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August 25, 2011
For years, Las Vegas has been the epicenter of summer high school basketball. Players on all-star grassroots teams from across the country converge there each July for massive tournaments in front of all the big-name college coaches.
Now the city can claim one of it's own - Bishop Gorman senior Shabazz Muhammad - as the top player in the country.
With Thursday's release of the post-summer Rivals150 for the class of 2012, Muhammad retains his spot atop the national rankings.
"I just think all of the hard work is starting to pay off," he told Rivals.com on Thursday. "It's just been me and my dad in the gym every day, twice a day, just practicing. It feels good."
As a youngster, Muhammad spent plenty of time watching today's stars during their high school years, as they all made their annual summer pilgrimages to Sin City. Not surprisingly, they left an impression on him.
"I remember when I was in the eighth grade going to watch Tristan Thompson and all of those guys practice at the adidas Nations," Muhammad said. "It gave me the drive to want to work hard and be on their level.
While the 6-foot-6 senior shooting guard grew up watching the nation's best players each summer, many factors have combined to create the nation's top player. Along with hard work and natural talent, Muhammad has benefited from growing up inside a uniquely athletic family.
Muhammad's father, Ron Holmes, played college basketball at USC in the early 1980s and his 1,211 career points place him among the top 15 players in school history. His mother, Faye Muhammad, was a Division I basketball player, as well, playing at Long Beach State.
On top of that, older sister Asia Muhammad is a professional tennis player who currently ranks among the top 200 women's doubles players in the world. His younger brother, Rashad Muhammad, is a high school teammate who, as a junior, already projects as a high-level D-I guard.
"It had a lot of impact on me," Muhammad said of his family. "Having an athletic family like that. I think it made me work hard knowing that everybody is athletic and competitive in the house. Even for food it was competitive but it's a great thing because it keeps your drive to be successful."
Muhammad's father can see how growing up in an athletic family has had an impact on his son. But, he also says that it didn't take much prodding for his son to play sports because he experienced early success and always had a good attitude.
"It's had a huge impact on him," said Holmes of his son's athletic family. "(Sports) were always around and on the TV or whatever. When he was younger, he was always playing in leagues and he fell in love with basketball. Because of that it was easy to steer him into sports.
"Because he was successful at an early age, it was easy to get him to do it. Shabazz has always been really mature. He's always wanted to be really good and he's always listened to our advice and he's always trusted us."
Given his success, it wouldn't be a surprise if the 17-year-old Muhammad, who counts nearly 10,000 followers of his Twitter page, had developed an inflated opinion of himself. However, his high school coach, Grant Rice - whose older brother Dave Rice is the head coach at nearby UNLV - thinks Muhammad has never shown any signs of ego.
"He's definitely grounded and I think it starts from the top," Rice said. "He knows that his parents have the coaches' back and he can't get away with anything. When the coaches and parents are on the same page, that's a winning formula on any level, whether it's high school or college. I give a lot of credit to his parents because they taught him respect.
"He's very well-liked on campus by his teachers. That's the best attribute he has. It speaks for himself that he's the No. 1 player in the country but that he's so good off the court is great."
Of course, Muhammad's size, athleticism and ability to put the ball in the hoop have caught the attention of the nation's top programs. Hometown UNLV is looking to make him the new face of basketball in the desert, while national powers Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA, along with Texas A&M and his father's alma mater, USC, want him badly.
But Muhammad is no hurry and likely will wait until the spring signing period to make his decision.
"I just think I want to make sure that I make the right decision," he said. "I want to be able to take all of my officials and talk to all of the coaches and find out what they are all about. I don't want to make a mistake."
At the end of the day, things couldn't be much better for Muhammad. His hard work, natural ability and great genetics have put him into an enviable position as the nation's top high school player. He will play high-level college basketball and the NBA likely looms in the near future.
Still, Muhammad knows that nothing is for certain and that he has to keep working if he wants to retain his status as the top player in the country and achieve all of his future goals.
"Now I'm looking at the higher level and focusing on that," he said. "I'm looking at trying to win a national championship in college. I'm working on transitioning to being more of a true shooting guard, working on my right hand and things like that. I'm always in the gym with my dad looking for things to improve."