The 10 Biggest CBB Stories of 2012 — #7: The Shabazz Muhammad SagaPosted by Chris Johnson on December 28th, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
College basketball gave us plenty of memorable moments and stories in 2012. After sorting through the main headlines, we’ve come up with the 10 most consequential items and, for the sake of maintaining publishing sequence symmetry, releasing two per-day over the next five days to lead into the New Year. It was an excellent year for the sport, though I can’t promise you won’t regret reliving at least one or two of the choices. In any case, here’s to summing up a great year and to hoping that 2013 is better than the 365 days that preceded it.
When Muhammad announced his commitment alongside to UCLA last spring on an ESPNU special, it was seen not only as a huge boost to the Bruins’ 2012-13 prospects, but as a turning point in coach Ben Howland’s tenure. Howland, whose old school approach hit an all-time reputational low after a scathing Sports Illustrated report shed light on his leadership failures and an overall lack of control over the storied program, needed the infusion of good news. Muhammad, along with other top recruits Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker and Jordan Adams, were to lead an epic revival commensurate with the success Howland captured last decade when he managed three consecutive Final Four teams and churned out consistent NBA talent along the way.
It sounded like a foolproof mechanism for a massive Westwood hoops renaissance – lure the nation’s top recruits, meld their talents into a cohesive unit, get them to buy into an entrenched system while congealing with upperclassmen. The rub: getting that talent on the court in Westwood was a sticky process. The NCAA did its due diligence, and to almost no one’s surprise, Muhammad was found to have taken impermissible benefits, the result being a three-game suspension to start the 2012-13 season. But the folks in Indianapolis didn’t have enough dirt to hand down a ruling until the season had already begun, and Muhammad had at that point already missed the team’s trip to China along with preseason workouts and the opportunity to get in game shape and develop a rapport with his teammates.
The NCAA’s covert dealings set up an easy punching bag for national hoops pundits to tee off on the rhetoric of amateurism and the general inertia of the organization’s byzantine rulebook. Even a famous rock star clamored for answers. Muhammad’s eventual return was met with a collective sigh at the time, although the Bruins freshman is beginning to round into form by late December, having averaged 24.3 points over his last three games working his way into game shape. Take in as much of Shabazz’s electric game as you can now, because chances are good that he’ll be taking the podium in next year’s NBA Draft regardless of how this year’s UCLA season turns out.