Little more than a year ago, star freshman Shabazz Muhammad led UCLA to its first PAC-12 regular season title in five years.
It was the pinnacle of a season in which the Bruins were beset by NCAA investigations related to Muhammad’s recruitment. The team ended that season with a first-round loss in the NCAA tournament. After all the tumult, coach Ben Howland was fired and Muhammad left early for the NBA.
Still, Muhammad’s time in Westwood looms large: A filing last week in a federal bank fraud case against Muhammad’s father, Ron Holmes, calls into question whether Muhammad should have played in college that year, and whether UCLA deserves the conference championship banner.
Holmes arranged for a loan in anticipation of his son’s future NBA earnings and agreed to receive as much as $300,000 a year once Muhammad went pro, according to a memo filed by Daniel R. Schiess, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Nevada. (The bank-fraud charges against Holmes stem from his participating in a mortgage scam in Las Vegas and are not related to the alleged loan.)
The memo was Schiess’ response to a request from Holmes’ attorneys to limit his sentence to one year and one day in prison plus at least 2,500 hours of community service. Holmes had pled guilty of conspiracy to commit federal fraud in December.
“While raising children and serving the community is praiseworthy, it appears that Holmes’ motives were not completely virtuous. He intended to get something out of it for himself,” Schiess wrote in the memo, which asked that Holmes receive 37 months incarceration. The court filing does not indicate who provided Holmes with the loan, except to say it was a “marketing company.”
The document states that Holmes “told the FBI in his March 21, 2013 interview that he had been living off of a loan tied to his son’s [Shabazz Muhammad] projected earnings as a top NBA prospect.”
The date of that interview is important because it indicates that the loan was procured while Muhammad was still an amateur athlete. In fact, Muhammad’s final game as a Bruin came the following day, in a tournament loss to Minnesota that had Muhammad scoring 20 points.
NCAA amateurism rules forbid athletes or their families from receiving financial benefits based on the athlete’s sports ability. The rules also prohibit receiving benefits from agents, financial advisers, or “any person who represents any individual in the marketing of his or her athletics ability.”
Violators of those rules are deemed ineligible to play. Yet Muhammad played 32 games for UCLA during the 2012-13 season, leading the team with 17.9 points per game. He was named first team All-PAC 12, co-PAC 12 freshman of the year and a second team All-American.
Holmes and his attorneys did not reply to emails, calls and text messages seeking comment, and Muhammad’s agent, Bill Duffy, reached by phone, declined immediate comment.
Previously, Holmes has claimed through his attorney that the loan was made against the earnings of his daughter, a professional tennis player. But in Holmes’ pre-trial detention hearing, the federal judge hearing the criminal case as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Schiess said that Holmes had previously stated the loan was directly related to Shabazz Muhammad’s future NBA career.
Holmes has since changed attorneys and has made no further statements about the terms of the loan. His daughter, Asia Muhammad, is currently 296th in women’s worldwide singles rankings.
“UCLA is aware of statements made in court proceedings subsequent to Shabazz Muhammad’s time at the university,” UCLA spokesman Josh Rupprecht told BuzzFeed on Wednesday. “As in any situation of this type, after immediately becoming aware of this development, UCLA notified the PAC-12 and the NCAA with this new information.”
The PAC-12 and NCAA declined comment when reached by BuzzFeed on Thursday.
If the NCAA were to find Muhammad was ineligible, it could retroactively strip UCLA of its regular-season title and force the Bruins to vacate all wins from that season that Muhammad was involved in.
There’s precedent for that sort of penalty: The NCAA has levied similar punishments against the University of Memphis’ basketball team in 2009; the University of Southern California’s football, men’s basketball and women’s tennis teams in 2010; and the University of Oklahoma’s men’s basketball team in 2011.
In Memphis’ case, the Tigers lost their NCAA-record 38 victories and NCAA finals appearance because of several infractions. Those included a fraudulent SAT score for a freshman player, later revealed to be current NBA star Derrick Rose, and close to $1,700 in free travel that the university provided to Rose’s brother, Reggie.
The NCAA has previously investigated Muhammad for amateurism violations, ultimately suspending him for three games at the start of his time at UCLA for receiving approximately $1,600 in impermissible travel benefits.
That investigation was cut short, however, after the Los Angeles Times revealed that the boyfriend of the NCAA’s lead investigator had been speaking publicly about the probe.
After leaving UCLA, Muhammad was selected 14th overall by the Utah Jazz and immediately traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has mostly struggled in his rookie season, playing in just 31 games and averaging 3.6 points per game.
Less than a month before the draft, Muhammad’s father, Holmes, was arrested and charged with federal bank fraud for his alleged role in securing mortgages in the Las Vegas area using fraudulent information and straw buyers. In addition, he was accused of living in the homes and making fraudulent bankruptcy filings to delay foreclosure.
Holmes, a former USC basketball standout, was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison Thursday.
UPDATE — March 27, 6:35 p.m. ET: Holmes was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison Thursday. Additionally, the NCAA and PAC-12 declined comment when reached Thursday.