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As his star grows, Gorman’s Shabazz Muhammad focuses on avoiding hype

6-foot-6 wing, the biggest hoops recruit in Las Vegas history, trying not to look past this weekend

Shabazz and Rashad Muhammad

Leila Navidi

Shabazz Muhammad talks to his father, Ron Holmes, while practicing at Bishop Gorman High School Wednesday, July 20, 2011. Muhammad, the nation’s top recruit in the 2012 class, will lead his Dream Vision squad into action in the adidas Super 64 at Rancho High this weekend.

Shabazz and Rashad Muhammad

Shabazz Muhammad practices at Bishop Gorman High School Wednesday, July 20, 2011. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

Recruiting season hits its peak

This week on Sports Talk - doubling as The Rebel Room podcast - Ray Brewer and Ryan Greene break down a busy recruiting month for Dave Rice and his UNLV men's basketball staff. The crazy weekend in Las Vegas included three big tournaments, and the the guys will fill you in on who the staff made sure to go watch, who has emerged as the primary recruiting targets and who could likely be the next commit - or two - in the class of 2012.

Ron Holmes can remember when his older son struggled to handle pressure.

Long before Shabazz Muhammad was a 6-foot-6 powerhouse and one of the nation’s most prized basketball recruits, he’d psych himself out in the family’s garage, shooting baskets in an undersized hoop.

The challenge from dad to his 5-year-old son was simple: Make 10 free throws in a row, get $10.

“He would get so excited when he would get to eight or nine that he would then always miss,” Holmes said with a smile. “I can’t really say when (that changed), but it just happened.”

On July 6, Holmes knew for sure his son could handle pressure.

That’s when the Bishop Gorman senior-to-be was put under the most intense spotlight of his career.

Just before heading off to the adidas Invitational in Indianapolis — the first of several major events during the busiest month on the summer AAU hoops circuit — Muhammad was tapped by as the No. 1 player in his class in its Top 150 rankings.

The legitimacy of such scouting services’ rankings has long been up for debate, but they are viewed as gospel by more people than not. He was previously ranked No. 3, but even with the minor bump, the size of the target on his back increased immensely. To boot, Muhammad had hardly played in a month because of knee tendinitis and would be suiting up in front of countless college coaches wanting to see how he’d respond.

Forty-two points later, in a comeback victory against Indiana Elite, everyone had the answer.

“I knew it was going to be different after that,” Muhammad said. “I was really nervous before that game. About three minutes into the game, I realized I just had to play and get over it.”

He hasn’t looked back, living up to the hype everywhere he’s laced up while simultaneously setting the stage for what will be one of the most heated and followed recruiting battles of the coming months.

The next stop for his Dream Vision squad is Muhammad’s home turf, host to the adidas Super 64 at Rancho High, beginning at 10:20 a.m. Friday with a showdown against the Atlanta Celtics. Pool play goes through Saturday before the tournament wraps up with a single-elimination tournament Sunday to Tuesday.

For college coaches, July is mostly an evaluation period. Contact with potential recruits is forbidden at tournaments. Behind the scenes, many of them are already formulating plans to try and sway Muhammad in their direction.

His game makes them salivate. Ranking aside, there’s little question that he’s the top prize in the 2012 crop. With his size and ability, Muhammad can play all five positions. Opposing coaches rave about how he combines his elevation off the floor with the deft touch on his shot. He can defend. He can rebound. He can produce jaw-dropping highlights. He can take over games when he has to. He’s the biggest recruit Las Vegas has ever produced.

But while the recruiting storm is brewing, Shabazz is insulated from it all.

“I’ve been focusing on AAU,” he said. “After this (month), I’m going to sit down with my parents, and then we’ll figure all of that out.”

His parents laid out a plan long ago for how they wanted the school-selection process to play out. So far, so good.

After July, they’ll start narrowing the list of schools. Then they’ll take their allowed five official visits. And finally, a decision. Simple.

“I know that a lot of coaches are getting a little frustrated, and they want it to be on their terms,” Holmes said. “But it’s going to be on our terms.”

