Shabazz Muhammad Injury: Slow Start Won't Derail Prospect from 2013 NBA Draft

Ethan GrantAnalyst IOctober 26, 2012

Mar 28, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; McDonalds High School All American west team guard Shabazz Muhammad (15) holds up the John Wooden award after being named the MVP of the 35th McDonalds High School All American Game at the United Center.  Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock
Brian Spurlock

UCLA top commit Shabazz Muhammad will likely be in the NBA this time next season.

Despite his current injury and investigation into improper benefits and no collegiate experience, he won't be around UCLA long enough to help the Bruins any more than this one season.

Muhammad will be an early entrant in the 2013 NBA draft, whether or not he ever suits up in blue and gold.

UCLA landed two of the Top 10 recruits in the nation in Muhammad and Kyle Anderson. Both are still under investigation by the NCAA, and Muhammad is now expected to miss two to four weeks with a shoulder injury he suffered in practice on Wednesday.

He's not expected to require shoulder surgery.

To make matters worse for the Bruins, pending reviews on both athletes are still in full swing, and there is no timetable in sight for when the NCAA will rule on the separate cases. Even if Muhammad wasn't injured, there was no guarantee he'd be playing against Georgetown in his team's season opener.

Paving the way for Muhammad to enter the NBA draft is Enes Kanter, the former Kentucky commit who was ineligible to participate for coach John Calipari during the 2010-11 season. He entered the draft and was a top lottery pick by the Utah Jazz, who now consider him a building block for the future.

Muhammad, who chose UCLA over other high-profile programs like Duke and Kentucky, gave the Bruins one of the best recruiting classes in recent memory.

The Las Vegas native is a projected starter and integral to UCLA's march towards modeling its program like the success at Kentucky over the past few years with one-and-done prospects.

Instead of joining Nerlens Noel at Kentucky to form a college super team, Muhammad, who's drawn comparisons to fellow lefty James Harden, chose to stay local and try to bring back some prestige to the UCLA program.

But that can't happen if he can't get on the court, and there seems to be no end in sight.

USA Today's Dan Wolken isn't high on his chances to return any time soon, going off past experiences with NCAA athletes over the past 10 years of this "recruiting violation" age we currently live in.

Shabazz Muhammad's lawyer argues to LA Times he wasn't under NCAA jurisdiction until he signed. When you're going to that card...Uh oh.

— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) October 22, 2012

That kind of argument can signal that Muhammad's camp is backpedaling somewhat in this investigation. If he hadn't received any improper benefits, there would be no reason to claim NCAA jurisdiction irrelevant.

By the time this decision comes down, it might be too late for Muhammad to do anything but stay at the school and get ready for the NBA draft on his own time.

That was the case for Kanter, whose final ruling didn't come down until January, well into the college basketball season and past the point of no return.

If he is ruled permanently ineligible or even put on probation deep into the season, there's no chance this kid returns to UCLA. He's projected at the top of almost all draft boards right now, and a full year on a college campus won't change that unless a serious injury affects one of his NBA workouts.

UCLA will have to survive, for now, with returning center Joshua Smith and North Carolina transfer Larry Drew while the Bruins await the NCAA's decision. Should the ruling come down negative, it would cripple the hopes of the Bruins this season.

It won't hurt the hopes of Muhammad, though, who might be wearing Michael Jordan orange and blue this time next season.