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.