UCLA stumbles in Muhammad's debut

November, 20, 2012
11/20/12
12:40
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Shabazz MuhammadDebby Wong/US PresswireShabazz Muhammad was clearly rusty in his NCAA debut as UCLA fell to Georgetown.
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- UCLA had worked on Shabazz Muhammad's eligibility for 22 weeks, and the verdict was based on information that ultimately never changed, according to UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero.

Guerrero said Monday night that he has been in college athletics for 30 years, and this was the first time that he had to deal with something so frustrating. Muhammad was dinged with a three-game suspension and a $1,600 restitution penalty for expenses from unofficial visits to the Triangle in North Carolina while in high school. UCLA and the NCAA knew that information in the spring after gathering documents and conducting interviews, Guerrero said, but didn't reach the same conclusion until the NCAA's decision was made Friday.

The wait for Muhammad was worth it for UCLA, considering he is the most heralded Bruin recruit since Kevin Love signed and led UCLA to the 2008 Final Four.

Muhammad's numbers were more than admirable for a player of his stature, especially considering he had missed nine weeks of the preseason with a left ankle injury, didn't accompany the team to China on a foreign-bonding trip, and then sat out a few weeks with a shoulder injury.

Muhammad scored 15 points in 25 minutes but wasn't a factor inside, grabbing just one rebound.

Oh, and the Bruins lost 78-70 to Georgetown in the semifinals of the Legends Classic, preventing a coveted Muhammad-Cody Zeller (even though they wouldn't have guarded each other) headline event in the championship game Tuesday night at the Barclays Center.

Instead, the Hoyas -- led by their own undervalued national player of the year candidate, Otto Porter (18 points), and outspoken but effective guard Markel Starks (23 points) -- get a crack at No. 1 Indiana (10 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Let's just say that Muhammad wasn't impressed with his performance, felt out of sync a bit. Porter and Starks were hardly fawning over him, either.

"He's been getting a lot of media attention, and he performed well under the lights," Starks said. "He's in college basketball now, and he has to show and improve every night. But obviously the spotlight is going to be on him. He's going to have to live up to expectations."

"He's a good player," said Porter, who had been bothered by concussion symptoms last week and played in his first full game Monday. "Don't get me wrong, we just came out and outworked UCLA."

"I think I can be a lot better," Muhammad said. "At the end I felt more comfortable. It was my first college basketball game, and I look forward to being better."

Muhammad said missing the team's trip to China did leave him on the outside while the team gelled. He is trying to get back in game shape, too. And he desperately wanted to play against Indiana.

"It really doesn't feel good inside. I wanted a shot at them," Muhammad said. "But we know we really aren't ready yet."

Georgetown is, though, and the Hoyas will get an opportunity to knock the Hoosiers off their perch.

Muhammad will/should be fine. He will get plenty of touches against Georgia in the consolation game Tuesday night. He'll ultimately give the Bruins quite a trio with Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, who struggled with zero points against the Hoyas.

UCLA started anew with the addition of Muhammad. Of course, something went sideways when David Wear injured his back on a nasty fall, leaving him questionable going forward.

But who would have thought that the Hoyas, not the Bruins, would look like the team ready to challenge Indiana in late November?

"We'll find out tomorrow if we're ready," Starks said. "We've been in the gym and we compete every day. We'll find out who shows up [Tuesday]."

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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