When Shabazz Muhammad began his high school years at Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman, he was hoping to be good enough at basketball to earn a college scholarship. The 6-foot-6 senior will accomplish that goal on Wednesday night when he chooses between Duke, Kentucky and UCLA.
As it turns out, the 6-foot-6 southpaw swingman is going to earn that scholarship with as much style as possible. Ranked No. 1 in the 2012 Rivals150 heading into his senior year, Muhammad will leave high school as the top-ranked player in the land as he holds onto the spot with Wednesday’s release of the final Rivals150 for the class of 2012.
Prospects often downplay the importance of rankings but Muhammad says that landing in the top spot became another big goal of his as his high school career started to wind down.
“I think it’s really important,” Muhammad told Rivals.com about landing in the top spot. “Knowing how hard I worked and that I’m always in the gym. Just to know that you have that No. 1 ranking and that you’ve worked hard and really earned it is great.”
While Muhammad stays in the top spot, the decision to keep him there wasn’t an easy one and the nation’s No. 2- ranked prospect made a run. Shot-blocking machine Nerlens Noel — who will choose from Georgetown, Kentucky and Syracuse Wednesday night — made a strong case for the top spot as well.
A 6-foot-10 native of the Boston area who has been prepping at the Tilton (N.H.) School, Noel had initially planned to be part of the class of 2013. However, he switched to the class of 2012 and received serious consideration for the top spot because of his combination of length, athleticism, defense, rebounding and rapidly developing offense.
Settling into the third spot in the Rivals150 is Jersey City (N.J.) St. Anthony’s star Kyle Anderson. Standing nearly 6-9, the UCLA-bound Anderson can legitimately play three or four positions and has operated much of his career as a point guard.
Fourth on the list is Arlington (Texas) Grace Prep big man Isaiah Austin. At 6-11, the Baylor-bound Austin is the most unique big man in the country. As one would expect, the skinny senior blocks shots, but Austin also possesses an advanced package of skills that allows him to play facing the rim.
Checking in at No. 5 in the Rivals150 is Steven Adams. When the 6-foot-10 big man committed to Pittsburgh he was literally an international man of mystery. A native of New Zealand, Adams is a physical big man who just made his way to the United States at the beginning of 2012 so that he could acclimate himself to the states and finish his high school career at Fitchburg (Mass.) Notre Dame Prep.
With such stiff competition, Muhammad feels that his competitive nature and versatility allowed him to remain at the head of the class.
“I just think my versatility and also my competitiveness, those two mixtures really define my game,” said Muhammad. “Not wanting to lose and wanting to win and compete while I’m out there helps to set me apart. I think my versatility and ability to go inside and out are some things that most guards don’t usually have.”
Next in the top 10 is Providence native Ricardo Ledo a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who is prepping at South Kent (Conn.) Prep and he’ll return to his hometown to play his college ball at Providence College. Checking in at No. 7 is Anthony Bennett a burly 6-foot-7 combo forward who hails from Canada but attends Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep.
The No. 8 spot in the Rivals150 belongs to Kentucky-bound Alex Poythress. A 6-foot-8 combo forward from Clarksville (Tenn.) Northeast, Poythress is among the nation’s top athletes and makes a move up from his spot at No. 19 in the previous ranking.
Finishing up the top ten are Southborough (Mass.) St. Mark’s product Kaleb Tarczewski a throwback, back-to-the-basket center who is headed to Arizona and do-it-all guard Marcus Smart a physical and skilled Oklahoma State signee who played his high school ball at Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus.
With his No. 1 ranking secure, Muhammad is now setting his eyes on making his college choice — the clubhouse favorite is Ben Howland’s UCLA Bruins — and taking the next step with his career and blazing his own path.
“When I look at it I don’t really see anybody who plays a style I play,” said Muhammad. “I’m kind of an old school guy. When I look at guys to try and model my game after, it’s probably Kobe. His competitiveness, his ability to take guys into the post and then step behind the arc are all things I try to use in my game. I’m just trying to be in the gym and get the most out of my game.”