In an era when young players work with the finest trainers, crisscross the country going to tournaments and change high schools three or four times in search of the best showcase for their talents, the lengths families go to groom a pro prospect is well-known.
Still, the Los Angeles Times managed to uncover a nugget about heralded UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad that is definitely eye-opening.
According to a story published hours before UCLA's opening-round NCAA tournament game against Minnesota on Friday night, Muhammad is one year older than he and his family have claimed he is. UCLA's men's basketball media guide lists his date of birth as Nov. 13, 1993, but Times reporter Ken Bensinger discovered that his birth certificate on file with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health shows was born exactly one year earlier.
Muhammad's bio on UCLA's official athletics site has since been updated.
Asked about the discrepancy by Bensinger, Muhammad's father, Ron Holmes, initially said it "must be a mistake." He later acknowledged his son is actually 20 years old but expressed concern about the information being reported, even going so far as to offer Bensinger a job in return for his cooperation.
"Bazz is going to blow up in the NBA lets team up and blow this thing up!!!" Holmes texted, according to Bensinger. "I'm going to need a publicist anyway why shouldn't it be you. We can do some big things together."
It's not hard to guess the motivation for Muhammad's family shaving a year off the his age at some point during his childhood.
Since the tactic of holding a child back a year prior to high school has become so prevalent these days, college coaches and pro scouts pay closer attention to prospect's actual age rather than what year in school he is. Prospects who thrive against players their own age and older are of course more coveted since they typically have greater upside and room for further development.
It's common for baseball prospects in Latin America to shave a couple years off their age in hopes of impressing Major League scouts who mine the region for talent, but the practice wasn't thought to be prevalent among U.S. basketball players. It's possible Muhammad is merely an outlier, but chances are he and his family may not be the first to employ this tactic.
The fact that Muhammad is 20 rather than 19 probably won't hurt his draft stock this June too dramatically. An NBA team is likely still going to spend a lottery pick on him, gambling that his ability to score in a variety of ways will translate to the professional level despite his lack of elite athleticism and sporadic commitment to defense and defensive rebounding.
Nonetheless, this will be a distraction for Muhammad and his UCLA teammates Friday night and it will be something he and his family will have to address.
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