By Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times –
LOS ANGELES — The biggest enhancement to the fan experience at Pauley Pavilion will cost UCLA only a scholarship.
Top prep prospect Shabazz Muhammad announced Wednesday that he would become a Bruin, immeasurably boosting the $136-million makeover of the team’s arena that will be unveiled next season.
The 6-foot-5 swingman from Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, widely considered one of the top two prep seniors in the country, made his announcement in a nationally televised recruiting special on the first day of the spring signing period.
Muhammad, the son of former USC player Ron Holmes, ended months of suspense by picking UCLA over Kentucky and Duke, saying on the ESPNU broadcast that the Bruins’ recent struggles were among the deciding factors in his decision.
“I just think it’s a challenge, knowing how bad they were these last two years and it’s a challenge to really get them back up to the top knowing they’re the leaders in championships with 11,” Muhammad said.
Recruiting analysts said Muhammad’s decision gives the Bruins one of the top recruiting classes in the country and could immediately reverse the fortunes of a team that has missed the NCAA tournament two of the last three years.
“Given where the program has been for the past couple seasons, Muhammad’s commitment is probably the most important for UCLA since Kevin Love’s,” said Greg Hicks, Scout.com’s West Coast recruiting analyst. “Muhammad has the skill level and athleticism to make an immediate impact on the court. He’s already physically very strong and is college-ready in terms of his body.”
UCLA could add another player to its spring class if highly touted big man Tony Parker opts to become a Bruin; the 6-8 center from Miller Grove High in Lithonia, Ga., is deciding among UCLA, Kansas, Duke, Ohio State, Memphis and Georgia.
The Bruins already have received signed letters of intent from Kyle Anderson, a 6-8 point guard from Jersey City (N.J.) St. Anthony, and Jordan Adams, a 6-5 shooting guard from Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy.
Nerlens Noel, a 6-11 center who supplanted Muhammad as the top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2012 after recently reclassifying as a senior, said he would attend Kentucky by swiveling in a chair to show “UK” shaved in the hair on the back of his neck.
Muhammad and Anderson are expected to be immediate starters, giving UCLA an infusion of young talent in a college basketball landscape increasingly dominated by star freshmen and sophomores. Kentucky won the national championship last week largely with a core of three freshman starters.
“Everybody in Westwood, L.A., California, get ready for a really good season, a really exciting season,” Muhammad said after his announcement, “and hopefully we can sell out Pauley.”