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Inside Look at Mustafa Shakur

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I don't know much about Mustafa Shakur. I know what the stats tell me, and I know what I read about him in pre-draft reports. I know from browsing the Arizona Wildcats online community he was a divisive player. To find out more about this, as well as insight into what Shakur will bring when he competes with Orien Greene for a backup PG spot in training camp, I turned to someone who has watched Shakur in Tucson for four years, Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star. In addition to his beat writer duties, Bruce writes a blog about University of Arizona athletics for The Star, with an obvious emphasis on men's hoops.

Here's what Bruce has to say about Shakur.

I think he's divisive because he has so many physical skills and entered UA as the top PG in the country, but wasn't able to lead them to any Final Fours. He was not a great clutch player, either, and fans here routinely dissect every possession of his late in games.

 But this is all judged in the context of how good Arizona PGs have been over the past decade. There was Bibby, who won the title as a freshman. Then Jason Terry, a combo guard who adapted to PG as a senior and went on to be a solid NBA player. Then Jason Gardner, a terrific, touch clutch college player who nevertheless didn't have the size or speed to make it in the NBA. After that, along comes Mustafa as the No. 1 HS PG and everyone's expecting a Final Four or two, maybe an early NBA departure. When he didn't deliver that, many fans began crashing down on him. I think the criticism really started heating up during his sophomore year when UA blew a big lead to Illinois in the 2005 Elite Eight  (and the heat also came down quite a bit on Lute Olson after that one). That loss wasn't entirely his fault, of course, but he was the PG.

Also, his leadership has been questioned. Not because he can't lead but because he may be TOO nice of a guy to deal with strong egos. He had some pretty strong personalities to pull together at Arizona during his junior and senior seasons and, for whatever reason, their chemistry was fractured. There is a sense here that UA needs a strong backcourt personality, a la Miles Simon, who led them to the 1997 title.

Mustafa didn't have that personality, maybe, but the fact is that he was a very good college point guard. Just not a great one. And here, it seems, you have to be great to meet expectations.

No question that the program's slide factors into this, too. As I've mentioned, lead guards are expected to deliver Final Fours here -- Bibby, Gardner, Damon Stoudamire and Steve Kerr all did it. Shakur didn't. Both Shakur and Lute Olson have taken most of the heat since the 2005 Illinois game. Now that Shakur is gone and Olson has hired a new right-hand man, former Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill, it will be interesting to see if things change.

I think he could actually fit into an NBA role player situation because leadership and late-game decision-making probably won't be as much of a factor. His top skill is derived from his size and speed, his ability to get into a defense and either find the open man or take it in. I think he could still do that in the NBA, though he has had trouble with overpenetrating. And I think that's partly been because there's been so much pressure on him to produce: He felt he had to drive in far and make things happen because his team was stagnating. Without that kind of pressure, he may actually be better off.

His defense is good, but not great, with potential to be better because of his size and speed. Shooting needs work, as you know.

One  thing I will say about him, too: He really cares and tries extremely hard. When UA lost some shockers over the last two seasons, he was one of the guys who seemed most affected. Some guys in the locker room didn't seem to be that bothered. That has been one of Arizona's biggest problems, I think...


Many thanks to Bruce for taking the time out to talk with us.

For a roleplayer like Shakur, fitting in will be key. No one's asking him to score even 10 points a night; no one expects more than solid minutes when required should he make the team.

But it's a lot like the struggles presidential candidates have with appealing to the base during primary season and lurching back to the middle come general election time. During training camp and preseason, Shakur needs to stand out -- and he's going to do that by scoring, making plays, and getting tenacious on defense. But in the end, he's going to need to be reserved and solid, deferring to others, should he make the team. It's hard to identify those qualities in preseason, when guys like Mustafa are playing with their NBA careers on the line.

Coupled with our scouting report on Orien Greene, who would you prefer on the roster come November? Poll is on the right.