Commentary

Shabazz Muhammad stays grounded

McDonald's All-American SF remains humble throughout hectic recruitment

Originally Published: March 28, 2012
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN RecruitingNation

LAS VEGAS -- Far from the buzz of Michigan Avenue and the McDonald's All-American Game practices, where Shabazz Muhammad has dazzled this week in advance of the marquee event Wednesday at Chicago's United Center (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), he sat recently in the office of Bishop Gorman High School basketball coach Grant Rice.

Signs of his prowess rested all about -- memorabilia from three Nevada state championships won with Muhammad at the helm, and a large banner folded in the corner to commemorate his accumulating state and national awards.

Outside, barely 10 miles to the east, the Vegas Strip beckons, a hub of luxury and excess where self-control often takes a back seat.

Shabazz Muhammad
Courtesy Bishop Gorman High SchoolAlthough Shabazz Muhammad is seen as the next big thing, he remains grounded throughout the recruiting process.

Muhammad, the premier attraction at the McDonald's event and No. 2 prospect in the ESPNU 100 as a 6-foot-6, 215-pound dynamo, presents the picture of self-control.

Amid a storm of hype, huge expectations and controversy, he remains calm at the center, focused on school, his training and an impending college decision.

"He's really mature, and nothing seems to bother him," Rice said. "He's probably handled it better than we have here at the school, than a lot of adults would have in the same situation."

Muhammad, set to sign April 11, said this week he favors Duke, Kentucky and UCLA over other finalists Kansas and UNLV.

His amateur status remains in question, according to a CBSSports.com report last month, as the NCAA investigates the relationships between Muhammad's family and financial advisers Benjamin Lincoln and Ken Kavanagh. CBSSports.com reported that Lincoln and Kavanagh funded at least two of Muhammad's unofficial recruiting visits and financially assisted his summer team.

"I think it'll work out," Muhammad said, "and I'll definitely be able to play in college next year."

Eligibility concerns aside, Muhammad's discipline is undeniable. His work ethic is the stuff of legend. Just as remarkable, he appears unfazed by the labels placed on him as the next superstar freshman to splash in college basketball.

"I just try to stay humble," said Muhammad, named three weeks ago the Naismith High School Boys' Player of the Year. "I think I'm one of the nicest kids off the court. But when I'm on the court, something turns on. I just want to win the game."

He won a lot at Bishop Gorman, earning his third title in four years with a 36-point effort in a 96-51 win over Reno's Hug High School. Muhammad scored 30 points in the first half and finished 15-of-17 shooting. For the season, he averaged 30.2 points and 10.4 rebounds and shot 63.1 percent from the field.

He wasn't the only star at the school, as the Gaels' entire starting five earned Division I basketball scholarships. Their sixth man, Ronnie Stanley, signed with Notre Dame for football.

Such success is nothing new at the school, an athletic powerhouse. Bishop Gorman fostered an environment ideal for the growth of Muhammad, who entered high school as perhaps the eighth-best player his age in Las Vegas, according to Rice.

Now he's predicting he'll develop into the best basketball player ever to come out of Nevada.

Muhammad said he has viewed the NCAA tournament with a keen eye this month. He watches as if he's playing for his finalists, he said, considering how he could impact situations.

And he isn't looking to make it a short stint in college. If he stays in school two years or three, he said, that's fine.

"I just want to go into college and win right away," he said. "I'm looking to win a national championship."

Muhammad selected his final list of schools in part, he said, because each offers a mix of the fast and slow style he plans to play in the NBA.

There's that focus again. It was on display, too, in Chicago, where Muhammad won the slam dunk contest Monday, then starred in workouts as a horde of NBA scouts and executives watched.

Before he left for Chicago, Muhammad said that more than any other objective, he strived to display his leadership skills at the McDonald's game. He wanted to set a standard for others to follow throughout the week.

According to observers, he has done it -- and then some. Nothing new, said Rice, the brother of UNLV coach Dave Rice.

"He's realized that he's a special player," Grant Rice said. "He acts the right way already.

"This school and this city haven't seen anything like him."