With about 30 seconds left in Bishop Gorman’s 73-65 victory over No. 5 Dematha at the Hoophall Classic on Monday, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2012 punctuated a 37-point performance with a sensational windmill dunk, later named No. 3 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays. Even Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, sitting two seats down from Kentucky counterpart John Calipari on the baseline, raised an eyebrow.
If you looked closely right then, you saw Muhammad allow himself the slightest hint of a grin before he loped back on defense. For a player who thrives on having unparalleled competitive drive and focus, consider his momentary satisfaction to be a rare on-court concession.
“(I was) trying to get an exciting dunk at the end, and just have fun out here, and I love my teammates,” a smiling Muhammad said on ESPN after the game. “We did a good job.”
Less spectacular but more telling was a play that had happened a bit earlier, when Muhammad dove on the court to wrestle away a loose ball on defense, sprang to his feet and bolted to the other end to take a feed for an emphatic slam.
That conjunction of hustle and talent crystallized why Muhammad is so coveted by a laundry list of top college programs: He’s seemingly too good to be true.
A physically mature 6-6, 215 pounds, Muhammad fits the clichÃ© of a man amongst boys. Drawing comparisons to Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, the two main players he studies, Muhammad isn’t merely the most talented player on the court. He’s a born leader, he prides himself on his work ethic, and he basically just seems to want it more than anyone else.
“The moment’s never big for him, that’s what I’ve learned about him,” Shabazz’s father, Ron Holmes, said. “This was a big stage today. And this is what he always does.”
Consider that he plays his high school ball in Las Vegas and possesses the flashiest name this side of Jesus Shuttlesworth, and Muhammad logically faces an overwhelming amount of public and media scrutiny. Yet he seems relatively unfazed, looking reporters in the eye while politely and thoughtfully answering questions about his future.
“It’s something you have to get used to,” Muhammad said of the constant attention. “I just try to stay as humble as possible, always stay in the gym, and good things will come to you when you do that.”
By now, boldface coaching names like K and Cal are as ubiquitous at his games as Spike Lee is at the Garden.
“Warmup lines, you’re looking and seeing who’s there, and you get jitters,” Muhammad said. “First two minutes, I had a little bit of jitters.
“Then you get going, and you just don’t know if they’re there or not.”