Shabazz Muhammad is trying to put his past behind him, but his past won’t leave him behind.
The 20-year-old wing out of UCLA is hoping repair his reputation in the eyes of teams like the Sacramento Kings ahead of this month’s NBA Draft. Before, during and after his lone season of college basketball, Muhammad has dealt with a number of off-the-court issues that have left front offices wondering if he’s worth the trouble.
“Most of that stuff I couldn’t control myself,” Muhammad said following his pre-draft workout in Sacramento yesterday. “so I’m just, like I said, looking forward to playing basketball and I think I’m doing a good job.”
At the start of the college basketball season, Muhammad was suspended for three games while the NCAA investigated whether he received impermissible travel benefits in high school. Then in March, the Los Angeles Times discovered that Muhammad was actually a year older (20) than his listed age.
Most recently, Muhammad’s troubles have extended to his family. His father Ron Holmes, who has played a significant role in navigating his son’s basketball career so far, was charged by the feds for mortgage fraud just a few weeks ago.
When teams ask him about these issues, Muhammad says that he faces them head on and doesn’t shy away from the scrutiny.
“I like telling them,” Muhammad said. ”I like explaining. I didn’t do anything wrong. I mean like I said, that was in the past with some people that were handling my basketball (career). It’s just all me (now). I’m all into myself. I work with myself. I represent myself now.”
Despite the questions surrounding him off-the-court, Muhammad seems to be carrying himself with a positive and workman-like attitude on it. He says he’s focusing on things that he can control like addressing his weaknesses in an effort to quell any concerns about his NBA ceiling.
Under former coach Ben Howland, Muhammad played in a half-court, grind-it-out system at UCLA. Most of his scoring came from opportunistic situations like spot-up jumpers coming off screens or putbacks following offensive rebounds. So when he addressed the media in Sacramento yesterday, the 20-year-old swingman made a point to emphasize that there’s more to his offensive game, specifically that he can handle the basketball and shoot well off the dribble.
“UCLA is a great program, but sometimes you don’t get to run as much,” Muhammad said. ”In the NBA, I get to show more and what I can really do and everybody’s gonna really see that.”
As a player that plays the small forward position, the Kings could certainly use someone of Muhammad’s pedigree. But would his score-first mentality fit on a team that already has a plethora of scorers?
UCLA’s defensive style of play under Howland could actually help Muhammad in a transition to a team like the Kings. Standing at 6-foot-6, he’s a bit undersized to play the three at the NBA level, but his length makes up the difference. Muhammad thinks that he could be a factor defensively on the wing for a team like Sacramento.
“I think I can really help them on the defensive end, even grabbing defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds,” Muhammad said. “Just being active and just helping them out on defense and offense, on both ends.”
Muhammad has three more stops scheduled in his pre-draft workout tour: Portland (10th overall), Minnesota (ninth overall) and Detroit (eighth overall). However, he believes he could be an option for the Kings with the No. 7 pick and would look forward to playing in the capital city if afforded the chance.
“If there was an opportunity to come here, I would love to experience (it),” Muhammad said. ”This gym makes you want to be in here all day. I mean the facility is second-to-none and the coach is great. This is a great opportunity and if I had a chance to come here, I could give them a lot of options.”