Perhaps the highest-profile player in the past half-decade at UCLA has also been the most polarizing for casual fans of college hoops and college basketball analysts alike. From the get-go, Muhammad was put under a microscope, his every action scrutinizedâ€”on the court and off of it.Â
This is expected. Muhammad was billed as a transcendent talent, a player many projected would eventually be a bona fide star at the professional level. With such talent, high visibility makes sense.
Of course, what makes matters worse is that Muhammad never did live up to the hype. Instead, Muhammad relegated himself to just another lottery pick in an incredibly weak 2013 draft class, turning in merely above average performances nightly.Â
This contributes largely to UCLA fans' ambivalence about Muhammad, and perhaps accounts for the mixed reaction from fans when the shooting guard declared himself the best player in the 2013 NBA draft.
Indeed, many UCLA fans seem to be in agreement that Muhammad wasn't even the best player on Howland's final UCLA squad. Many would ascribe that label to Kyle Anderson, the do-it-all 6'9'' freshman forward who was taken out of his natural role as playmaker and excelled as the Bruins' best rebounder. Plenty would crown Jordan Adamsâ€”the fallen hero whose injury damned the Bruins' chances of winning a Pac-12 tournament title and advancing in the NCAA tournamentâ€”the best player on the 2012-13 UCLA basketball team.
But Shabazz Muhammad? The player who, many times, shot UCLA out of ball-games? Who seemed to be playing at UCLA only as an audition for an NBA gig? The kid who began the season overweight because he couldn't get enough In-N-Out? Who lied about his ageâ€”he's 20, not 19 as he once claimedâ€”to anyone and everyone?
No, Muhammad never lived up to the billing, a billing, mind you, that he embraced shamelessly. He led UCLA in scoring, but did so at an inefficient rate, and oftentimes at the expense of alienating his teammates from the action on the court. The running joke was that Muhammad's best NBA comparison was Kobe Bryant, not because of his ability to score, but because of his inability to pass. All this was compounded by the fact that he never proved to be the elite athlete the mix-tapes made him out to be. Instead, Shabazz relied on brute strength for positioning and rarely had any freakishly athletic moments. He wasn't quick, wasn't fast, and played under the basket far more than UCLA fans had anticipated. In essence, much of what we thought we were getting, as UCLA hoops fanatics, was a mirage.
And it didn't help that Muhammad acted like a prima donna during games, most notably during a game against Washington in which Larry Drew II drained the game-winning shot against the Huskies. Seconds prior, Muhammad ran to the top of the key to put himself in Drew's view, and stomped childishly in an attempt to get the ball in his hands. While that's not an uncommon occurence, Muhammad refused to celebrate Drew's game-winner with the rest of the team, walking slowly towards the pile that hovered around Drew.Â
Because he was born to a USC alum in his father, it appears that lying, entitlement and unbacked arrogance does indeed run in the Trojan blood-line. These traits did, indeed, manifest themselves in Shabazz Muhammad's play and demenor on the court.Â
You've gathered by now that this fan isn't thrilled with Muhammad, and you'd be hard-pressed to find UCLA fans who don't share this sentiment. Muhammad's performance in his lone year in Westwood accounts for much of this negative perception, but his on-court behavior didn't earn him back much respect from the fan-base.Â
To be clear, it's not as if UCLA fans strongly dislike Muhammad, much like they despise bad-boy Reeves Nelson or are unsupportive of fellow one-and-done Jrue Holiday.Â
No, those players were active in their disparagement and destruction of UCLA basketball. Neither were likable characters to begin with, but both did their part in helping to destroy the prestige associated with UCLA.Â
Instead, Muhammad is seen with ambivalence. He'll likely be supported by the UCLA fan-base when he finds himself with an NBA team, but he will never be adored the way Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison are currently adored. Much of Muhammad's success in the NBA will be met with passive joy and the question, "Why couldn't he play like this at UCLA?"
His performance left a lot to be desired, and as a result, so will his support from the Bruin faithful as his career advances.