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Basketball Practice Begins With The Chances for Greatness and Disaster High

UCLA basketball is poised for a great season with the top freshman class or a complete meltdown with as few as seven scholarship players available. Exactly what happens will determine the fate of UCLA Coach Ben Howland. More news on Shabazz Muhammad's eligibility.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

I realize everyone is rightly focused on football,but yesterday (Friday) marked the formal opening of basketball practice for the Bruins. And I doubt any UCLA team has opened under stranger circumstances. I will do this post as a bit of good and bad possibilities going into the season.

First on the good. UCLA has three players ranked in the top 100 to start the season.

3. Muhammad is expected to miss some games early because of extra benefits he allegedly received while still in high school. But he'll eventually play. And when he does he'll solidify himself as the best wing in the nation and a future lottery pick. He's aggressive and good enough to lead Ben Howland to a Pac-12 title, Final Four and all-important contract extension. -- Gary Parrish

20. [Kyle Anderson] He'll be the best passer in the country -- and he's 6-foot-8 1/2. Just picture Kendall Marshall except about four inches taller. Anderson isn't a great shooter or defender, but he sure does make his teammates better.

91. In the amount of time it's taken you to read to this point, Josh Smith could very well have eaten three meals. And it's not a joke; it's sad. Smith has top-15 college basketball talent. But he can't shed the weight. He's incredible productive despite the fact his body mass pins him to the earth and slows him to a tortoise's pace.

But on the other side, with Tyler Lamb's injury, UCLA has just nine scholarship players, as of now, healthy for the first game. Of course the bigger issue is eligibility. Here is reportedly the latest from a new party, Muhammad's AAU coach:

Clayton Williams, who coached the Dream Vision AAU team for which Muhammad played, said he would be "shocked" if the NCAA found any impropriety. "I was there every game," he told The Times in an exclusive interview. "I was around. No agents, no this, no that." . . .

UCLA won Muhammad's services, Williams said, because of dogged recruiting by assistant coach Phil Mathews and because the player "loves a challenge.". . .

The visits, Williams said and Muhammad's family confirmed, concerned trips to North Carolina and Duke that Lincoln, a North Carolina-based financial planner, paid for. Each trip was cleared through the school's compliance office, according to Williams and a statement the Muhammad family released through its attorney, Bill Trosch.

Kavanagh's investment in Dream Vision was one of the personal loans Williams said he secured from a small group of close friends when the team was struggling financially. Williams said he and Kavanagh have known each other for more than 20 years, dating to when they resided near each other in La Jolla, Calif., in the 1990s. However, Kavanagh "hasn't said two words to Shabazz," Williams said.

The story also details a bit on Anderson, goes in depth on the Muhammad family finances, makes the great point that the rest of Shabazz's AAU has been cleared and even more into Shabazz's decision making process. The biggest problem is while some like Shabazz's AAU coach are talking, the NCAA isn't. Ironically Duke and North Carolina which have had some recent problems of their own are not paying any price for this with the NCAA. Of course, at this point all we know from the NCAA is based on wide speculation.

Back to the good, UCLA is ranked #4 in combined rakings according to Bleacher Report. (Generally don't cite them but since I am not sure how they cold screw up an average, I did this time.) I think more services would consider that a bit high and a more reasonable but optimistic statement may be here from the Sporting News:

Coach Ben Howland kept the pressure off with his star-studded recruiting class, but he won't have long to produce results-and that will become increasingly difficult if Shabazz Muhammad (pictured) or Kyle Anderson isn't eligible to play at the beginning of the season. The Bruins reached three consecutive Final Fours under Howland but haven't reached the Sweet 16 since 2008, which is unacceptable in Westwood. Physically, the Bruins can deploy an array of looks and talents that few teams can match. It's the emotional side that's another story.

The Bruins players are all talking about good chemistry now so hopefully the emotional side works itself out. In any case, there is great talent here and Howland MUST deliver this season:

What coaches are feeling the heat as the season gets under way?

Katz: Ben Howland. The Bruins have to show improvement, especially if Howland gets Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson eligible. UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero has been in Howland's camp throughout the recent turmoil, but a poor start and then a sub-standard Pac-12 in a newly renovated Pauley Pavilion won't go over well in Westwood.

Medcalf: Ben Howland. I mean, if he can't make a run with Shabazz Muhammad and the top recruiting class in the country, the Wear twins, Josh Smith and a veteran point guard (Larry Drew II), it's probably time to go, right? Last season's collapse and the Reeves Nelson drama certainly increased the fire underneath Howland. But the promise of this prestigious freshman crew turned down the temperature on his job status. Expect everything to heat up again, however, if the Bruins fail to meet expectations this season.

Go Bruins.