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April 11, 2012

UCLA lands nation's top player in Muhammad

MORE: 2012 Rivals150 | Noel picks UK

Wednesday was quite a day for Shabazz Muhammad.

The 6-foot-6 senior shooting guard from Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman started his day by being named the top player in the final Rivals150 for the class of 2012. Muhammad finished it by announcing his decision to attend UCLA for what will most likely be his one year of college basketball.

While Ben Howland's Bruins had been the favorites to land the powerful scorer, neither Howland nor Bruin fans could celebrate until Muhammad went on ESPNU and made things official on Wednesday night.

"It was down to Kentucky, Duke and UCLA and I chose to be a Bruin," Muhammad said during a televised appearance on ESPNU. "I'll be at UCLA next year."

According to Muhammad, he felt the most comfortable with the UCLA staff and was intrigued by the challenge of helping to bring the Bruins back to national prominence.

"I just think it's a challenge," Muhammad said. "Knowing how bad they were these last two years, it's a challenge to really get them back up to the top knowing they are the leaders in all-time championships with 11."

The commitment of the nation's top player should go a long way to helping ease the sting of recent negative publicity for the UCLA program. The Bruins have missed the NCAA tournament, watched players come and go either due to dismissal or early entry to the NBA Draft, and been the subject of a not-so-flattering look behind the scenes of the program courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

But the Muhammad commitment isn't about easing the sting of a few rough years. It's all about helping one of college basketball's bluebloods accelerate a return to prominence.

Not only do the Bruins have the nation's top player coming next year, they also have the nation's third-best player in Kyle Anderson and the No. 62 overall player, Jordan Adams, joining them. The trio will mix with a solid group of veterans and add serious perimeter firepower to a team that will not lack for interior options.

Anderson may benefit the most from the addition of Muhammad. A product of Jersey City (N.J.) St. Anthony, Anderson is one of the most dynamic and unique playmakers to head to the college level since Jalen Rose went to Michigan. With near 6-foot-9 size, Anderson is capable of playing anywhere on the floor from the point to the power forward. With a scorer such as Muhammad on board - someone who commands the respect of the defense on all three levels of the offensive end of the floor - Anderson is free to roam and make plays, knowing that he has options on the interior and the perimeter.

"Kyle Anderson is a great addition to that program with Jordan Adams," said Muhammad. "Hopefully Tony Parker will come and there's a lot of bits and pieces with that team that could make it a great team in the future."

Though the UCLA class is only at three players total, the fact that the Bruins have two of the nation's top three players gives them a recruiting class that is least among the nation's top three and will challenge for the overall top spot when team rankings are updated on Friday.



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