Pac-12 Comings and Goings: Shabazz Muhammad and Josiah TurnerPosted by AMurawa on April 12th, 2012
It was a big day of comings and goings in the Pac-12 on Wednesday as the picture surrounding the two historic basketball powers in the conference crystallized a bit. UCLA and its embattled head coach Ben Howland got a piece of great news as the nation’s #2 recruit – Shabazz Muhammad – announced his intentions to attend the school next year, while Arizona finally cleared up the status of freshman point guard Josiah Turner when it was announced he would be transferring out of the program.
First, the Bruins. Despite UCLA’s struggles over the past three seasons (their 56-43 record since 2009-10 is the worst three-year record in program history since Wilbur Johns went 38-36 from 1945 to 1948 prior to the John Wooden era), Howland was able to add Muhammad to an already strong recruiting class that already featured the #5 recruit in the nation (according to ESPNU) – Kyle Anderson – and highly touted sharpshooter Jordan Adams. And, with the program still in hot pursuit of widebody Tony Parker, their haul could get even gaudier. Muhammad is an explosive offensive talent with the ability to throw down highlight-reel dunks with the best of them as well as knock down threes or score in a variety of ways in between. He will join a roster that features plenty of depth and versatility. Muhammad can play either the two or the three, and he is joined on the wings by returnees like Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell, a pair of nice pieces as well as Adams. Anderson as well can play the two or the three, but he is very adept with the ball in his hands and will play a part at the point, along with controversial North Carolina transfer Larry Drew Jr. And then up front, there are the Wear twins as well as big man Joshua Smith (although there is still a chance, somehow, that Smith could decide on his own or be encouraged to leave early), and perhaps Parker. In short, Howland has put together a ton of pieces in Westwood, but he’ll need to prove his ability to congeal those parts into a gestalt. Is Drew the answer at the point or can Anderson run the Bruin offense? Can Howland open up the offense enough to take advantage of Muhammad’s vast skills in the open court? Can Smith lose half a hundred pounds and be effective for 25 minutes a night? Can the Wear twins develop their offensive games and their defensive toughness? And can Lamb or Powell be counted on to knock down threes when called upon, or will Adams jump ahead of them in the rotation? There are plenty of questions to be answered at UCLA, but one thing is for certain: it should be fun to see it all play out.
There is another more ominous question that still surrounds the Muhammad signing, as it was reported in late February that the NCAA told the schools that were recruiting him that they were investigating some financial dealings surrounding his family that could bring his amateur status into question, with the family’s financial advisors funding an AAU team and helping out on a couple of the player’s unofficial visits to college campuses. All the schools who had been in pursuit of the prep star looked into the report and continued their recruitment of the player, perhaps meaning that they don’t expect the situation to be a big deal, but it is something that Bruins fans will have to hold their breath over between now and the start of the season, although the most recent speculation is that, at most, Muhammad will have to repay whatever money he received from the financial advisors and perhaps sit out a handful of games, certainly a tradeoff that would be worth it in the long run.
Now, on to Arizona where the Wildcats, current owners of the second rated recruiting class in the nation (behind Kentucky and a spot ahead of the Bruins) are now without a clear answer at point guard after Turner announced his intentions to transfer out of the program. The mercurial freshman was punished three different times by Arizona head coach Sean Miller this season, including two suspensions, the last of which was of the indefinite variety, handed down just prior to the Pac-12 Tournament. Turner decision came after meeting with Miller in the offseason, and while his loss leaves the team in search of a floor general, there is little doubt that Miller isn’t exactly broken up by Turner’s departure. However, with an excellent recruiting class highlighted by three frontcourt players (Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, and Brandon Ashley), the team will need somebody to run the offense in order for the team to live up to its potential. Sophomore Jordin Mayes is the only true point guard on the roster, but he failed to do anything to earn the lead guard role last year despite Turner’s struggles, and all signs point toward freshman guard Nick Johnson sliding over to the point next season. Johnson got some time at the one in Turner’s absences this season, but he looked uncomfortable and out of place there. Junior forward Solomon Hill will also likely be called on to chip in as an unconvential ballhandler, as he led the team in assists last year, albeit with a paltry 2.6 per game (assists on 18.6% of his teammates’ hoops). And incoming freshman Gabe York may get a chance to chip in at the one as well, although he, like Johnson, is far more comfortable as a two.
There is one other possibility for the Wildcats, however, as a window opened up on Wednesday when center Kyryl Natyazkho announced that he would be forgoing his final season of eligibility to play professionally in Europe. This opens up a scholarship for the program and, although time is limited, Miller is sure to scour the ranks of available players for somebody who can provide a one year patch while the Wildcats wait for recently inked transfer T.J. McConnell to become eligible in 2012-13. It’s a longshot, but it is certainly worth a look around.
Coming off a down year in the conference, both of these teams will certainly be in the conversation for Pac-12 favorite at the start of next year. However, until the Wildcats can prove that they have figured out their point guard problem, it looks like the Bruins will be the conference favorite. The Bruins have questions of their own to answer, but if Howland can come up with some worthwhile solutions, there is enough talent on this UCLA squad (and enough mediocrity elsewhere around the nation) to contend for a Final Four this coming season.