Expectations were high for the UCLA Bruins, as usual, entering the college hoops season. They had a standout freshmen class, led by Shabazz Muhammad, and were ranked No. 13 in the preseason AP poll. Since then, however, Muhammad missed three games as the NCAA sorted out an eligibility issue and the Bruins have started just 5-3, including a loss to Cal Poly.
Still, with the Pac-12 season really not that far off, Muhammad sees the team coming together and still has high expectations for a group he thinks many people now consider a sleeper.
Shabazz Muhammad joined Fox Sports Radio with Petros and Money to discuss missing the first three games of the year, jelling with his teammates since he’s been eligible, the expectations for him and UCLA going forward, struggling defensively early on and playing for coach Ben Howland.
Why did the NCAA hold you out to start the season?:
“It’s a big relief. There was a situation where they thought I was getting my visits paid for. It was just a bad circumstance for me. I’m just happy to be on the court right now. I’m very relieved to be playing.”
Now that you’ve been back for a little bit, how are you meshing with your teammates?:
“It’s going well. Obviously, the first couple games were really tough on me. It was hard jelling with my teammates. I think every game for me is going way smoother and I think we’re jelling as a team more.”
What are your expectations for you and your teammates this year?:
“I expect us to be a sleeper. We lost a couple games and now people aren’t as high on us. But I think, coming into the Pac-12 [season], we’re going to really do some things. We’re really starting to get better as a team in practice, so I think we’re going to come along and be a really good team.”
What can you say about the team’s struggles defensively thus far?:
“I think it had a lot to do with our team effort. If we want to win games, we’ve got to lock down and play defense. And Coach Howland has really influenced us a lot in practice to get down and really play hard on D. And it’s really changing for us and we have to really do that to win games.”
Your dad played at USC in the 1980s. How close did you come to going there? And when was the first time you beat him one-on-one?:
“We never play one-on-one now because he has a little ankle injury. That may be an excuse for why he don’t want to play me. But SC was really a big college decision for me, not going there. I mean, my dad liked it a lot, but when I started to get recruited by all the other top schools in the country, it was a big thing for me.”
So why UCLA?:
“I just think the tradition; the tradition is second to none. With Coach Wooden and all the great players they had come here. And it’s really close to home. And it’s a great program all around, and Coach Howland is a great guy. I wanted to come down here and really learn how to play defense, and he’s a defensive genius. So, it’s really a good situation for me and I’m really becoming a better player.”
What about Howland’s philosophy offensively?:
“He’s definitely changed up our offense. He’s really become a players’ coach and the guys that we have are really getting out in transition. … I think it’s really working for us.”
What’s the process going to be like as you look ahead? Are you a one-and-done guy?:
“That comes after the season. Right now I’m worried about winning as many games as possible. … I’m coming in here to try to win as many games as we can and really improve our team.”