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UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad kept preparing while awaiting NCAA ruling

The Bruins freshman, who was declared eligible by the NCAA on Friday, will play in his first college game when UCLA plays Georgetown on Monday in the Legends Classic Tournament in Brooklyn.

November 18, 2012|By Baxter Holmes

NEW YORK — During UCLA's practices last week, Shabazz Muhammad pushed himself more than usual — and his "usual" effort is said to be more full-bore than most. And after those basketball practices, the freshman stayed late to run, to lift weights.

He hadn't played in the Bruins' first three games after the NCAA declared him ineligible for a violation of its amateurism rules, but Muhammad knew that his fortunes might change Friday when UCLA's appeal on the case would be heard.

He knew that he needed to be ready to play, just in case, people close to him said.

Then Friday, the NCAA reinstated Muhammad, making the highly rated swingman eligible to play for the No. 13 Bruins (3-0) immediately, starting Monday night against Georgetown (2-0) at Brooklyn's Barclays Center in the Legends Classic tournament.

When Muhammad received the news he'd been long waiting for, he burst into the UCLA men's basketball coaches' offices with an enormous smile. Whoops and yells were exchanged.

Then, it hit him: "I've got to pack!"

Before UCLA departed for New York on Saturday, Muhammad hadn't planned on coming. Now that he's here and able to play, the questions are: How will UCLA be affected with him in the lineup? Will he have any rust from sitting out?

"Even if he's not there, they have a lot of talent, so they'll be good either way," Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said in a conference call before the ruling.

How Muhammad will fit in will be determined over time, but Bruins freshman Kyle Anderson doesn't expect any rust Monday.

"No, because in practice, he's a beast," Anderson said.

Playing his first college game against Georgetown is a stiff opening act for Muhammad, who wasn't able to warm up with cupcake opponents such as James Madison.

"I told him, 'We're kind of throwing you to the wolves a little bit,'" Anderson said.

Clayton Williams, who coached the Dream Vision AAU team Muhammad played on, said Muhammad has always played well on big stages against big-time teams. "The demand to perform is nothing to Shabazz," Williams said. "He loves pressure."

Muhammad isn't expected to start, but it probably won't take long before he checks into the game.

Ron Holmes, Muhammad's father, said if his son "let's the game come to him, everything will be OK." Muhammad's parents — Holmes and Faye Muhammad — are expected to attend the game, along with his sister, Asia.

It was Asia who was closest to Muhammad during the days leading up to his reinstatement. She drove from the family's home in Las Vegas to Los Angeles to be near him because, she said, "I knew he was upset and going through a lot."

She wanted to keep him away from campus, where he was bombarded with questions about when he'll be able to play. They spent time at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, and at an aunt's house in Long Beach, where family kept him calm.

After Muhammad learned the news, he met up with Asia at the Promenade.

"His whole aura had changed," she said. "He was glowing."

He dined on a steak burrito bowl at a nearby restaurant, then commented that he needed to pack for the trip to Brooklyn, where UCLA said Muhammad will make his first public comments after the Bruins' game against Georgetown.

That night, Muhammad and his sister went back to Long Beach. He likes it when Asia makes him chicken Alfredo, so she cooked that for him.

But Muhammad didn't seem too concerned with eating. He was excited.

And while Asia, his aunt and a cousin ate in the dining room, he was in the living room, with a basketball, dribbling, getting ready.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

twitter.com/BaxterHolmes

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