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By LARRY VAUGHT
When ESPN recruiting national director Paul Biancardi recently talked to Shabazz Muhammad, the top-ranked prospect in the 2012 recruiting class, he sensed that Muhammad was not ready to make his college choice any time soon.
Muhammad has narrowed his college options to Kentucky, Duke, UCLA, Kansas, Arizona and UNLV and Biancardi said he seems â€œpretty firmâ€ with that list even though the ESPN analysts thinks he may well have a â€œtop two or threeâ€ in his mind.
â€œHe spoke highly of all the different schools and about what attracted him to each school,â€ Biancardi said. â€œItâ€™s the middle of his season, so I really donâ€™t think heâ€™s favoring any school right. He plays it close to his vest, so itâ€™s hard to tell.â€
Whatâ€™s not hard to tell is how good Muhammad is. Some analysts consider him almost unstoppable inside 15 feet. He drives, shoots with range and can create his own shot.
â€œI did talk to Shabazz about why he was signing late versus early,â€ Biancardi said. â€œHe wants to see coaches coach their teams, see if the styles are what they told him, see how freshmen on the teams develop and see what the rosters look like by April.â€ˆHeâ€™s a very wise young man.
â€œHe told me he wants to play with great players and against the best. I think he is looking to be challenge. Like all kids, he has his eye on the NBA. Obviously, Kentuckyâ€™s success fits that equation quite well, as do a lot of the other schools.â€
Still, Biancardi, a former college coach who coached against UKâ€ˆcoach John Calipari, sees reasons Kentucky fans could feel optimistic about Muhammadâ€™s decision.
â€œWhen you look at the way Calipari makes it a players first program, it becomes very attractive to top players,â€ Biancardi said. â€œKids do two things at Kentucky. They come in and get better, they win and they move on to their dreams. I guess that is actually three things. Those are the things kids are looking for and Calipari has a track record of that.
â€œThis is a good recruiting class, but not an overwhelming class. There are going to be some very good four-year players. Iâ€ˆsee a lot of these kids staying in college for four years, and should. Their is a lot of terrific size, but a lot of the bigs need to develop. Shabazz has things he needs to work on as well. He needs to develop his right hand more to where he can go right like he does left. He needs to be more of a steady jump shooter and learn not to get frustrated when things do not go his way.â€
But Biancardi says there is so much that Muhammad does well that makes him the top-rated prospect in the 2012 class.
â€œHe can beat you a number of different ways,â€ Biancardi said. â€œHis energy and motor is a big part of who he is. He has an incredible work ethic away from the game. Heâ€™s a good student at a school where academics are stressed. He is a coachâ€™s dream in a lot of ways. He brings academics, ability, intangibles.
â€œWhen Iâ€ˆlook at his motor, I think of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. That motor and energy is the same. Thatâ€™s what made Kidd-Gilchrist what he is today and in high school. He is not the most skilled guy on the planet, but he has skills and toughness and makes winning a priority. Shabazz has that energy and work ethic and he cares about winning like Kidd-Gilcrhist does.
â€œI watched Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for three years in high school and he got better every year, and now he keeps taking his game to another level. Itâ€™s so impressive how he brings it every day, every game. Shabazz has that kind of motor and energy and he is an elite athlete where Micahel is a good athlete.â€