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Replacing the irreplaceable Shabazz

Shabazz Muhammad was one of the country's most prized prospects right around this time last year. Coach Ben Howland and his assistants over at UCLA pursued him accordingly, making him a top priority. For all intents and purposes, no other player in the Class of 2012 mattered.

Howland & Co. ended up getting their man, of course. Muhammad displayed glimpses of his potential during Thursday night's 59-57 victory over Washington at Pauley Pavilion. His effort essentially proved that the recognition he received as one of the nation's premier players was worthy back then. And now.

Larry Drew II knocked down the game-winner as time expired against the Huskies to keep UCLA in the Pac-12 Conference hunt for a title. The senior point guard, however, would not have had the chance to do so if Muhammad didn't score 22 points and add eight rebounds beforehand. The Bruins (17-6 overall and 7-2 in Pac-12) trail first-place Arizona (20-2, 8-2) in the conference standings.

''I wanted the ball, but Larry is such an aggressive player,'' said Muhammad after demanding a chance to win the game on the final play. A celebration ensued afterward, naturally. Apparently disappointed, the ultra-competitive Muhammad did not take part in the melee.

As a senior at Las Vegas (NV) Bishop Gorman, he was the nation's No. 1 shooting guard and the No. 2 prospect overall in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings. Since arriving in Westwood with the Bruins, the freshman phenom has done little or nothing to tarnish his growing reputation.

We can talk about Muhammad and his often-times lofty status, then and now, until everyone is blue in the face. “Bruin Baby Blue” in the face, that is. The real question is: Can Howland duplicate the feat and land a commitment from a high-profile prospect from the Class of 2013?

To his credit, he's put in work and signed seniors Allerik Freeman from Henderson (NV) Findlay Prep, Zach LaVine from Bothwell (WA) and Noah Allen from Salinas (CA) Palma.

None of the aforementioned players possess the star power of Muhammad. Few individuals do, in fact. Duke commit Jabari Parker of Chicago (IL) Simeon comes somewhat close. Kentucky-bound brothers Aaron and Andrew Harrison from Richmond (TX) Travis are a talented tandem. Each player is off the board and that does not bode well for Howland and the recruiting front.

A few high-profile players remain unsigned. Andrew Wiggins from Huntington (WV) Huntington Prep, Julius Randle from Plano (TX) Prestonwood Christian and Aaron Gordon of San Jose (CA) Archbishop Mitty are the marquee names. Problem is: Each upperclassmen is not interested in the Bruins. Howland would have to work some serious magic to lure one of those recruits to UCLA.

Eventually, someone must replace the seemingly irreplaceable Muhammad. And considering there's a distinct possibility that he's a one-and-done player with a bright NBA future ahead of him, the Bruins need to reload as soon as possible. This responsibility falls on Howland. Wish him the best of luck. At least give the guy a pat on the back for landing Muhammad in the first place.

Sean Ceglinsky has covered prep and college sports on the West Coast for the better part of the past 15-plus years. Follow him on twitter: @SeanCeglinsky

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