UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad sports $1,000 Gucci bag after NCAA reinstatement

UCLA Bruins guard/forward Shabazz Muhammad (15) celebrates after the final buzzer against the Arizona Wildcats at McKale Center. The Bruins beat the Wildcats 84-73. (Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports)

The UCLA Bruins opened the 2012-13 college basketball season with a 5-3 record, including a putrid loss to the practically unknown Cal Poly Mustangs. Coach Ben Howland, after bringing in the nation’s top recruiting class, found himself on the hot seat out in ‘what have you done for me lately’ Los Angeles.

One of those top recruits, Shabazz Muhammad, was sitting at the end of the bench in street clothes. The NCAA had deemed the nation’s No. 1 high school prospect ineligible for collegiate hoops following hotel room purchases made while on official visits to Duke and North Carolina.

Both guard Tyler Lamb and big man Joshua Smith transferred after the season tipped off — and both did so on the exact same day.

Basically, all was not well in Bruins territory.

However, since those early and rocky days, the team as been absolutely on fire. Howland’s crew has only lost one game since Dec. 1 and Muhammad’s reinstatement has been a big part of the reason why. The freshman was apparently headed for a lengthy suspension but an NCAA investigator blabbed about the case to a stranger on a plane. The compromised case was thus closed with the player having served a three-game suspension and being forced to pay back $1,600.

UCLA has opened its Pac-12 schedule with a 6-1 mark, which is absolutely sparking in terms of what the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is going to be looking for when deciding the Bruins’ potential seeding come March.

However, while the record is pretty, the win-loss mark is not nearly as beautiful as Muhammad’s new Gucci backpack. Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde was in the UCLA locker room following the team’s big upset win over then-No. 6 Arizona Wildcats. The bag piqued the reporter’s interest.

It was a nice look. Nice enough that I checked Gucci.com Thursday night and found 18 backpacks, with the cheapest going for $990 retail. But, hey, I’m sure these things can be found on sale, right?

I’m not saying there’s something fishy about Muhammad’s designer backpack, even though most of his teammates were sporting more modest, UCLA-issue models. (Fellow freshman Kyle Anderson also had a designer model.) Maybe it was a knockoff. I’m just saying a college kid wearing Gucci catches the eye – especially when the college kid is Muhammad.

Of course, the backpack itself is not the issue. Anything and everything Muhammad does from here on out (until he declares for the NBA Draft, that is) is going to be placed under the microscopic eye of the national sports media.

Not that a microscope is needed to see a flashy new Gucci bag — a bag that would generally be assumed to be far too pricey for the average college student.

Then again, Muhammad is not the average college student, and that is exactly the point. Either just pay the young man a small salary or let him go to the NBA; don’t keep him in such unnecessarily amateur-ish limbo.

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