Shabazz Muhammad (15) of UCLA shoots during practice in preparation for… (George Bridges / MCT )
UCLA apparel sponsor Adidas, a Los Angeles basketball trainer, a New York financial advisor and a 34-year-old financial planner all contributed funds to basketball standout Shabazz Muhammad and his summer league team as the talented player wound his way across the country, records show.
Muhammad is preparing to lead his UCLA Bruins in their first game of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night in front of a national television audience. On Friday, The Times reported that Muhammad’s father, Ron Holmes, worked hard to position his son for such success.
Driven by his father, Muhammad spent countless hours in the gym. Because his son suffered from a mild case of Tourette's syndrome, which can cause tics and other problems, Holmes told him he had to work that much harder.
Document: Shabazz Muhammad's birth certificate
Very few freshmen at Bishop Gorman, a $12,000-a-year Catholic high school in Las Vegas with a powerhouse athletics program, make the varsity basketball team. Muhammad was one of them. And when he dropped 29 points against local rival Durango High a few months into the 2008-09 season, the hoops world began to take notice.
While other teenagers bagged groceries after school, Muhammad crisscrossed the nation, attending dozens of camps and tournaments where scouts would tweet about his progress, post videos and document his ascent in the newsletters they peddle to college coaches.
Visiting as many universities as possible was also key. Every time Muhammad set foot on campus — any campus — the basketball world took note. In all, Muhammad made more than 15 college visits.
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That much travel wasn't cheap, and picking up the tab didn't fit Holmes' philosophy. "When you're good enough, you don't have to pay for your trips," he said.
Travel for Muhammad's summer league team, Dream Vision, was funded in part by Adidas, which signed on as a team sponsor after Muhammad rose to national prominence in 2010.
A Los Angeles basketball trainer paid for a trip to the University of Memphis, records show, and a New York financial advisor donated an undisclosed sum to Dream Vision in hopes of getting close to Muhammad.
Another important source of travel funds was a 34-year-old financial planner named Ben Lincoln.
The son of a high school coach and a former student manager of the University of South Florida basketball team, Lincoln runs his own wealth management firm in Charlotte, N.C. A basketball fanatic, he travels the country watching games. His client list includes former college coach Brad Greenberg.
Through his brother, an assistant coach at Muhammad's high school, Lincoln met Holmes. He now calls him a close friend. Starting in March 2010, Lincoln paid for at least three visits to the University of North Carolina and Duke, covering airfare and hotel bills for Holmes and his son.
Lincoln was in L.A. this month to watch UCLA play. In an interview, Lincoln said he couldn't remember exactly how much he spent, but that he paid for the trips because the family was tight on funds, something Holmes denies.
"Ben offered to pay, so I let him," Holmes said.
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