No. 13 UCLA prepares for season opener without freshman Shabazz Muhammad
LOS ANGELES – Shabazz Muhammad is physically "real close" to being able to play his first game for No. 13 UCLA after losing time because of a shoulder injury. When the NCAA decides whether the freshman guard is eligible is up in the air.
Muhammad has been relegated to watching from the sideline as the Bruins prepare for their season opener Friday night against Indiana State at new Pauley Pavilion. He strained his right shoulder during practice Oct. 25.
Coach Ben Howland said Monday the star recruit is able to shoot the ball and "Physically, there's a possibility for sure" that he could be ready by Friday. But Muhammad has been given no timeline for a resolution of the NCAA investigation involving alleged improper benefits he received in his recruitment from boosters of his Las Vegas AAU program.
Muhammad was one of the nation's mostly highly sought-after recruits last spring when he chose UCLA over Kentucky and Duke.
Freshman Kyle Anderson was cleared to play by the NCAA last week after being investigated for potential recruiting violations. The forward from Jersey City, N.J., was among the nation's top recruits last spring, and is projected to start Friday's game.
"Definitely a load off my shoulders," he said after practice. "Just something you had to let play itself out."
That's what Muhammad is finding out as time goes on. He had been practicing with the team until he hurt his shoulder, having twisted his ankle earlier.
"All of us want him to play," center Joshua Smith said. "The guy is 18 and he just wants to play. He's waiting and waiting and waiting to hear something. He's at every practice watching or on the sideline getting ready. Right now we got to do it with the players we have."
Besides Anderson, Howland will likely start twins David and Travis Wear, Norman Powell and Larry Drew II, who sat out last season after transferring from North Carolina and is the Bruins' only true senior.
Tyler Lamb, who had arthroscropic left knee surgery on Oct. 9, might be available to play Friday, Howland said. The guard practiced for 40 minutes Monday and will try to go an hour Thursday.
The Bruins will unveil the new up tempo style they've been practicing against Indiana State in the first game to be played at the newly renovated arena. The Sycamores were specially chosen to help christen the building because the Terre Haute, Ind., school is the only university besides UCLA where the late John Wooden coached.
Wooden coached two seasons at what was then called Indiana State Teacher's College, posting a 44-15 record from 1946-48. Besides coaching basketball, he helped with the baseball team and served as athletic director while completing his master's degree in education. Wooden then left for Los Angeles, and began coaching the Bruins in 1948. He led UCLA to 10 NCAA championships, including a record seven straight, during his 27 years.
"It's special for coach Wooden's family," David Wear said. "There's definitely going to be a buzz in the building."
The Sycamores went 18-15 last season, including an 8-10 record in the Missouri Valley Conference. They return one starter.
"Probably a lot of people don't expect them to win, so they're going to play hard," Smith said. "We have to match their intensity."
Besides wanting to win the first game played in new Pauley, the Bruins will be on guard after what happened last season. They were ranked in the preseason, then lost their first two games to mid-majors Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State and dropped out of the Top 25. It was the start of a downward spiral that included star player Reeves Nelson getting kicked off the team in December and a Sports Illustrated article that depicted a program in turmoil under Howland.
"Last year we looked ahead at our schedule and forgot teams were looking for us," Smith said. "We thought we could waltz in and win (against Loyola Marymount) and they beat us. We made a lot of mistakes last year.
"I'm going to be reminding them all the time."