Originally published in SLAM 151

words Ryan Jones / portraits JUCO

Understand, it’s not only the genes.

Oh, the genes have something to do with it. More than a little. Shabazz Muhammad isn’t sitting near the top of the 2012 high school rankings if his dad isn’t Ron Holmes, a star wing at USC in the mid-’80s. Equal genetic credit goes to his mom, Faye Muhammad (née Paige), a standout baller—and All-American hurdler—at Long Beach State. His sister, Asia, is a pro tennis player who has twice graced the court at the US Open, and his younger brother, Rashad, is a top-100 junior on the hardwood. Honestly, it would almost be more of a shock if Shabazz Muhammad was not one of the best ballplayers in the country.

So genetic inheritance gave him a head start, but Muhammad had to decide that he’d work to hone those gifts. Now a 6-6, 220-pound senior-to-be at Bishop Gorman HS in Las Vegas, Muhammad made that decision early on, whether or not he was fully conscious of it. “I had a ball in my hand since I was 2 years old,” he says. “We had a little court in our garage, and me and my dad would be in there for hours. He pushed me to the limit, but never quite too far.”

Holmes doesn’t deny that he nudged his son toward the game, but having played at a high level himself, he knows that nudging an uninterested child isn’t going to result in anything good. “But even at a young age,” Holmes says of his son, “whatever I would tell Shabazz to do, he would do. He had the motivation to be really good. Even when he was in middle school, before he had the size, he had the passion.”

Physical maturity caught up with mindset during Muhammad’s 8th grade summer, when he remembers growing “from like 5-11 to like 6-3.” Holmes says the spurt might not have been quite that dramatic, but he confirms that it happened pretty quickly. As a middle schooler, his dad says, Muhammad was “pretty good.” By the time he started high school, it was clear he could play at a high level. Now, Shabazz enters his senior season with a chance to prove himself as the best player in his class.

Physically, Muhammad dominates with a combination of skills, strength and athleticism that even most of the top prep players simply can’t match. A Long Beach, CA, native who has lived in Vegas since he was a toddler, Shabazz pulls for the Lakers and understandably tries to model his game after Kobe’s. He laughs when reminded that he’s pretty close to Kobe’s current dimensions and already dwarfs the Bryant who entered the League as a skinny prep back in ’96. “He was frail—I can’t believe how skinny he was—but he got the job done,” says Shabazz, who already owns a mid-range game many pros would envy. “We have a lot of tape on him, especially the pivot moves he makes. I’m really trying to pattern my game after him, have an IQ like him on offense.”

Shabazz claims a 6-11 wingspan, which should help him on both ends of the floor. He’s focused on committing to defense and fine-tuning his skill set—a natural lefty, he’s most often knocked for a reluctance to drive to his right—as he looks forward to his senior year and figuring out his college choice. Our readers can keep track of that process in these pages, as Shabazz will hold down our Basketball Diary for the next year.

Cop SLAM 151 to read Shabazz’s first entry.