UCLA's prized recuit Shabazz Muhammad cheers his teammates from… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
Just a few hours from christening its renovated arena with the season opener of its ranked men's basketball team Friday, UCLA received a ruling it had long awaited, but one that truly put a damper on the pageantry of the evening.
Shabazz Muhammad, the No. 13 Bruins' highly-touted freshman guard from Las Vegas, was declared ineligible by the NCAA because of violations of amateurism rules.
UCLA defeated Indiana State, 86-59, in the game, but the Bruins and their fans — several of whom wore "Free Shabazz" shirts — were more concerned with their loss than their win. A sold-out crowd of 13,513 was in attendance as UCLA played its first game in its new home arena, sparkling thanks to a $136-million investment.
Just how many games Muhammad, who was considered the top high school recruit in the country last year, will miss was not immediately announced, but people close to the situation who aren't authorized to speak publicly said a decision is expected to be announced next week.
UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said the school would appeal the ruling. "We are extremely disappointed that the NCAA has made this determination," he said. Later, Guerrero added, "I feel bad for the kid."
The NCAA said in a statement that in addition to other pending issues, Muhammad accepted travel and lodging during three unofficial visits to two schools. The schools are Duke and North Carolina.
The unofficial visits were paid for by North Carolina-based financial adviser Benjamin Lincoln, a person close to the situation said. Lincoln's brother, Geoff, is an assistant coach at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, where Muhammad went to high school.
Muhammad's family has said that Lincoln is a friend — and the NCAA does allow for financial aid to be awarded to an athlete provided that it's from someone with a preexisting relationship. But Guerrero said that the NCAA determined the Muhammad family's relationship with Lincoln "would not have allowed the support to allow the family to receive the benefits that they got."
The school and NCAA enforcement staff agreed on the facts on the case, and therefore it was determined by the NCAA that he couldn't play Friday, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who spoke anonymously because the case is ongoing.
UCLA, even though it has accepted the facts of the case, could disagree that a violation occurred and appeal, as Guerrero said it plans to do. The case then would go to an NCAA appeals committee. If the committee sided with UCLA, Muhammad would probably become eligible immediately.
But if the committee ruled that a violation did occur, the appeal would be denied and Muhammad would have to go through a reinstatement process to regain his eligibility.
The other option is that UCLA could accept that there was a violation and go immediately to reinstatement process. Both the appeals and reinstatement processes would be expedited, the person said, because the season is now underway.
The NCAA's investigation into Muhammad lasted well over a year, in part, the NCAA said, because it did not receive documents in a timely manner. In its statement, the NCAA said its enforcement staff requested specific documents on July 31 but that it received them in three installments — Sept. 25, Oct. 10 and what it termed "critical information" on Nov. 1. After interviewing Muhammad's parents on Nov. 2 in Las Vegas, it took the NCAA one week to render a decision.
Early on, it seemed that the Bruins could've used him.
But they stretched their lead to 20 points in the second half, and held on. Freshman guard Jordan Adams' 21 points led UCLA in his debut.