LOS ANGELES – No. 13 UCLA took a big loss before its season even began on Friday night.
The NCAA ruled freshman Shabazz Muhammad is ineligible to play basketball after violating amateurism rules, leaving the Bruins without their highly touted recruit to start the season.
The school announced the NCAA's ruling in a statement from athletic director Dan Guerrero about 80 minutes before the Bruins' season opener against Indiana State on Friday night, which was expected to be a celebration of the reopening of newly renovated Pauley Pavilion. UCLA won 86-59 with Muhammad watching from the bench dressed in a blue UCLA sweat suit.
"The NCAA has finally determined that a violation of the NCAA amateurism rules has occurred involving UCLA freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad and his family," Guerrero said. "As a result, he is ineligible for competition at this time. We are extremely disappointed that the NCAA has made this determination."
Guerrero said UCLA believes "the decision is incorrect and unjust to Shabazz."
He said the school will pursue its options to challenge the NCAA ruling.
"Very disappointing," coach Ben Howland said after the game. "I feel terrible for Shabazz because he is a great kid. We were very optimistic he was going to be cleared today. We're hopeful it's going to be something that is worked out in the near future."
Howland said he found out the decision three hours before the game. He also said Muhammad practiced Thursday for the first time in two weeks after straining his right shoulder on Oct. 25.
The NCAA didn't give a timetable for Muhammad's ineligibility in its statement. It said he "is not eligible to compete in tonight's game due to violations of NCAA amateurism rules. In addition to other pending issues, Muhammad accepted travel and lodging during three unofficial visits to two NCAA member schools."
"He's handling it extremely well, the best he possibly could," said freshman Kyle Anderson, who was cleared to play last week after a separate NCAA investigation. "He's keeping his composure and working hard waiting for the day he can get back out there."
The NCAA had been investigating Muhammad for months involving alleged improper benefits he received in his recruitment from boosters of his Las Vegas AAU program and the alleged improper acceptance of airline flights for some of his recruiting visits. He chose UCLA over Kentucky and Duke.
The NCAA said its staff requested specific documents on July 31 to help evaluate Muhammad's eligibility. However, the NCAA said its enforcement staff didn't receive the majority of the requested documents for review until Sept. 25, followed by more information on Oct. 10, and what it called "additional critical information" on Nov. 1.
Muhammad's parents were interviewed last week, according to the NCAA. It said NCAA staff and UCLA submitted the agreed-upon facts on Nov. 9 and a decision was rendered within hours.
Muhammad tweeted, "Cool shirts some fans made and will wear tonight if I don't play in the game!!!!" He attached a photo of a blue T-shirt with his face that said "Free Shabazz" and added the hashtag (hash)lovethefansthough.
A fan at the game held up a sign with the same expression. Muhammad's photo and jersey number were shown during pre-game introductions on the video board.
Howland said last week that he was "very confident" about Muhammad being cleared to play.
Anderson was cleared to play after the NCAA said it found no evidence to substantiate claims of potential recruiting violations. The forward from Jersey City, N.J., was among the nation's top recruits last spring and had 10 points and 10 rebounds in his first collegiate start Friday night.
"That team, with or without Shabazz, is a team that can win the national championship," Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said.