Word's out – UCLA hoops freshman Shabazz Muhammad is a year older than you thought he was.
In a time where lying about your age is commonplace — hell, I wish I would've done so to make myself seem smarter; no one listens to the foul-mouhted 20-year-old college kid — this isn't all that egregious, right? It's only a year, and it isn't as if anyone cares that he's 20, and not 19 … right?
Wrong. It matters, and in the context of UCLA's hoops season, everything about everyone lying about Shabazz Muhammad's age (including UCLA athletics) makes sense.
This assertion is predicated on your perception of Muhammad's success at UCLA. If you're stuck on individual box scores or per-game stats that you looked up on ESPN.com, you're probably in Shabazz's corner here, declaring his season a home-run.
If you've been watching UCLA hoops this year, though? If you keep up with advanced stats, watch every possession with a modicum of skepticism, with critique in mind? Then Shabazz Muhammad was disappointing.
And that's where so-called Age-gate comes in.
Ignoring the other implications of the LA Times report — which also suggests that Ken Binsinger, the guy on the report, was bribed by Ron Holmes, Shabazz's father — we can see just how much Shabazz Muhammad's underachievement makes sense.
Indeed, Muhammad was playing at the high school level while being a year older than his peers. The difference between 16- and 15-year-olds — as well as 17- and 18-year-olds — is significant in the context of physical maturity. The one-year difference is the difference between quite a few pounds of muscle-mass.
As such, it's clear that Muhammad had an edge in the prep hoops scene, which in turn inflated his ratings on scouting services and earning him higher praise as a hoops phenom in the process. As a result, expectations became inflated, and Muhammad was marketed as a world-beater; timidly, the next James Harden, and at best, the next Kobe Bryant.
That's not what happened at the college level, though. Muhammad would go on to have himself a decent season, averaging a shade under 18 points a contest, shooting at a modest 45 percent clip, but he was far from dominant and has yet to have a game where he's entirely taken over.
Aside from the fact that Muhammad never really knocked on 30 points in a game — his fellow Pac-12 co-Freshman of the Year, Jahii Carson, has had three 30-point games — he's also not the most efficient player on the team. That would be Jordan Adams, who has a higher PER than Shabazz, higher true-shooting and effective field goal percentages, a higher offensive rating, a better defensive rating, and more win-shares. All this, while the UCLA offense revolves around Muhammad — indicated by his significantly higher usage rate, a team-leading 29.9 percent. All while Muhammad never proved to be terrifyingly athletic, and at times, Adams and back-up off-guard Norman Powell have looked superior to 'Bazz in that regard. That's often over-looked in favor of Muhammad's hype.
In fact, for all the national attention and praise Muhammad's received, it's arguable that Adams should be receiving more. While UCLA fans (myself included) bitched about freshman Tony Parker's playing time, Jordan Adams was being criminally under-utilized, an after-thought in a UCLA offense filled with stars.
But the marketability of Shabazz Muhammad, the hype heaped upon him, demanded that he be a first option on any college squad, that he dominate the ball and work, that his teammates pass off to him and, holy hell, get out of the way because 'Bazz is at work.
That's the kind of hype you get when Shabazz Muhammad's value is based upon performances in which he is, literally, a man among boys. Given that he was a year older, and a year more developed (and given that this fact was only rumored in some circles), of course the hype would be considerably hotter.
And it dictated the way UCLA hoops played ball, perhaps hurting team chemistry and damning the Bruins to a few losses in the process.
So of course Shabazz Muhammad's age matters. It essentially shaped the dynamic of this UCLA team, shaped Muhammad's recruitment, shaped the kind of players Ben Howland would put around him.
And while we lament the timing of this article — the L.A. Times published this report the morning of UCLA's big game against Minnesota — that's only a mild gripe. We can't slough off the report because it "doesn't matter." This isn't "not a big deal."
In a day and age where everything about a hoops prospect is evaluated with extreme scrutiny, teams might be curious about integrity more so than potential.
And in both cases, Muhammad's efficacy in either is in doubt.