The UCLA faithful formally bid farewell to a one-time Bruin on Saturday: departing senior point guard and former North Carolina transfer Larry Drew III.
A different one-year Bruin starter who wasn’t honored during the team’s 74-69 win over Arizona, however, is sure to be missed the most.
To the surprise of very few, UCLA freshman scoring ace Shabazz Muhammad will follow Drew out of Westwood at the end of the season to jump-start his pursuit of a fertile NBA career. A sure-fire lottery pick expected to find a suitor in the back-half of the Top 10, Muhammad, according to his coach, will submit his name into the NBA draft this June.
“That was his last game in Pauley, no doubt about it,” Ben Howland told reporters after the game, which moved the Bruins back into a tie top the Pac-12 standings.
UCLA wraps up the regular season in the Evergreen State — beginning with a road tilt against Washington State on Wednesday followed by a weekend clash with Washington — rendering last Saturday’s Senior Night celebration the final opportunity for Bruins Nation to catch a peek at the rookie star in its fabled home venue.
Muhammad scored 13 of his game-high 18 points — matching his season average too, fittingly enough — in the second half to lift UCLA past Arizona for the second time this season. He chipped in eight of UCLA’s last 15 points, including the final five, corralled an all-important rebound with nine seconds to play and sunk a pair of free throws to ice the game for good.
Through the plight of a messy NCAA investigation into his eligibility and an inauspicious start to a UCLA season buzzing with high expectations, Muhammad molded into one of the nation’s elite young scorers. The Last Vegas native must become a more unselfish player and develop his right hand for the next level — teams that forced the southpaw to his weak side had better success defending him than those that didn’t — but he has tempting upside relative to what figures to be a weak draft class.
Shabazz Muhammad came to college as a lethal stat-stuffer with the intention of only staying in school for one season. He’ll honor those dreams and depart in even better physical shape, minus the unwanted red flags raised by a college governing body hot on his tail.