The No. 1 recruit in the nation, Shabazz Muhammad (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) watched hometown UNLV upset No. 1 North Carolina Saturday night in Vegas. He saw it with his own eyes. Now the question is: how much of an impact does it have?
“I don’t view them differently,” Muhammad said. “It was a great win for them and just showed you that anybody can beat anybody.”
That answer is exactly what you’d expect from a mature young man who has handled the attention that comes with being No. 1 exceptionally well. However, it still leaves us to draw bigger conclusions. When prospects see huge wins, does it impact a recruit’s decision?
Personally, I’m mixed. When it comes to football, the answer is more likely to be yes. Football teams play 12 games a year, half at home. In hoops, teams play upwards of 30 games. Typically, one regular season game doesn’t carry that much weight. However, there’s definitely a lot to be said for those signature moments.
“These guys are so visual these days,” one high-level assistant said. “They see the atmosphere. The trick is can you now push that hot button enough to make the memory last forever? They have a great story to sell right now. He got to see a new UNLV basketball (program).”
In Muhammad’s case, the opportunity to be in that environment and see the changes in style the new staff implemented was significant. Under duress, in those circumstances, at the very least validated everything Dave Rice has been telling Muhammad.
“Sometimes you can be in that environment and it can suck you in,” the assistant said.
Steve Forbes, the head coach at NW Florida State College and former Division I assistant, underscored the importance of “the moment” for Rice, a first-year head coach. “There’s always that moment in the first year when you have to do something to get their attention,” Forbes said. “When I was at Texas A&M we beat Texas. You have to have that moment where you get their attention.”
Muhammad’s presence for the UNLV upset of top-ranked North Carolina can be seen as nothing but a major positive. However, I’m with Forbes on the bigger picture. While UNLV gets huge points and a moment to sell to Muhammad and others, one game does not typically seal a recruitment.
“Kids aren’t going to base their decision on one game,” Forbes said. “They aren’t that shallow. They’re not going to make a decision that important based upon 40 minutes of a game. They can enjoy the environment but they won’t base the decision on one game.”
Relationships typically are driving forces in the recruiting process and my guess is that they trump singular moments. When it comes to relationships, UNLV owns a nice trump card over Duke, UCLA, Kentucky, Arizona, Kansas and whatever other program you want to mention with Muhammad. The Rebels head coach is the brother of Grant Rice, Shabazz’s head coach.
Muhammad has enough people in his circle that the Rice-to-Rice connection isn’t going to be the deciding factor. With that said, the UNLV coach has an ambassador that in theory, could remind Muhammad -- daily -- of what it was like to be in the building when UNLV scored its landmark win.
So, what do we make of Muhammad being at the game and it’s impact? There was no downside to having him in the building, that’s for sure. The win could have validated Rice in Muhammad’s eyes and that doesn’t hurt either. Personally, I think it’s a sellable moment in a recruitment that is based on more than one game. UNLV can have some great conversations with its top target for about a week, while the moment gets relived. At some point, that feeling wears off and the Rebels will be tasked with continuing to sell the direction of the hometown program versus the implications of picking an established national power.
The win and Muhammad's presence is a component in a very long recruiting process. In the bigger picture, this win helps a little with Shabazz but carries weight on recruiting fronts going forward because like Forbes said, kids saw the game. "TV's a powerful tool. Kids do watch games."