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July 7, 2011

Top player in nation wasn't always tops in Vegas

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

LAS VEGAS - When Rivals.com named Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman small forward Shabazz Muhammad the No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of 2012 last week, it was not altogether surprising.

The 6-foot-6 talent showed his steadily improving game at the Pangos All-American Camp as well as the NBPA Top 100 Camp and was able to turn the heads of the national analysts.

Being labeled the No. 1 overall prospect, however, is a testament to what Muhammad he has been able to do over the last three years. It is the culmination of his hard work and desire to disprove doubters.

"If there would have been a draft of just Las Vegas players his eighth grade year he wouldn't have been the first pick," Bishop Gorman head coach Grant Rice said. "In fact, I don't think he would have been in your first five."

Rice has been at Bishop Gorman for more than a decade. He says the talent always was there, but the size wasn't. Muhammad, in many ways, is the symbol for a program that figures to start next season ranked in the top 10.

"He was a very good basketball player, no doubt, but he wasn't at this elite level early," Rice said. "Then, maybe in the middle of his freshman season, he just grew like 5 inches or so, and he has been developing his game around that size since."

Rivals.com national analyst Jerry Meyer noticed the improvements, too.

"Shabazz Muhammad has certainly passed through the gauntlet of scrutiny," Meyer said. "Over time he has answered all the questions about his game and continues to improve."

The improvement was lauded by fellow Rivals.com analyst Eric Bossi after seeing Muhammed at the Pangos camp in early June.

"Muhammad is a beast of a wing," he said said. "No matter what the setting, no matter the opponent, he brings it. That simply can't be argued at this point. He's also gone out and improved every single aspect of his game that anybody has ever noted needs improvement."

In the Pangos All-star game, Muhammad scored a game-high 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting. He added four rebounds and four assists.

It was his performance at the NBPA Camp that swung his coach.

"We went down there with our guys and they all played well," Rice said. "Shabazz stood out and I think a lot of people were surprised at how well he showed."

The move to No. 1 wasn't a giant leap for Muhammad who was previously No. 2 in the Rivals150 list, but it appears it could be a more permanent spot for him.

"There might be some prospects that could end up better than Muhammad," Meyer said. "But the odds don't seem to be in favor of that happening."

Not the only No. 1 for Gorman

The basketball season is four months away, but the talk has already started at Bishop Gorman about the top spot - and it isn't limited to Shabazz Muhammad's placement.

"I figure we will be the discussion for the top spot (in the team rankings)," Rice said. "We return four senior starters and played at a high level last year.

"I figured we would be a four- or five-loss team last year. This year I do not expect to lose near that."

The Gaels will return Muhammad, four-star forward Rosco Allen and three-star forward Ben Carter, all of whom check in over 6-foot-6.

And according to Rice, most of the team already knows its role entering the year.

"Our only spot really open right now is point guard," he said. "We should be set pretty early and that will certainly help."

What may also help is that Bishop Gorman will be entering this season with a chip on its shoulder after failing to take home the Nevada Class 4A state title in 2010 and finishing the year No. 76 in the RivalsHigh 100.

"We didn't play our best basketball," Rice said. "There were three games we lost that I think we could have won and we will need to stay focused and hungry."

With a national schedule of games, including a trip to the prestigious City of Palms Classic, if Gorman wants a national title it will certainly have the opportunity to earn it on the court.

This and that...

  • With the hiring of Dave Rice, Grant's older brother at UNLV in early April, many fans believed it would create a pipeline from one school to the other. Whether it does or not is yet to be seen, but Grant wasn't sharing any family secrets: "The fans are excited about it and that is good."

  • Four-star forward Rosco Allen has not trimmed his list, at least according to the head coach. Rice indicated that Allen plans on making some early decisions soon but that at this point the four-star is still open to all recruiters.

  • The friendly rivalry with nearby Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep could heat up this season. "With some of the players they are able to bring in we shouldn't be able to compete with them," Rice said. "This year could be special for us having a lot of homegrown talent."



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