More than an hour before prized UNLV basketball recruit Shabazz Muhammad was scheduled to take the court Friday morning at Rancho High School in the adidas Super 64 AAU basketball tournament, Rebel fans were already arriving at the near downtown Las Vegas gym to cheer for him.
Muhammad, a rising senior from Bishop Gorman High rated as the nation's No. 1 prospect by Rivals.com, put on a show in scoring a game-high 39 points to help his Dream Vision 17s overcome a 12-point first half deficit and beat the Atlanta Celtics, 87-80.
Each time he touched the ball, which usually resulted in an aggressive slash to the basket for a dunk, the group of at least 200 UNLV fans in attendance seemed to get louder in their approval.
On the opposite side of the gym sat hundreds of college coaches scouting the tournament, with the likes of Kentucky's John Calipari and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski front-and-center to watch Muhammad — a player they have aggressively pursued the past year. UNLV's Dave Rice and assistants Justin Huston and Stacey Augmon were also there.
"We know (recruits) notice, just from input we hear," Rebel fan Dennis Del Vecchio said. "They notice the fans here and I think it means a lot to them, whether or not they (choose to attend UNLV)."
The hallways at Rancho resembled a UNLV home game at the Thomas & Mack Center, with fans dressed in Rebel gear from head to toe and old friends stopping each other to catch-up. The fans coordinated on social media and fan websites to attend — after watching Muhammad, they raced across town to watch his Gorman teammate and another Rebel recruit, Ben Carter.
The energy in the gym, especially when Muhammad touched the ball, showed this wasn't your typical AAU game on the summer circuit. The fans' logic is simple: continue to show Muhammad that playing for the Rebels is a viable option.
"Shabazz Muhammad is coming to UNLV, put it down," Rebel fan Curtis Swarts said. "If we got Shabazz, we'd be looking at deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. He would bring the excitement back. He would also help with future recruits. People will follow him wherever he goes and we would get better players."
Tournament director Ron Montoya said Muhammad's game — the second of the morning — attracted so many fans the facility reached its capacity of 1,500. Last year, they didn't sell that many tickets until the end of the day.
"He's the No. 1 player in the country. Everyone wants to see the No. 1 player in the country," Montoya said.
The appearance at this week's tournament adds to what is an aggressive approach by Rebel fans.
Fan Josh Meeter created a 30-second fake Nike commercial portraying Muhammad waving his arms to a crowd while wearing a No. 15 UNLV jersey. There is also an account on Twitter with the handle UNLVluvsShabazz.
The attention hasn't gone unnoticed by Muhammad and his family. "That's amazing how supportive those guys are. It's impressive," said Ron Holmes, Muhammad's father.
That's music to the ears of the UNLV die-hards.
"He is a game-changer," Del Vecchio said. "That's the bottom line. He is a game-changer He's that guy."ray.brewer@lasvegas
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Source: Las Vegas Sun