- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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So, it's official: The Shabazz Muhammad eligibility case has officially turned into a mess.
On Friday night, before UCLA's opening game against Indiana State, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist and fan-about-L.A. Flea showed some punk-rock solidarity with the Bruins' suspended star when he donned a righteous "Free Shabazz Muhammad" T-shirt. On Tuesday, the Muhammad family released a strongly worded statement refuting the NCAA's claims about the financial adviser that allegedly paid for two of Muhammad's visits to Duke and North Carolina, on which the NCAA based its ineligible ruling. The NCAA responded by saying it didn't receive most of the documents it needed until late September, and was still waiting on "additional critical information" until Nov. 1.
On Tuesday night, three of Shabazz's classmates joined in the uproar. From the Los Angeles Times:
In an apparent sign of solidarity their fellow freshman, Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker and Jordan Adams wore light-blue "Free Shabazz" T-shirts, with face of Shabazz Muhammad in silhouette, during warm-ups before the Bruins played UC Irvine.
Yep. That happened. And how did UCLA coach Ben Howland feel about it?
"That will not happen again," Howland said. "That's not something we can do."
Part of me loves the minor anti-establishment gesture. Part of me thinks it's just kind of silly. And another part thinks maybe this is the kind of thing that UCLA fans were right to fret about coming into the season -- an ineligible star, a miniature team rebellion against the NCAA, a coach trying to keep it all together in an absolutely pivotal year of his career. And oh, by the way, the game that immediately followed the "Free Shabazz" movement was a near loss to UC Irvine at home in overtime. Imagine if UCLA had lost.
In any case, Solomon Hill has an idea for Shabazz and his family: Just take a pass on college altogether. That's what Hill thinks more and more prospects will start doing, particularly if families start feeling especially besieged by the NCAA enforcement folks. From USA Today:
"It's going to show future classes, 'Okay, they're going to put you under investigation, make you look like the bad guy just to make an example of you,' " Hill told USA Today Sports this week. "If you don't want to be investigated, just don't go to college. If you take money early, make the decision that you're not going to attend college and you're going to seek training. There's nothing bad with that decision."
[...] "I'm pretty sure there are a lot of guys out there that went to a program and took some type of benefits. You're telling him that he has to go to college and now you're going to sit him down because he did something? He is going to be a millionaire."
The man has a point, one the anti-"one and done rule" folks have been screaming at a totally apathetic NBA for years: Maybe college isn't for everybody. That's true in general society. Why wouldn't it be true for future professional basketball players? Maybe, instead of spending eight months pretending to care about your 101 poly sci courses, you spend eight months training, eating right, studying progressive taxation and learning about the perils of fast millions without a financial plan. Or, if you want to make money ASAP, there is always the Brandon Jennings plan. That seemed to work out OK for Jennings.
When you think about it, it's actually a little bit surprising you don't see more of this. Maybe most prospects think missing out on college hoops is still just too risky -- too likely to ruin their draft value. Perhaps greater NCAA enforcement, particularly at the start of players' careers, will change the risk-reward calculus involved in playing one season at a college program. Maybe not. But as the NCAA cracks down (and doubles down) on the putative purity of amateurism, Hill's idea, and those like it, may only become more attractive.