While NBA fans have followed the latest lockout news in hopes of learning when their favorite teams will play again, teen prep star Shabazz Muhammad has a different reason for monitoring the league's labor impasse.
He wants to know if the current talks will delay his future professional career.
Because the league's owners and players remain far apart on the biggest elements of a new CBA – like the salary cap – sources said the two sides have yet to start discussing the age minimum for players to join the league. The previous CBA required American players to wait at least one year after high school before they become eligible for the NBA draft. There's been talk the league might try to change the wait to two years.
Muhammad, who is Rivals' top-ranked recruit for the class of 2012, definitely has an interest in what happens to the rule.
“If they pushed it to two years, it would be really disappointing for those guys who were in there for that one year and had a great year,” Muhammad told Yahoo! Sports. “Then they come back for that second year, have a bad year and their NBA draft stock drops. That’s a bad thing for them. I don’t think they should do that.
“They should let guys decide if they want to go or not. If a guy is ready, why go to college?”
Muhammad's words – and game – suggest he might be ready to jump to the NBA from Las Vegas' Bishop Gorman High School, if he were allowed. Physically mature at 6-foot-6, 205 pounds, the swingman averaged 25.1 points and 7.7 rebounds as a junior, and has already won two state championships. He was Nevada’s 2011 Gatorade Player of the Year, and had 24 points and nine rebounds in the Elite 24 game – which featured the country's top high school players – Saturday in Venice, Calif.
Muhammad, 17, knows he will face a lot of pressure during his senior season.
“You just got to go out and perform, play hard and work the hardest out there," he said. "I have a target on my back so I got to continue to work. I got to work on my game and can’t rest on my laurels.”
[Related: Shabazz Muhammad's family full of athletes ]
During a scrimmage of Elite 24 participants against NBA players at HAX in Harbor City, Calif., last week, Muhammad held his own and even showed the versatility to guard Charlotte Bobcats 6-1 rookie point guard Kemba Walker(notes). Other NBA players who participated in the scrimmage included Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings(notes), Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans(notes) and rookies Derrick Williams(notes) of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Kenneth Faried(notes) and Jordan Hamilton(notes) of the Denver Nuggets. Washington Wizards guard John Wall(notes) was in attendance, but didn’t play because of a groin injury.
“I’ve played with a lot of NBA guys, but I usually just work out with them," Muhammad said. "I don’t get to play pickup with them. It was a great experience. Just learning from these guys is great. I want to test myself against all of them."
A handful of current All-Stars came to the NBA straight from high school – Kobe Bryant(notes), Kevin Garnett(notes), Amar’e Stoudemire(notes), LeBron James(notes) and Dwight Howard(notes) – but those preps-to-pros days appear to be over. While some NBA agents hold out hope high school players will eventually be allowed to again join the league immediately, one NBA executive said the best-case scenario is the rule staying as is: a one-year wait.
If the rule remains the same, don’t be surprised if Muhammad follows in the footsteps of 2011 first-round picks Kyrie Irving(notes), Tristan Thompson(notes), Brandon Knight(notes), Tobias Harris(notes) and Cory Joseph(notes), all of whom spent one year in college before declaring for the draft. Muhammad speaks regularly with Wall, Thompson, Evans and Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose(notes), the NBA's reigning Most Valuable Player.
“He’s a talented player, somebody that’s working hard and is always trying to get better," Wall said of Muhammad. "He asks for advice and I give it to him."
[Related: Rivals.com's 2012 prospect rankings]
If Muhammad had the opportunity to go straight to the NBA, he'd consider it. "Right now, I’m just looking to college and having a great college experience, but I would look into that," he said. "Just watching all those guys that came from high school [to the pros] … Kobe, Amar’e get to learn early. All those guys are successful in the league that came straight out of high school. I would love to be one of those guys.”
Rivals.com lists Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, Texas, Texas A&M, UCLA, Southern Cal and Muhammad's UNLV as the top schools recruiting him. But Kentucky could emerge as the front-runner because of coach John Calipari’s track record in helping players get to the NBA. In recent years, Calipari, who was previously at Memphis, had guards Rose, Evans, Wall and Knight ready for the NBA in just one year.
“I don’t know who all I’m going to visit yet, but I’m going to be at UK’s Midnight Madness already – the rest I’m going to figure out," Muhammad said. "I talk to John all the time about UK. Tyreke and I even talk to Derrick Rose all the time, too. I talk to them about Coach Cal and how he is. All these guys give me good information, and I’m just taking it all in like a sponge.
“You look at the guys of [Calipari's] that have been drafted, [Nos.] 1, 2 and all over the board. Coach Cal is a great coach and he gets guys to where they want to be.”
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