Nam Y. Huh / AP Photo
Wednesday, March 28, 2012 | 9:26 p.m.
Shabazz Muhammad wins McDonald's dunk title
UNLV is out of the race to sign hometown basketball star Shabazz Muhammad of Bishop Gorman High.
ESPN recruiting expert Dave Telep reported Wednesday during the telecast of the McDonald’s All-American game in Chicago that the 6-foot-6 Muhammad, the nation’s No. 1 overall recruiting prospect, has trimmed his list of schools to three — Duke, Kentucky and UCLA.
In Telep’s blog, which is part of the ESPN Insider package, Muhammad hints he is closer to a decision. “I’m considering five but there are three that [stand out],” Muhammad told Telep.
While there has been much speculation over the last year about Muhammad’s recruitment, this is the first time UNLV has been left off the standout’s list. Just last week, he told the Sun that UNLV was still very much in consideration and he’d make an official decision April 11.
“Coach (Dave) Rice is a great guy, and he’s bringing in a lot of good players,” Muhammad told the Sun. “I’m looking at them hard.”
A week later, however, Telep — a respected reporter from a credible newsgathering organization — informs us otherwise. Muhammad, the two-time Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year and Naismith National Player of the Year, has taken the Rebels off his list.
Earlier, Telep wrote: “UNLV, the school coached by the brother of his high school coach, and Kansas are part of the second tier of programs, if you will, on his list. At this point, following a sit-down interview with the player who has been the star of the first two days of McDonald’s practice, it appears likely he’ll pick between the Bruins, Wildcats and Blue Devils.
“Muhammad understands that the Blue Devils are all in regarding him and have been all year. His affinity for coach Mike Krzyzewski is apparent. Kentucky has emphasized, and rightfully so, its open door from Lexington to the NBA when it comes to elite players. Regarding UCLA, Muhammad freely admits that part of his game that needs altering is defense, and he’s certain Ben Howland would be the guy to address that area.”
All eyes were on Muhammad during Wednesday’s telecast — there was a feature about him during halftime, the announcers spent a majority of the night praising his talents and speculating about his decision, and he drew comparisons to the McDonald’s game’s famous alumni such as Kobe and LeBron.
Everyone wants to get a piece of Muhammad, and ESPN gave us a healthy dosage. On the high school sports landing page on ESPN.com, three stories are about Muhammad.
"Oh man, it's stressful," Muhammad said in a lengthy profile by ESPN’s Jason Jordan. "Just to be on the phone with Coach [Mike] Krzyzewski and listening to him really open up about how bad he needs me, then talk to Coach Cal and Coach [Ben] Howland and Coach [Bill] Self — iIt weighs on you. It's not as glamorous as it sounds because I'm saying no to great options. That's rough."
When the news quickly started spreading on Twitter, UNLV supporters — the same fans who praised Muhammad endlessly over the last year in attempting to lure him to stay in Las Vegas — immediately responded negatively.
The Twitter handle @LVlovesShabazz posted: “It is official. Shabazz has cut down his list to Kentucky, UCLA and Duke. I will deactivate this account tomorrow. Follow @LVlovesABennet.”
The new account is in support of another McDonald’s All-American being courted by UNLV: Findlay Prep post player Anthony Bennett. Bennett is considering UNLV, Florida, Kentucky, Washington and Oregon.
There was also a game on Wednesday. And, like most of his career, Muhammad was unstoppable.
He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, scoring 21 points to lead the West to a 106-102 victory. In the first half, he had 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting (four of the seven field goals were on dunks) with five rebounds.
"When you come to any event you want to be known as the best player," Muhammad told the Chicago Tribune. "At the beginning of the game I was really getting up and down the floor and things went great for me."
His great performances weren’t limited to the game. Monday, he won the event’s dunk contest with a pair of perfect scores in the final round — the final dunk was the top play on SportsCenter. He also dominated during the practices leading up to Wednesday’s game, according to reports.
Those performances won't continue next year in Southern Nevada — something we finally learned Wednesday after months of speculation.