Kid Muhammad Gets His Shot

The youngest sibling in a family that’s become athletic royalty, Rashad Muhammad—yes, that’s Shabazz’s brother—is ready for his close-up

When Ron Holmes was a star basketball player at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif., one of his closest friends was a 4.0 student who dreamed of getting into Stanford. That dream never came true. Meanwhile, Holmes, by his own admission only an above-average student, was offered a full ride to play for the Cardinal. He turned it down and wound up starring at USC in the early 1980s, but the lesson wasn’t lost on him: Few gifts grease the cultural wheels for young Americans like athletic ability.

In 1991, Holmes married Faye Muhammad, who excelled in basketball and track at Long Beach State. Together, they had three children. The eldest, Asia, launched her professional tennis career amid hype and hope at age 16. Injuries have stalled her progress—at 21, she is the world’s No. 414 player in singles and No. 178 in doubles—but Holmes believes great things are ahead.

Their second child—you may have heard of him—is named Shabazz. A 2012 graduate of Bishop Gorman High School, Shabazz spent much of the past two years as the most sought-after college basketball recruit in the nation. This fall, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound, preternaturally confident guard will begin his career at UCLA. Within a year he may have a multimillion-dollar NBA contract.

The youngest child is Rashad. At 17, he is 6-foot-5 and a spindly 170 pounds. Playing in his brother’s shadow last season as a Gorman junior, he averaged 8.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and two assists per game. A gifted shooter, he shot 40 percent from 3-point range. He also made 83 percent of his free throws—best on a loaded team.

He is being recruited not by Duke and Kentucky like his brother, but by such next-tier programs as San Diego State, Maryland, USC and Texas A&M. He is on UNLV’s radar as well, but has plenty left to show coach Dave Rice and his staff before the recruitment goes to the next level. Rashad isn’t worried by the low profile; he’s used to operating just outside the limelight. But with Shabazz off to Hollywood, this may be the year Rashad becomes the next Muhammad to star in Vegas.

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Ron Holmes believes Rashad can be just as good a player as Shabazz. To reach that level, Rashad will first have to become at ease with the fact that he is not Shabazz—not as a player, and not as a person.

“Rashad is a lot more to himself, a lot more reserved, not as trusting,” Holmes says. “I think being Shabazz’s brother and with some of the things he’s had to deal with because of that, he’s a lot more guarded.”

In late June, the family made a dual-purpose trip to Southern California—moving Shabazz into his new digs at UCLA and watching Rashad play with his Gorman teammates at an event at Corona del Mar High School.

Just after Rashad saw Shabazz take his first steps onto the UCLA campus as a Bruin, he hit the court and heard the kind of taunts that come with being the sibling of a superstar. After he scored on a layup, an opponent approached him with a weird bit of trash talk: “Your brother would have dunked that.” There were plenty more similar statements.

“If you said that to Shabazz, he’d giggle and say, ‘Who are you?’ then take it to the court and deal with you,” Holmes says. “But Rashad’s [still] trying to find himself a little bit.”

The taunts started for Rashad roughly three years ago. Since they began, they’ve hardly ever drawn a reaction from him. What’s changed, though, is that now he’s learning to use the barbs to fuel his performance.

So far in team events this summer with Gorman, he’s leading the Gaels in scoring at 27 points per game.

“I’ve been dealing with [trash talk] for a long time, ever since [Shabazz] started blowing up,” Rashad says. “I just had to get used to it. Shabazz would always tell me, ‘Worry about yourself; do you; play hard; and everything will work out for you.’”

That took awhile, but over the past couple of years he has been learning to be comfortable with the player he is. Just as was the case for Shabazz, Rashad has been able to take full advantage of a year-round focus on basketball, and in turn, he’s followed a similar learning curve, even if his game is not as loud and flashy as his famous older brother’s.

