**UPDATED 1/5/14 — The Minnesota Timberwolves today assigned Shabazz Muhammad to the Iowa Energy, the team’s NBA Development League affiliate. At one point, Muhammad was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2012 and was considered a future potential No. 1 draft pick.**
NEW YORK — Shabazz Muhammad has traded in his Gucci backpack for a Jonas Brothers backpack.
As Kevin Martin and several of Muhammad’s Minnesota Timberwolves teammates spoke with reporters Sunday night following the team’s 109-100 victory over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, Muhammad quietly slipped out of the visitors locker room with a pink Jonas Brothers backpack slung over his shoulder.
He’s no longer the high school superstar he once was at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School, when he was considered one of the top two prospects in the Class of 2012. No longer the one-and-done phenom who was spotted wearing a $1,000 Gucci backpack this past January at UCLA.
Now he’s just an NBA rookie being hazed with a pink backpack and waiting his turn to play in the big time. It’s entirely possible he will spend time in the NBA D-League this year, too.
“I’m just learning a lot from these guys and just waiting for the time to come for me to get a lot of minutes, and when that time comes I’ll be ready and do well,” Muhammad told SNY.tv before getting a DNP against the Knicks.
The Wolves are off to a 3-0 start, but the 6-foot-6 Muhammad has played just six total minutes with two DNPs.
“Coming up to a rookie, it starts all over,” he said matter-of-factly. “I mean, especially being in the NBA, you’re the low man on the totem pole being a rookie and that’s something you gotta get used to. I think stuff can change by playing hard and being ready to play.”
Muhammad plays behind two pretty strong wing players in Martin, who dropped 30 points on the Knicks, and Corey Brewer who had 10.
“He’s been working really hard,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said of Muhammad. “He’s done everything we’ve asked. He’s playing hard, he’s aggressive. His time will come but we’ve been pleased with the way he’s approached it.”
Muhammad and 6-10 center Nerlens Noel were considered the top two high school prospects in the Class of 2012.
Noel tore his ACL in February during his freshman year at Kentucky, and is still rehabbing as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Muhammad missed the first three games of the college season because of an NCAA-imposed penalty related to impermissible benefits.
He had a solid, if not spectacular, season at UCLA, where he was named the Co-Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. He averaged 17.9 point and 5.2 rebounds, but struggled on the defensive end and shot just 39.7 percent in four postseason games.
In March, the Los Angeles Times revealed that Ron Holmes, Muhammad’s father, had lied about his son’s age and that Muhammad was actually born exactly one year earlier than his thought-to-be birthday of Nov. 13, 1993.
Muhammad’s stock fell and he ended up going as the last lottery pick at No. 14 to the Utah Jazz, who then traded him to the Wolves.
Then this past summer, Muhammad was sent home from the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program for having a girl in his room (not exactly a capital sin.)
Of his lone year at UCLA, which resulted in former coach Ben Howland getting fired, Muhammad said, “I thought the year went great. I thought we were a good team. We won the regular-season conference. I thought we could’ve gone far. With Jordan Adams being hurt, we didn’t have another scoring asset but I thought we felt like we were a really good team. And I like coach Howland. He’s a really good coach and he really helped us out a lot.”
Asked to assess his own performance last season, Muhammad said: “I think I kind of played my best, averaging 18 points. I think I could’ve got a little bit more assists. But averaging 18 points and seven, eight assists [actually 5.2], I think that was good. And I think I put my team in a position to win, and that’s something I try to do all the time when I’m on the floor.”
Derrick Williams, a former No. 2 overall pick out of Arizona, is also battling for playing time on the Wolves behind Kevin Love, who went for 34 points, 15 rebounds and five assists against the Knicks and now leads the NBA in scoring.
“If I’m playing the four, how many minutes am I going to play at the four?” Williams asked rhetorically. “We have an All-Star who’s putting up 30 and 15 a night and he’s gonna play 40 minutes.”
Williams did see some time at the three against the Knicks, scoring six points in 21 minutes.
For both Muhammad and Williams, they have had to adjust their expectations after so much hype in college and high school.
“You just can’t complain,” Williams said. “It is what it is. Shabazz is behind two great players as well, Kevin Martin who can score the ball well and a few other guys who can play that spot.”
Both Muhammad and Williams are well aware of the hype surrounding the current projected college one-and-done stars like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon, Andrew and Aaron Harrison and the others.
Don’t get caught up in Mock Drafts and Internet rankings.
“Stay away from the Internet because that’s the one thing that’s worse for the kids,” said Muhammad, who was once projected as a top-five pick in the draft before he slipped.
“It hypes up your head. Just looking at the rankings and the draft the beginning of the year, the draft doesn’t really matter where you’re starting at. It’s where you are at the end, and that’s one thing I learned.”
Williams has seen both Wiggins and Randle play, and he isn’t convinced they’ll be automatic impact players when they do come into the league.
“Those are two great players, and they’re only going to get better,” Williams said. “It’s tough to tell. I think nowadays, the high draft picks are a little bit different. You’re getting picked to add onto a great team. It’s not a team that’s 10-70 or whatever it may be. You’re going to be on a team that’s trying to contend for a playoff spot.
“They’re saying things about the Sixers [tanking] but they’re 3-0, so they have a solid group of guys over there. So you never know who’s going to get the pick but at the same time you can’t really just look forward to scoring 20, 30 points a night.
Of course, Sixers rookie Michael Carter-Williams is doing just that right now for the first-place outfit.
Drafted three spots ahead of Muhammad last June, Carter-Williams is playing, and playing well, even earning the respect of fellow Syracuse product Carmelo Anthony.
“It’s opportunity and situation,” Williams said of Carter-Williams. “He’s a 6-4, 6-5 guard who’s getting the opportunity to get out there and play and he’s succeeding so far and I wish nothing but the best for him.”
Said Muhammad of Carter-Williams: “He definitely is in the right spot. I’m happy for him. He’s one of my guys. He’s gotta keep it up through a long season. We’re not used to it. Your legs can get to you.”
Opportunity and situation.
Right now, Shabazz Muhammad is facing a tough situation with the guys ahead of him.
Meantime, he carries his Jonas Brothers backpack and waits for his opportunity.