Published Wednesday, April 11, 2012 | 4:55 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, April 11, 2012 | 7:34 p.m.
The most prolific high school basketball player in Las Vegas history won’t stray far from home for his college career.
Bishop Gorman senior Shabazz Muhammad, the nation’s top prospect according to Rivals.com, announced Wednesday that he would attend UCLA next year. UCLA edged Kentucky and Duke to land Muhammad, who also considered UNLV and Kansas before trimming his list last month.
"It was so hard with the three schools I had," Muhammad said on television immediately after the announcement. "I'll still really love and will be a fan of Kentucky and Duke, but I'm happy to be a Bruin."
Muhammad revealed his college choice live on ESPNU from Charlotte, N.C., where he’s participating in the Jordan Brand Classic. The announcement concludes one of the most dissected recruitments in recent years on the first day of the spring signing period.
Muhammad was on the national radar since his freshman year at Gorman. By the time he was a junior, Muhammad had scholarship offers from every top-level basketball program in the country.
"I could tell the decision has been weighing on him the last two or three weeks," Gorman coach Grant Rice said. "I think he's really excited it's over."
"There's been a lot of pressure on him all year with all these schools coming at him in different ways. There was the hometown pressure to stay here and be the hometown hero. That's tough to deal with, and then there were several of the best coaches in college basketball coming to sell him on their program. It gets to the point where there are so many good options that it's confusing and you don't know what to do."
Muhammad spoke highly of UCLA coach Ben Howland throughout the entire process. In the end, the relationship with Howland served as a deciding factor.
“I just think how comfortable I was with the coach,” Muhammad said. “That’s what it really came down to.”
Howland led the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours from 2005-2008. UCLA has missed the NCAA Tournament in two of the four years since and hasn’t advanced beyond the first weekend.
Muhammad will look to change that next year.
“I think it’s a challenge knowing how bad they were these last two years," Muhammad said. "It’s a challenge to really get them back to the top."
Muhammad’s commitment boosted the rank of UCLA’s recruiting class to No. 3 in the nation, according to ESPN, behind only Kentucky and Arizona.
The Bruins already had commitments from incoming blue-chip prospects Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, which Muhammad said influenced his decision.
“There’s a lot of bits and pieces that could make it a really great team,” he said.
Muhammad averaged 29 points and 10 rebounds in leading Gorman to its third state championship in four years this season. Two of the other stars on that team, Ben Carter and Rosco Allen, will become Pac 12 rivals to Muhammad next season.
Carter is headed to Oregon, while Allen committed to Stanford. Rice looks forward to watching the three former teammates face off against each other, especially at the Pac 12 tournament which relocates to the MGM Grand Garden Arena next season.
"I'm happy they'll all be on the west coast," Rice said. "I think it's a good thing for a lot of people who want to watch them play."
Muhammad is widely viewed as NBA-ready — at least one mock draft projects him as the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft — meaning it's a long shot he'll spend more than one year at UCLA.
It’s also possible that Muhammad could miss time during his freshman season because of an NCAA investigation. According to a CBSSports.com report, the NCAA alerted schools recruiting Muhammad about questions regarding his amateur status earlier this year.
But that wasn’t the topic of conversation Wednesday. It was a celebration of one of the most heralded high school athletes in the country taking the next step in his career.
Muhammad offered a final message to UCLA fans before departing the ESPN set.
“Everybody in Westwood, L.A., California, get ready for a really good season, a really exciting season,” Muhammad said. “Hopefully, we can sell out Pauley (Pavilion).”