Back on April 11, 2012, two of the top recruits in the nation, Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad took over the college basketball world when they went on ESPN to announce their pending college decisions on prime time television.
Kentucky was on the final list of both prospects, and many believed it was possible UK would end up with both prospects in the end of each of their recruitments.
Here’s just a few reasons everyone was attached to the internet and their televisions throughout the afternoon.
In the hours leading up to their announcements, however, rumors spread that Nerlens Noel would likely be heading to Georgetown to become the next great Hoya big man, and Muhammad was likely committing to Ben Howland and the UCLA Bruins. For a recruiting class with only Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, and Willie Cauley (ah, pre-“Stein” Willie), along with Julius Mays and Ryan Harrow coming in as transfers, these rumors hurt, to say the least.
Muhammad posted a picture of his scholarship papers on social media, sparking conspiracy theories amongst the Big Blue Nation as to what they could mean.
The phrases “part of our family” and “signed and dated” led fans to believe the Cats would end up as the final choice, despite UCLA rumors blowing up the internet. Fans looked at the placement of the papers, UK sticking out to the left and more prominent than the other teams. Others believed UCLA being on top indicated he was set to become a Bruin. Needless to say, everyone and their mother became private investigators for the day, when in reality, Muhammad probably just threw the papers together in a picture and posted it without thinking twice.
Though there was still presumed hope for Muhammad, the Noel to Georgetown rumors were still coming in strong, and fans lost hope the defensive sensation would be suiting up in blue and white.
After hours of speculation, Muhammad announced his intentions to attend UCLA, and Nerlens Noel… well, you know the rest.
For UCLA, Muhammad was popular for all the wrong reasons, as he was known as a selfish ballhog with a horrible attitude on and off the court. He was suspended for the first three games of the year for receiving illegal benefits during his recruitment, and was forced to repay $1,600 to regain eligibility. He made national attention for not celebrating when his teammate hit a shot at the buzzer to win a game for the Bruins, all because he didn’t get the ball passed to him when he asked for it. He wanted the spotlight all to himself, living up to his larger-than-life ego fans were warned about throughout his recruitment. Muhammad ended up being drafted #14 overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
For Kentucky, Noel was the heart and soul of a young Wildcat team that needed an identity. Before his devastating ACL injury against the Florida Gators, Noel was the leader of a team that was finally hitting their stride and looked like a solid NCAA Tournament team. Noel was one of the best defenders in recent history at Kentucky, and found himself near the top of the NBA Draft as a result. Though it was a tough year for the team as a whole, Noel played himself into superstardom, and was eventually taken with the 6th pick in the draft to New Orleans, where he was then traded to Philadelphia.
After an extremely successful start to his career, Noel will likely be earning a max contract next offseason wherever he ends up, whereas Muhammad is still finding his identity as a role player for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
At the time, Muhammad’s decision was looked at as a devastating loss on an extremely promising season for the Wildcats. Looking back at it, however, it’s obvious who was the clear winner out of the two.