UCLA basketball star Shabazz Muhammad is 20 years old, not 19 as widely believed. The news comes just hours before UCLA is scheduled to play against Minnesota in its opening game of the NCAA tournament in Austin, Texas, Friday night.
That revelation, first reported by the Los Angeles Times in a front page article today, has led to speculation that his NBA draft prospects could be negatively impacted. Muhammad, UCLA’s leading scorer, is expected to leave the school and enter the June draft after the NCAA tournament.
Social media including Twitter have been ablaze with questions about whether Muhammad, the Pac-12’s freshman of the year, will still be selected in the top five, as had been projected. Many NBA teams bet on a player’s potential to keep developing and for that reason, prefer younger players.
This morning, UCLA changed Muhammad’s birth date on its online roster to reflect his true age. The school had listed him as being born on Nov. 13, 1993, rather than 1992.
The change came two days after the Los Angeles Times alerted UCLA’s athletic department to the discrepancy.
A spokesman for the university said the previously listed birth date was a mistake or typo and that the school had contacted the athlete’s father, Ron Holmes, and verified that Muhammad is in fact 20. “We’ll make the necessary adjustments to our media guide,” he said. The school’s media guide still lists Muhammad as being born in 1993. A cached version of the online roster from March 2 lists the 1993 date as well.
However, in the past several months there have been hundreds, if not thousands of articles about Muhammad – one of the sport’s highest-profile freshmen — stating he is 19 years old.
In a telephone interview this week, Holmes initially told the Times that his son was 19 and born in Nevada, where the family resides. Moments later, Holmes called back and said that in fact Muhammad was 20 and born in Long Beach.
“It must be a mistake,” Holmes said.
When his age was changed, and how it was accomplished, could not be determined. Eddie Bonine, the executive director of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Assn., said he did not believe any rules would have been violated, since the state only requires that high school athletes be under 20 in order to play.
But there is copious evidence online that Muhammad has been passing himself off as younger than he really is for many years. For example, he said in a July 2009 interview that he was 15, when in fact he was 16. You can watch the video below.
In youth athletics, being just a single year older than the competition can be a difference maker on the court, and especially to scouts and others judging talent. That’s particularly the case in the critical years of middle school and high school, when athletes are growing rapidly and developing skills. Muhammad was already a nationally ranked player by the time he was a freshman at Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman High School.
Muhammad is not the only athlete to play under a false age. Perhaps most famously, Danny Almonte, who led a Bronx team to a third-place finish in the Little League World Series in 2001, represented himself as a 12 year old when in fact he was 14.
Muhammad has been projected as a lottery pick in June’s NBA draft, which would guarantee a multimillion-dollar contract. Scouts often use age as a key consideration in measuring a player’s potential and longevity in the league. As a 20 year old, Muhammad has to be compared to others the same age. Experts have speculated on social media that Muhammad’s draft position could be negatively affected by the news.
This is not the first time Muhammad has been under scrutiny. In November, the NCAA ruled him ineligible for accepting travel and lodging from a financial advisor in North Carolina. Later, he was cleared to play after a three-game suspension.
Sources say the NCAA does not have rules limiting age; however, there may be concerns that Muhammad submitted false information in his eligibility paperwork. The UCLA spokesman said the school had contacted the NCAA and the Pac-12 and did not believe the age issue would affect his ability to play in the tournament.