Big-time recruits often tease coaches and fans by giving hints as to which schools are in the running or who is 'leading' throughout the process.

So far, Muhammad hasn't played that game.

That, of course, has led to waves of speculation and rumors over the past month. Given how active Muhammad is on Twitter, he’s seen and read it all, developing a thick shield along the way.

Advice on how to handle everything has come from some pretty esteemed hoops counsel this summer.

Muhammad has traveled to Los Angeles with his family, and while there, he’s worked out with several of today’s young NBA stars who once were in his shoes, such as John Wall, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose. Just last weekend, it was former UCLA standout and current New Orleans Hornet Trevor Ariza.

He’s built up a pretty impressive contact list in his iPhone and developed some relationships that most young basketball players could only dream of. Muhammad said he texts with Wall — a one-year Kentucky standout now with the Washington Wizards — almost daily. No matter who the advice comes from, though, it’s consistent and not that complicated.

“They just say play hard,” he said. “At the end of the day, if you’re not doing that, everyone who’s said you’re so good could become your enemy. I just have to continue with what I’m doing, then go from there.”

Even though Muhammad says he’s not focusing on it, his recruitment is seemingly all that anyone wants to talk about when his name comes up. And the sticking subplot is how the hometown school — UNLV — fits into the equation.

Many outside of Las Vegas scoff at UNLV’s chances in a race that will likely include blue-blood programs such as Kentucky, UCLA, Arizona and Duke. But that has never deterred both the Rebels’ previous and present coaching staffs — and even their fans — from pushing, nor will it.

Dave Rice, who was hired by UNLV in early April and is the older brother of Gorman coach Grant Rice, made a point of sitting courtside at each of Muhammad’s games since landing his dream job. He had a relationship with the family before returning to his alma mater, and it’s only strengthened since then.

When Rice settled into his new job, one of his first orders of business was to secure a commitment from USC transfer Bryce Jones, who not only will be a dynamic addition to the program, but also is one of Muhammad’s closest friends. The two families have been tight since Muhammad and Bryce were children. Holmes and Muhammad even drove down to Los Angeles this week so the two could work out together, and then packed Jones’ stuff to bring him to UNLV to move into his new place and register for classes.

Before that, on the first day of the spring recruiting period, just days before Rice took over at UNLV, Gorman held an open workout, with big names such as Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams peppering one sideline to check out the school’s bevy of Division I prospects. Meanwhile, coachless UNLV was represented by about 40 scarlet-clad fans on the other side of the floor, having organized the outing via a message board thread in an attempt to mark their territory.

Their desire to see Muhammmad one day at the Thomas & Mack Center even went viral this week, when local art director Josh Meeter created a 30-second faux Nike commercial featuring Muhammad waving his arms in a No. 15 UNLV uniform.

It borders on obsessive, but if UNLV does miss out on Muhammad, it certainly won’t be from a lack of effort.

The attention hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“I appreciate that stuff,” Muhammad said. “UNLV is doing a really good job of recruiting me, and even the fans are recruiting me. That’s what it’s all about: You want to have fun with your recruitment. Everybody’s here. My family’s here. I’ve lived here 12 years. My coach’s brother is the head coach. I really like the program, so they’re going to continue to be in my recruitment."

Added Holmes: “It would be tough (to say no to UNLV) because of our relationship with Dave Rice. They’re doing a really good job. He’s said some good things, he lets us know the truth about Shabazz and what he plans for Shabazz. We really like him. I like what he’s done so far in coaching, and I think he can duplicate that (success) at UNLV.”

But that decision comes later.

Muhammad says playing in the Super 64 in his hometown is one of the major highlights of his busy summer schedule. Playing to win it and refine his game comes first. Everything else can wait awhile longer.

It’s all part of the family plan.

“He’s always been a scorer, but now we’re trying to make him into a basketball player,” Holmes said. “All he used to care about was scoring, rebounding and dunking on guys. Now it’s about the little things if he wants to reach his full potential.

“We approach it as: Go out and play as hard as you can, and let everything else take care of itself.”

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