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UCLA Basketball Finds Its Savior

by Paul Franke | University of Michigan

F Posted in: Sports and Culture P Posted on: April 12, 2012

UCLA Facebook and Twitter feeds are blowing up. Last night Shabazz Muhammad, one of the most coveted recruits since LeBron James, committed to become a Bruin. UCLA basketball fans are desperate — and this is the best news they’ve had in years. The past few seasons for Bruins’ fans have been far from what Ben Howland had planned following back-to-back-to-back Final Four appearances. Since then UCLA basketball has won two games in the NCAA Tournament and has twice been snubbed of even an invitation to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).

However, this past year was supposed to be the return to the “glory days.” With the promise of Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith, and other highly-recruited talent, UCLA was a projected as a top twenty team going into this last season. However, the “glory” team quickly lost its footing with losses to Middle Tennessee State and Loyola Marymount University. Their poor showing at the Maui Invitational was discouraging, and shortly thereafter Reeves Nelson was kicked off of the team. Josh Smith, senior point guard, Lazeric Jones, and the Weir twins couldn’t make up for the lost ground, and UCLA finished the year in the middle of a very weak PAC-12 conference without an appearance in the NIT.

Then Ben Howland’s questionable coaching tactics were revealed in a Sports Illustrated article that caused the entire sports world to call his character and coaching ability into question. It seemed as though UCLA was a program destined for doom, but the basketball gods had other plans in mind. Kyle Anderson committed to UCLA in September and was the best recruit the Bruins had landed since Jrue Holiday. Anderson is the third-ranked recruit in the country for the class of 2012 according to Rivals.com and is going to be an immediate play-maker as a Bruin.

Soon after the release of Howland’s mishaps, Anderson claimed that he had no intentions of resigning his loyalty to UCLA. This loyalty was the first step in UCLA’s return to prominence. Jordan Adams, another top recruit then reconfirmed he would also play for UCLA despite the Howland scandal. Josh Smith did the same. UCLA was shaping up to be a team that once again had potential. And then Shabazz Muhammad happened.

Prior to the decision of highly-touted Nerlens Noel to play college basketball with the class of 2012, Shabazz Muhammad had been the undeniable No.1 recruit in the country (and he still is according to Rivals.com). He led his high school Bishop Gorman to three state championships during his time there, during the most recent of which he scored 30 points in the first half to lead his team to a 45-point blowout victory. His talent was highly sought after by every college program in the country before Shabazz was finally able to narrow down his final choices to UCLA, Kentucky, and Duke.

Last night Shabazz made the announcement on ESPN that he would be attending UCLA, to the surprise of some. Despite Howland’s scandal and the current lack of postseason success, Muhammad was clearly not turned away. UCLA’s victory in the “Battle for Shabazz” is just what the program needs to continue to build its great history.

For all college basketball fans that aren’t rooting for UCLA, this could be disastrous. The combination of Anderson and Muhammad ought to be feared like Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook. Muhammad made his intentions for his time at UCLA clear. “I just want to go in and win right away . . . I’m looking to win a national championship,” he told ESPN’s Mitch Sherman.

This is music to the ears of UCLA fans. The Bruins will undoubtedly be propelled deep into the depths of the preseason college basketball polls. And even though that did not prove to mean much last year, there is no denying the immediate success Muhammad and Anderson will bring to the program.

The bottom line is that Howland has somehow found a way to attract the top talent in the country despite UCLA’s recent flaws — and his own. The fact that he was able to land Muhammad over the wondrous Calipari and the Wildcats sends a message all of its own. Next year could finally be the year that UCLA returns to dominance and give John Wooden a good laugh.

That’s not to say they won’t have competition. Muhammad and Anderson will be closely rivaled by The University of Arizona, who has the number two recruiting class in the country. Time will tell, as UCLA fans are ready to pack a newly renovated Pauley Pavillion in anticipation of watching one of the greatest recruiting classes in their history.

Paul Franke Paul Franke Paul Franke is a NGJ Contributor and a freshman studying business and economics at the University of Michigan. He's originally from San Diego, California and hopes he can survive his first Michigan winter.

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