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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Shakur short of expectations

    Arizona guard Mustafa Shakur has a rebound knocked away from him by Purdue forwards Carl Landry (14) and Gordon Watt (1) during the second half of Arizonas 72-63 first-round NCAA Tournament loss to the Boilermakers Friday in New Orleans. Shakur turned the ball eight times in that contest, capping a career that ended short of its initial hype.
    Arizona guard Mustafa Shakur has a rebound knocked away from him by Purdue forwards Carl Landry (14) and Gordon Watt (1) during the second half of Arizona’s 72-63 first-round NCAA Tournament loss to the Boilermakers Friday in New Orleans. Shakur turned the ball eight times in that contest, capping a career that ended short of its initial hype.

    Isaiah Fox, Chris Rodgers, Dennis Latimore, Chris Dunn.

    All had plenty of talent and expectations of grandeur, but somewhere their dreams of stardom went astray. For most, it was off-court issues that helped the players self-mutilate their careers. Injuries, police blotter, attitude problems, academics.

    Mustafa Shakur’s story is different. His expectations were exponentially larger and his career at Arizona was up and down but not wasted. Still, after four years the next point guard at a school for point guards, left a lot of questions.

    Once rated ahead of Chris Paul as the nation’s top high school point guard, the answers are less clear.

    Shakur did and said all the right things for the majority of his career. He went to class. He never got into trouble, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t party excessively.

    The next in line at Point Guard U spent extra time in the gym, worked on his jump shot and became more vocal as an upperclassman.

    Even when he declared for the NBA Draft, the Philadelphia native whose name sounds like that of a proud character from “”The Lion King”” did so mostly to test the waters and came right back to be the media-esteemed four-year player.

    But somewhere along the line, Shakur’s career ceased to travel in the right direction. A point came when being a good player wasn’t enough to escape the expectations. When averaging 12 points and six assists wasn’t good enough. When having a bad game or two quickly demoted him back to wear another label: disappointment.

    “”Could he have worked harder? No,”” UA associate head coach Jim Rosborough said. “”Could he have been a better person to represent in the community? No.

    “”Doesn’t drink, didn’t get in any social problems, handled himself well, was gracious at all times, so could you expect more there? No.””

    But on the court, much more was expected. Fair or not, the hype was prodigious, and after four years at Arizona, Shakur will be remembered as the highest-profile recruit to fall below standards.

    Early this season, “”he was playing at the level of the other guys and then down the stretch, it wasn’t at that level. I don’t know if it was horrible, it wasn’t at that level,”” Rosborough said.

    Shakur and UA head coach Lute Olson continued to pursue the same reasoning for Shakur’s reaction to criticism.

    “”No one puts more pressure on Shakur than himself, so outside pressure doesn’t matter,”” they would say.

    And he would put critics at bay just enough to never completely dismiss his chances to be the star once promised. The games at the NCAA Tournament in Philadelphia had everyone buzzing.

    This was the “”Chosen One.”” This was the kid who would sprint down the floor like a racecar and make good decisions at breakneck speeds. The kid who was all over the court, contributed to every column in the box score and helped his team win. The same kid tabbed by Olson as one of the best point guards in the country when he was in the process of guiding Arizona to 12 straight wins.

    But that same kid was overpassed faster than an old lady in the right lane on I-10.

    The pressure got to him, even if he’ll never admit it. From every angle, Shakur was pressed by the public, by fans, by the nation. Why wasn’t he becoming a star? Why was his career flat-lining, why was everyone else passing him by?

    “”Of course it did,”” Rosborough said. “”Now is he gonna show it, will he admit it? Of course not. If you know kids, if you know competitors, know athletes, of course it bothers him.””

    First it was Paul, who took the expressway to the NBA.

    Then it was point guard after point guard this season who passed right by Shakur for easy baskets. Sean Singletary from Virginia, Ty Lawson from North Carolina, Aaron Brooks from Oregon, Darren Collison from UCLA, Gabe Pruitt from USC, Kyle Weaver from Washington State, even Derek Glasser from ASU held his own.

    Shakur’s problems ranged from overpenetrating to the creaky jump shot to thinking way too much.

    “”Biggest thing that has been a problem all four years is the tendency to overpenetrate and get himself in (trouble),”” Olson said.

    Shakur was one of the few players who didn’t subscribe to Olson’s theory that players make the biggest jump from their freshman to sophomore seasons. Shakur’s numbers dropped across the board, including his shooting percentage, which dropped by almost 10 percent.

    Spending time in the gym didn’t compensate for the fact that his delivery looked about as fluid as cement and he could have built a Tuscan villa with bricks from wide-open jumpers.

    A McDonald’s All-American in high school, Shakur wasn’t even named to the All-Pacific 10 Conference team this season. Of course he dismissed the slight as a factor of losing.

    “”I think if we win four or five more games in the Pac-10, me and Ivan (Radenovic) jump right onto the Pac-10 (first team),”” Shakur said. “”Losing those close games kind of take away from it.””

    In three of his four years, Arizona has underachieved. Twice, the Wildcats were seeded No. 8 in the NCAA Tournament, and Arizona was a No. 9 seed in his freshman season. When Arizona almost made it to the Final Four in his sophomore season, Shakur failed to control the ball against Illinois late when the Illini came back from a 15-point deficit in the last four minutes. Shakur had five turnovers against four assists in the game.

    “”As a point guard you got to take responsibility for anything that goes on,”” Shakur said.

    In his last season, Shakur soured late in the season, reverting back to the out-of-control, poor-shooting guard he exhibited early in his career.

    Asked if this was his most disappointing season, Shakur said, “”I haven’t thought back to every game yet, so I don’t know if it’s disappointing, but obviously it’s disappointing because it’s my last year.””

    After holding steady in the second round on, Shakur dropped out completely after his less-than-aesthetically-pleasing performance against Purdue in Friday’s first-round NCAA Tournament loss.

    If Shakur wants to stay out of playing in countries where the language sounds like something in “”Borat,”” he still has a lot to work on.

    “”He needs to show that he can run a club, show that he can at some level make shots,”” Rosborough said. “”I think he needs to show that he can finish in the basket area, and I think he needs to show that he can take care of the basketball. That’s one thing going into the season, people said he needs a great assist-to-turnover ratio.””

    His assist-turnover ratio: almost 2-1 and No. 3 in the Pac-10.

    Shakur will go down in Arizona history as No. 2 on the all-time assists list, No. 3 in games played, and No. 10 in steals.

    In most places, his career would be celebrated. But this isn’t most places.

    This is the land of point guards, and Shakur’s career left much to be desired.

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