On Saturday night, after UCLA completed its season sweep over Pac-12 title favorite Arizona, Ben Howland took to praising the play of his star freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad. In the process of that praise, Howland made an absolutely stunning admission:
"That was his last game in Pauley, no doubt about it," Howland said.
"I'm very much a realist now. I knew going into this deal that this was a one-year deal, and it should be. He's a lottery pick. He's a top-five pick. When you have that going for you, it is absolutely the right thing."
Did I say stunning? Sorry. Scratch that. I got confused. I actually meant completely and totally obvious to everyone involved. Everyone knows Muhammad is going pro after this season; of course he is. And as Howland says, he should. In this draft? With his skill set? Yes. You go pro. It's really not that complicated.
Except apparently Muhammad isn't going to come right out and and say it. He wasn't ready to commit to going pro Saturday, and instead delivered the usual platitudes about it being a big win and a long season and he's not really thinking about it. This is the accepted custom for these things: You don't talk about being a pro until you're actually definitely going to be a pro. When in doubt, talk about how much you like school.
All of this makes sense. What doesn't make sense is that apparently Howland's comments caused a minor media uproar in Los Angeles over the weekend, even more than the photo of him playing beer pong, which I personally thought was much more newsworthy. On Monday afternoon, Howland actually felt the need to apologize for predicting Muhammad's future. From ESPNLosAngeles.com's Peter Yoon:
"I'm sorry that I even -- I'm sometimes too honest because it would have been better to have answered that question differently the other day because I've never discussed it with Shabazz," Howland said. "It's just kind of obvious when a kid is a lottery pick that they're going to be going to the NBA in this day and age."
Muhammad, for his part, is still saying all the "right" things:
"I never said I wasn't coming back," he said. "I never said I'm not coming back even though I know I'm in a pretty good position draft-wise. But I'm looking at our team next year and we could be really good. I'm just worried about this season right now and whether I want to come back or not -- that'll be after the season."
But come on. He's going pro. Howland knows it, I know it, you know it. This was quite possibly the least necessary apology of all time.