Ben Howland didn’t see what the fuss was all about.
The UCLA coach had presumed that Shabazz Muhammad’s entry into the NBA Draft was practically common knowledge. So when the media asked if the Bruins’ star freshman had played his final game at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday, Howland said yes.
On Monday, he clarified that he hadn’t received the information from Muhammad and apologized for speaking out of turn — while suggesting that a player of that caliber would still be better off going pro.
“I’m sometimes too honest,” Howland said. “It would have been better to answer that question differently the other day. I’ve never discussed it with Shabazz. It’s kind of obvious when a kid’s a lottery pick that they’re going to the NBA in this day and age. …
“It’s incumbent upon me as the coach here — if a kid is a top-10 pick — to encourage him to do the right thing for him and his family. In my opinion, almost without question if someone’s a lottery pick, he should go to the NBA.”
Added Muhammad: “I never said I’m not coming back even though I know I’m in a pretty good position draft-wise. But I’m looking at our team next year and we could be really good. I’m just worried about this season right now.”
Howland was less single-minded about the potential departure of freshman Kyle Anderson, whom the coach said would start at point guard and defend small forwards should he return next season. Anderson, who said Monday that he still considers himself a natural point guard, has spent most of his time this season at forward on both offense and defense — only occasionally taking the full offensive reins from senior point guard Larry Drew II.
“He’s still gotta get better at chasing guys around,” Howland said of Anderson. “That’s what you have to do in the NBA. You’re not going to play unless you can defend your position.”
He maintained that he is comfortable with players leaving early, and said he’ll always treasure having coached Kevin Love and Jrue Holiday even for just a season. Still, Howland tossed in some examples of players who benefited from returning — Florida’s Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer — as well as some who left too soon.
Former Kansas guard Josh Selby, once the country’s No. 1 recruit, declared in 2011 after and is currently out of the NBA. Tyler Honeycutt was a second-round pick that same year as a sophomore, but Howland said the former Bruin should have “100 percent” returned to boost his stock.
“Nobody that has stayed here has been hurt by staying here,” he said. “Not since I’ve been here.”