Published June 28, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS – For the first 20 years of his life, almost every time Shabazz Muhammad turned around on a basketball court, his father was right there behind him.
Ron Holmes meticulously planned out and cultivated his son's playing career, from Muhammad's very first days in sneakers, through the construction of AAU teams that allowed his son to become one of the most heavily recruited prep stars in the nation and during his one and only season at UCLA.
Now that Muhammad is preparing to make the long-anticipated jump from college to the pros, he is telling his famously involved — and occasionally trouble-making — father to take a seat on the bench. Muhammad said the two had a conversation last month setting new ground rules for their relationship going forward.
"I talk to him now as a dad," Muhammad said on Friday after being introduced as one of the Minnesota Timberwolves' two first-round draft picks. "He's not really in my basketball (life) anymore.
"I still love the guy. I talk to him about basketball and life. But he doesn't really come around with basketball anymore. I think that's the appropriate thing to do. It's really helping me out a lot."
When Muhammad arrived at UCLA last year, he was hailed as the next great Bruin in the program's storied history and the sure-fire No. 1 draft pick in 2013. But his stock dipped some, partly due to some off-the-court exploits by his father.
Muhammad had to sit out the first three games of the season and repay $1,600 in impermissible benefits after the NCAA and UCLA found that Muhammad accepted travel and lodging during three unofficial visits to Duke and North Carolina, travel arrangements made by his father.
It was also revealed in a Los Angeles Times story in March that Holmes shaved a year off of his son's age when he was young to give Muhammad an advantage against younger competition on the summer AAU circuit and in high school. Muhammad, it was revealed, was actually 20 and not 19.
Holmes also ran into trouble of his own with the law. He served six months' house arrest in 2000 after pleading guilty to using fraudulent bank statements and tax returns to secure mortgages. Earlier in June, Holmes pleaded not guilty to federal bank fraud and conspiracy charges and is again on house arrest.
"There were some slipups with him. We definitely talked about that," Muhammad said. "That's why I loved doing interviews with NBA teams because they said, 'When you look at him, they're like this kid didn't do anything. He's a good kid.' That's one thing I wanted to reach out to everybody doing the interviews with me.
"My dad is a great guy, but with basketball, we don't really talk about it. He's just being a dad and just helping me out with life now."
New Timberwolves President Flip Saunders had some of those concerns and conversations with Muhammad in the pre-draft process.
"When we sat down and talked to him he owned up to anything in his previous history that he's dealt with," Saunders said. "And a lot of that didn't have to do with him. It had to do with some other people involved. I felt comfortable with that. Not only did he own up to it, I felt he had a little chip on his shoulder because of where everything was at."
Former UCLA coach Ben Howland watched Muhammad deal with the scrutiny that comes with being such a hyped recruit, and the ensuing adversity with his three-game suspension and the revelation of his true age.
"I think he handled adversity extremely well and he had a lot of it," Howland said. "The stuff with the NCAA and not knowing when he was going to be cleared, he stayed positive, worked hard, supported his teammates through the whole process."
Maybe for the first time in his basketball life, Muhammad is facing serious doubts about his abilities on the court. He averaged 17.9 points a game, but even Saunders acknowledged that he had a tendency to coast on occasion during games. His ability to shoot from long range and go to his right also are being questioned, but Muhammad remains confident.
"I love changing people's opinions," he said.
Howland and Saunders said playing in coach Rick Adelman's system that is predicated on passing and moving without the ball will help him blossom into the player many projected him to be when he was a prep star in Las Vegas. But being able to draw a line in the sand in his relationship with his father, and asserting himself as his own man, may be as important to that process as anything else.
"It was difficult," Muhammad said of that conversation. "Growing up since I was a kid, he was always in the gym with me. And now he's not in the gym with me. It's difficult. But it's been a month and I'm starting to be a grown man. So I'm just used to it and trying to have fun with it and he's happy I got drafted to the Timberwolves."
NOTES: The Timberwolves exercised their option for F Dante Cunningham's deal, meaning he will return to Minnesota next year. Cunningham averaged a career-high 8.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game last season.
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