LOS ANGELES — The UCLA men’s basketball players walked through the school’s Student Activities Center and introduced themselves to the media on Wednesday.
They posed for pictures, including a star-studded photo with head coach Ben Howland and his No. 1-ranked recruiting class. Left to right, they lined up — Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker, Howland, Shabazz Muhammad, and Jordan Adams. They were all smiles as the freshmen donned their UCLA home whites for the first time.
It was fun.
Then came time for questions and answers. The topic on everyone’s mind is what’s going to happen to Howland’s most prized recruits, Anderson and Muhammad?
“No questions about the NCAA review or its impact on the program,” said a UCLA spokesperson before the first question was fired.
The investigation continues into the eligibility of UCLA’s newest stars. There are reported concerns the NCAA has with improper benefits they may have received.
Anderson made the trip to China with his teammates while Muhammad stayed behind due to the investigation. Wednesday, it appeared neither will be in uniform when the Bruins open up the new Pauley Pavilion on Nov. 9 against Indiana State.
UCLA can’t talk about it.
“I’m just not going to comment on anything having to do with the ongoing investigation,” Howland said. “It’s inappropriate. It’s not fair to the players. It’s just a matter of their confidentiality and the respect to the process.
“We’re moving forward and I’m very hopeful. I’m very optimistic everything’s going to work out and just waiting for the process to unfold and take place.”
Optimism is high throughout the team and at this point all they can do is induce themselves into thinking happy thoughts.
Both players have practiced with the team and will do so for the season’s first official practice on Friday. However, practicing with the team opens up their 45-day window. If the case isn’t solved by the time that window expires, the players will no longer be allowed to practice.
It’s even trickier for Anderson because he played during the trip to China in August. It is not known if the time in China counts towards his 45 days to participate, according to a UCLA spokesperson. Muhammad began practicing with the team on Sept. 28. Anderson practiced with the team before they departed for China.
So far this class has come with a lot more baggage in addition to the No. 1 recruiting ranking. However, that ranking in itself was enough to increase the spotlight on a UCLA team that fared 19-14 last season.
“Shabazz is a high profile athlete and with the No. 1 recruiting class and things like that I knew it was going to put a spotlight on it,” said forward David Wear.
On the floor, everything has been good. The younger players have been “very humble and very eager” to learn since stepping on campus.
Howland has emphasized an up-tempo approach that the Bruins debuted on their trip to China with North Carolina transfer Larry Drew II at the controls. However, there is a caveat. At 6-foot-8 and handles like a guard, Anderson has instructions for ways he can use his playmaking abilities.
“(Coach Howland) told me if I ever want to bring up the ball I have to get the defensive rebound,” Anderson said. “That starts the break a little bit earlier and helps the offense a little bit better.”
Pushing the tempo doesn’t seem ideal for a person that has been labeled “Slo-Mo.” They’re working on that as well.
“(Coach Howland) said he wants to get me to regular motion,” Anderson said. “I think the ‘Slo-Mo’ title is out the door.”
The expectations remain. With this group’s mixture of young and old, expectations are at least to make a Final Four.
“You have to live with those (expectations),” Muhammad said. “That’s what sports is all about. We’re going to really work hard to try to make sure we live up to that.
“We really look like a great team right now.”
Will that “great team” ever take the hardwood together?