Shabazz Muhammad waiting, improving
The No. 1 overall player is going to wait to sign with one of the nation's top teams
Shabazz Muhammad is lucky.
He's worked tirelessly, no doubt -- obsessive about his workouts and intense in his desire to improve constantly as a basketball player. None of it changes the reality that he's 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, coveted by the bluest of the blue-blood college programs and surrounded by a support system nearly as rare as his eye-popping athleticism.
Thing is, Muhammad recognizes his good fortune.
"I'm just really blessed," he said.
No. 1 in the ESPNU 100 since midsummer, Muhammad stands out from the crowd all that much more for his humble nature. The small forward out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas will not sign a letter of intent Wednesday as the early signing period opens, opting to wait until spring to delight one of the sport's premier coaches.
Many recruits, even elite prospects, must sign early to avoid losing their spot.
Not Muhammad, so why rush it?
"Absolutely," he said. "I think that's a really big advantage for me, to be able to find the style of play that fits me and sit down with my family to talk about which aspects of my game will fit into the programs I like.
"Watching these college games is really going to be an important thing for me."
Muhammad said he took official visits to Texas A&M in September and Kentucky in October. He spoke highly of both programs, in particular the Wildcats, whose Big Blue Madness impressed him. Of the coaches he's met, UK's John Calipari stands out, Muhammad said.
"I think it's probably because it was my last official visit," he said, "but Coach Cal's personality is great. He pushes his players in practice. That's the thing I'm looking for. I'm trying to get better and get to the next level."
He plans to take his remaining official visits to Arizona, which is set to land the No. 1-rated group of early signees, Duke and Kansas. Muhammad also continues to consider UCLA and hometown UNLV, coached by the brother of his high school coach, Dave Rice.
Muhammad's parents both played major-college basketball. His family includes several other accomplished athletes.
He relies on their guidance in making a college decision in addition to the input of his AAU and high school coaches. Muhammad said he welcomes the assistance.
After all, try comparing Kansas to Kentucky or UCLA and Duke, with nine national titles between them in the past quarter-century.
"It's so hard," Muhammad said. "That's why I didn't make the early decision. There's all these great programs and great traditions. I'm just going to make sure I take my time and really watch these teams."
Muhammad's high school season opens Dec. 9 and Bishop Gorman plays a schedule that includes trips to Florida, South Carolina and Maryland, an exciting thought for Muhammad.
"It all starts with my leadership," said Muhammad, who plans to work primarily on them this fall. "If I can do that, the rest will take care of itself."
However, don't think he'll ignore the other skills. His workout Monday, an off day from team activity, included a set of conditioning drills that left him dizzy and hardly able to walk, he said.
As he studies his favorite schools and plans visits, Muhammad said, he'll keep tabs on the NBA labor negotiations. If the league revises its collective bargaining agreement to allow players again to jump from high school to professional basketball, Muhammad said he would examine the option.
Not now, though. "I'm focusing on where I'll go to college," he said.
And counting his blessings.
Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman
2012 EARLY SIGNING PERIOD
Many decisions were made during the early signing period but Arizona looks to be the big winner.