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Kentucky Basketball: Lucky Kentucky?

UCLA 2012 signee Shabazz Muhammad's initial eligibility is under investigation by the NCAA.
UCLA 2012 signee Shabazz Muhammad's initial eligibility is under investigation by the NCAA.

There have been a number of articles being written about Shabazz Muahmmad lately, some of them indicating that Kentucky "dodged a bullet" by not getting a commitment from Shabazz Muhammad, but did they?

Some media reports have suggested that UCLA itself is under NCAA investigation for its recruiting this past year, even our brethren at the SB Nation Mothership with this headline, "UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad Ineligible As NCAA Investigates Possible Infractions." But the text of the article tells a different story:

When Muhammad was being recruited, there were serious questions as to whether he would be eligible to play in college because of his connections to certain individuals. Muhammad's connections with advisers like Benjamin Lincoln and Ken Kavanagh were of serious concern. According to Jeff Goodman and Gary Parrish of CBS Sports, Lincoln is believed to have paid for two of Muhammad's unofficial visits to college campuses and Kavanagh funnelled money to one of Muhammad's summer teams. [sic]

This is just a little bit different from what the headline, while technically accurate, wants us to conclude. UCLA isn't actually under investigation, and when most sports fans see the words "NCAA" and "infractions" used in the same sentence, they think about the school, not the player, especially when talking about a recruit.

What is actually happening here is that the NCAA is looking into initial eligibility questions about Shabazz Muhammad to play anywhere in college basketball. That doesn't mean they won't look at UCLA's recruiting as it applies to Muhammad, but this situation looks a lot more like John Wall's initial eligibility problems than the recruiting infractions of Tennessee under Loose Bruce Pearl.

Whenever I have a question about UCLA basketball, I turn to Bruins Nation, SB Nation's fabulous UCLA Bruins blog, to get the real skinny:

Did UCLA do anything wrong in the recruitment of Shabazz?

No evidence or public allegations have been made. What I mean by this is there so far has been zero allegations that UCLA has done anything wrong in the recruitment of Shabazz and there are some circumstantial reasons to believe otherwise as in the fact Sports Illustrated did a proctology exam on the program and did not find that particular problem.

This does come with a caveat, however:

Is UCLA itself in any danger from the NCAA?

Yep. It is never good idea to have the NCAA investigating you. Moreover they have to be cautious and not play Shabazz until this is resolved because doing so would retroactively be labeled playing an ineligible player. UCLA has been warned on Shabazz.

If you asked me if UK was in any trouble from the NCAA back during l'affaire de John Wall, I would have said, "no." But post-Penn St., you can never say that, which is why I assume DCBruins reaches this conclusion. As long as UCLA does not play Muhammad while he is ineligible, and unless the NCAA review of Muhammad's recruitment unearths something improper (which could also implicate Kentucky, more on that in a second), UCLA should be fine.

Note the "should be." Also note that because UK recruited Muhammad just as hard as UCLA, John Calipari & Co. will also be scrutinized at some level for their contacts with him. Not that UK fans should be worried about that, because Calipari has already been repeatedly scrutinized by the press and even the NCAA to no ill effect.

The main takeaway, though, is that neither UCLA nor UK are the "target" of this investigation -- Muhammad and his contacts are. But given the fact that Calipari didn't back off Wall in a roughly analogous situation, it's reasonable to think he didn't give up recruiting Muhammad when the NCAA warned all schools recruiting him back in February that there were questions about his eligibility. Absent some sort of recruiting infraction during the process, which I doubt from either school, the only way UCLA could get into trouble is to play him while he is ineligible -- something they are wisely refusing to do.

So don't buy the idea that UK dodged a bullet with Muhammad -- that just doesn't ring true. Would I rather UCLA deal with his issues than UK? You bet, but I strongly suspect that if he had chosen the Wildcats over the Bruins, we would have welcomed him with open arms.