron Holmes, claimed him to be 19 years old, but his original birth certificate proved otherwise. A 20-year-old freshman who’s older than most sophomores suddenly seems much less impressive.
Now, Muhammad felt the need to impress NBA front office personnel at the NBA combine in order to help secure his position as a lottery pick, an unimaginable scenario before the season started.
More importantly, Muhammad had to answer the tough questions for NBA front office personnel that everyone wanted to know.
What was the real story behind his initial season-long NCAA suspension? How knowledgeable was he about the impermissible benefits his family received? Why should NBA teams invest millions of dollars into a player with questions about his past?
“I cleared it [the NCAA suspension story] up,” Muhammad said Friday at the Chicago Pre-Draft Combine. “Some of that stuff I didn’t know what was going on. I’m a guy who just plays basketball, and I had my other family members controlling that other stuff. Now, as an NBA guy, I’m more mature as a player, so I can definitely speak for myself. “
He continued: “I just wanted to get those questions out of the way so everyone can know what’s really going on. A lot of people speculate how bad I am as a player and stuff like that, but I really cleared it up. I was so happy to do that stuff, and I can’t wait to do these other interviews this afternoon.”
One Western Conference GM told SNY.tv the age issue wasn’t a problem.
“The age doesn’t bother me,” the GM said. “He needs to be in a place where his game works based on style of play. He’s a scorer and needs to be in a system where he is featured in multiple isolation sets.”
UCLA’s offensive system under former coach Ben Howland was part of the reason Muhammad could not show his true NBA potential throughout the season. For much of the season, the Bruins did not play a high flying, fast paced, pick-and-roll system comparable to many of the NBA teams.
“He shot the ball well at the combine and looked good,” one veteran NBA scout told SNY.tv. “I think he’s in the 9-14 range.”
Muhammad said his preference is to be a shooting guard instead of a small forward, but there is debate among NBA personnel about that. The GM said he’s a three, while the scout called him a two.
One question Muhammad answered over and over – with his words and his actions – was his passion to play the game of basketball. Unlike many of his counterparts likely destined for the lottery, Muhammad competed in all facets of the NBA combine.
“I’m so blessed to be out here. That’s why I love just playing,” Muhammad explained about competing in the combine. “Some of the guys are sitting out, but I want to play. If I’m a lottery or not, I want to play against the guys and compete. I’m not running away from anybody. That’s one thing I love about my game. I want to play.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, 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.