It's a testament to the chaotic state of the UCLA basketball program at the moment that it qualified as mildly good news when the school released a statement Monday insisting only two of its top incoming freshmen are still awaiting clearance by the NCAA.
Freshman big man Tony Parker has been ruled eligible to play next season after initially being the subject of an inquiry, ESPN Los Angeles reported Monday night. Elite freshmen Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson remain in limbo as the NCAA looks into whether they received extra benefits that would jeopardize their amateur status.
Part of the issue for Muhammad is his family's relationship to financial advisers Benjamin Lincoln and Ken Kavanagh. CBSSports.com reported earlier this year that Lincoln and Kavanagh paid for two of Muhammad's unofficial visits and helped fund his AAU team.
The inquiry into Anderson's recruitment appears to center around his relationship with agent Thad Foucher, CBSSports.com reported Sunday. Foucher works for the Wasserman Group, whose founder Casey Wasserman is a UCLA alum and an important donor to the school.
Having both Muhammad and Anderson eligible next season is critical both to UCLA's chances of contending nationally and for coach Ben Howland's hopes of retaining his job.
Howland has come under fire as a result of missing the NCAA tournament two of the past three seasons and failing to get past the round of 32 any of the past four years. A decorated recruiting class ranked as high as No. 1 in the nation gives Howland the opportunity to win over his critics and re-entrench himself in his position, but that will become increasingly difficult if neither of his two top freshman are eligible.
Muhammad, the consensus No. 2 recruit in the class of 2012, did not join UCLA on its exhibition tour of China last month. Anderson posted double-doubles in two of UCLA's three games, including a 21-point, 11-rebound, five-assist masterpiece in the finale of the trip against the Shanghai Sharks, a Chinese professional team.
The good news for UCLA is there's still plenty of time for the NCAA to conclude its investigation before the start of fall classes. Fall quarter at UCLA won't begin until Sept. 27, seemingly more than enough time for NCAA investigators to make a ruling assuming the parties involved have been cooperative.
Whatever decision they make will be monumental for the future of the UCLA program. Best-case scenario for the Bruins, they keep their freshman class intact and enter the season with Final Four potential. Worst-case scenario, neither ever dons a UCLA jersey and the team enters a make-or-break season for its coach shorthanded and lacking the talent necessary to make a deep March run.