“He had one game [at Corona del Mar] where he probably had 14 points in a row and finished with 35 or 40,” says Grant Rice, Rashad’s coach at Gorman. “He’s not going to average anything like that, but he’ll be one of the top scorers in the city. As much as he’s enjoyed playing with his brother, I think he’s pretty excited that it’s his time; he’s a senior on this team, and he’s one of the leaders.”

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Shabazz Muhammad got his brash, in-your-face style of play from his father. Size and confidence helped him excel on the court even before his skills were anywhere near the elite level they’re at now. But while he was turning into a star, he was also proving himself a natural teacher as he brought his younger brother along.

“My dad always used to have us go one-on-one,” Rashad says. “Shabazz would be muscling me, and I’d have to figure out different ways of getting it done. I think it helped me in the long run. I had to deal with someone who was bigger than me, stronger than me and better than me. I had to use more fakes, get him off-balance. I couldn’t muscle through him or post him up. I had to outsmart him and trick him to get baskets.”

Shabazz will floor opponents with his power, but Rashad is the epitome of a finesse player. That’s a tough thing when you’re being pushed around the family basketball hoop, but in the end it’s a style that’s also coveted by many coaches.

“He’s more of a playmaker, where Shabazz is more of a scorer and rebounder,” Holmes says. “He doesn’t play above the rim like Shabazz, but he affects the game in more ways than Shabazz.” Holmes is quick to add that Rashad can also score and rebound. But it’s his gifts as a facilitator that could make him invaluable at the next level.

Now he enters the most crucial nine-month stretch of his career—the time when he’ll prove himself to the college coaches who are already watching and win the attention of those who aren’t.

“I definitely can’t just call any school like Shabazz could and commit on the spot,” he says. “I have a couple of schools looking at me, and I’m just going to keep working to get a lot more. I definitely think I should be up there as a high-Division I player. Now I just have to show everybody.”

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This month, Rashad is traveling the country with the Las Vegas Prospects, his new Amateur Athletic Union club team. He will play in some of the summer circuit’s biggest tournaments, with college coaches in logoed polos filling the bleachers at each stop. For prospective Division I players, July may be the most important month of the year.

Over the past two summers, Rashad played for the same Stanton, Calif.,-based Dream Vision program for which Shabazz starred. With Shabazz gone, Rashad moved back to play with the Prospects, which was the brothers’ first AAU club. The move could help Rashad continue to mold his own identity.

Featuring almost exclusively local talent, the Prospects are run by Las Vegas native and former UNLV football player Anthony Brown. In a world where the AAU basketball circuit has become increasingly seedy, Brown runs one of the most honest programs around—and he’s sent his fair share of players, including UNLV senior Anthony Marshall, to top Division I programs.

Rashad has a good rapport with the current Prospects lineup, which includes junior guard Shaquile Carr (Canyon Springs), senior forward Chris Wood (Findlay Prep, committed to UNLV) and high-flying guard Julian Jacobs (Desert Pines, committed to Utah). So far, he said he’s also taken a liking to the Prospects’ style, which is more structured than Dream Vision’s.

On the heels of the AAU circuit comes Rashad’s senior season at Gorman. In recent years, summer travel ball has grown more important to college coaches than the high-school season, but Rashad’s final year with the Gaels may tell us a lot about who he is as a player, and who he’s becoming.

Last season, the pressure on the younger Muhammad was minimal; it was his brother’s team, plain and simple. It also didn’t hurt that the Muhammads were surrounded by a trio of Division I-bound seniors in Ben Carter (Oregon), Rosco Allen (Stanford) and Demetris Morant (UNLV). With nine seniors in all, Gorman blitzed its way to a state championship.

In that state title game, Rashad built major momentum for himself by scoring 14 points in the first half of a 96-51 blowout of Hug High. His high-scoring ways so far this summer have been a clear indication that it’s now his team.

“It’s been a tough situation,” Grant Rice says. “I feel for Rashad the last three years. He’s been a really good player for us, started a lot of games for us last year and had a good year. But it’s human nature that he’s going to be compared to his brother.

“They’re such different people, have such different games. And I think people will soon appreciate what he is, as well.”

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