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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The ‘Chosen One’ leads Arizona

    Senior point guard Mustafa Shakur goes up for a jump shot. The Philadelphia, Pa. holds the reins of Arizonas lineup and said he has been able to give advice this year because his teammates listen.
    Senior point guard Mustafa Shakur goes up for a jump shot. The Philadelphia, Pa. holds the reins of Arizona’s lineup and said he has been able to give advice this year because his teammates listen.

    First came a girl, then a boy, then three more girls. And then came the Chosen One. Mustafa Shakur’s father wanted just one more son.

    He named him Mustafa, meaning the “”Chosen One”” in Arabic.

    “”I’m very proud of that,”” Shakur said. “”It’s something big for your parents to name you that and really believe in you in that way.””

    The baby of the family, Shakur did indeed become the chosen point guard of his class, ranked No. 1 by some experts ahead of New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul coming out of high school. A McDonald’s All-American after spending two years at Friends Central High School, where he averaged 26.8 points and 6.8 assists per game, Shakur chose Arizona over North Carolina State.

    But with the Chosen One label – a name Shakur wears proudly, sometimes with the words on a T-shirt – and being the nation’s No. 4 prospect overall came much additional pressure.

    It’s pressure Shakur said he doesn’t feel.

    “”I thought it would be hard coming in here,”” he said. “”I thought Will Bynum would be here, so I felt like I would have to battle every day, so I kind of anticipated that it would be hard coming in here with all the expectations and people from the past, but it’s only going to make me better, so I look at it that way.””

    Shakur would be only the fourth point guard at Arizona to start the majority of his freshman year. Since he stepped on the floor for the first time and scored 14 points against NAU, Shakur has never missed a game as a Wildcat.

    He has come back from that experience and taken it as a positive one. There is no chip on his shoulder like some guys might have. From the day he stepped back on campus, he has been about the University of Arizona and our team.

    – Lute Olson, UA head coach

    But statistically, it has been a roller-coaster ride. His scoring, field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage took a dip during his sophomore season, a year when the Wildcats reached the Elite Eight on the shoulders of seniors Channing Frye and Salim Stoudamire.

    Shakur never appeared happy, saying the team chemistry this year was “”60 to 70 percent”” better than that team. But despite having to defer to his teammates and not being the scoring guard he was pronounced to be, Shakur still didn’t feel the pressure.

    Shakur file

    • Nation’s top point guard prospect in 2003, ahead of New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul.
  • Started all but two games for Arizona the past three years.
  • Arizona is 40-10 (.800) when he gets five or more assists, entering the season.
  • Naismith Award preseason watch list 2005-06 and 06-07.
  • Withdrew name from NBA Draft after originally declaring without hiring an agent.
  • “”I don’t really pay attention to it because when you do well you get praise, when you do bad, you don’t get the accolades,”” said Shakur, who described himself as his own biggest critic. “”That’s just the way it is, the way of the world.””

    Shakur, who UA head coach Lute Olson described as “”the hardest-working kid we’ve ever had in the program,”” made the gym his haven, working religiously on his jump shot, trying to perfect his unorthodox form.

    But his shooting failed to develop, once again dipping in his junior year from 3-point range, this time to just 33.3 percent. With this year’s club featuring shooters Chase Budinger, Marcus Williams and Jawann McClellan on the wings, Shakur has focused on other parts of his game.

    “”The thing that I’ve tried to get across to Mustafa for the past couple years is that if an NBA team is going to go out and get a shooter, they will find a better shooter,”” Olson said. “”What will get him in the league is his defense and his work ethic. He has great quickness, but he has to be in that leadership role all the time. He has done a great job coming back. He is a team guy.””

    Although he won’t talk about it, his strained relationship with last year’s senior guard Chris Rodgers and an inability to be the most complete leader he could be took a toll on Shakur personally.

    “”I’m not going to go in the house and cry about it, but of course it’s hard,”” Shakur said. “”It makes it so much more fun when you can just come to practice and it’s just basketball, it’s not all the thousand things that you guys saw and heard that went on, it’s just basketball.””

    Living with upperclassmen McClellan and Kirk Walters, Shakur has finally found a team on and off the court with which he can share his wisdom.

    “”I think he’s been vocal, and he’s really matured as a player,”” Walters said. “”He’s really come along and figured out his game that can really help us, with penetrating and knowing when to penetrate and when to take the shots. I think he’s really come along a lot further from last year to this year than any other year.””

    Shakur’s likely successor at Arizona, freshman point guard Nic Wise, has also had a more comfortable Shakur in his ear, as the two players battle each other every day in practice.

    “”He’s been the main reason I’ve been playing well, because he’s taking me under his wing a lot and he’s helping me since he’s been here for four years,”” Wise said.

    And Shakur is grateful that he has finally found a group of players who will listen.

    “”It’s way easier to be vocal when you have a team full of guys that are willing to listen and respect you and guys who are willing to learn,”” Shakur said. “”It makes it easy for you to be vocal because you know they’re going to listen and understand what you’re talking about.””

    In last season’s NCAA Tournament, Shakur played in his hometown of Philadelphia in front of friends and family and went off, averaging 19 points and seven assists in two games, including a 21-point, 4-for-4 3-point field goal performance in a loss against the hometown, No. 1-seeded Villanova squad.

    Shakur parlayed that performance into declaring for the NBA Draft, but after a long and hard thought process, he decided to return for his senior season.

    “”He has come back from that experience and taken it as a positive one,”” Olson said. “”There is no chip on his shoulder like some guys might have. From the day he stepped back on campus, he has been about the University of Arizona and our team.””

    As he stood on the McKale Center floor during media day in October, Shakur – who was all smiles – was asked what this year will mean to him.

    Stone-faced, Shakur looked straight ahead and said, “”It’s going to mean everything to me because this is the year where we win it all.””

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