By Ryan Casey
Jacob Konst/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Junior guard Mustafa Shakur endured a sophomore slump last season, seeing his averages drop in points, assists and field-goal shooting. He is expected to take on a larger scoring load and follow in the footsteps of former Wildcats Jason Terry and Gilbert Arenas.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Junior hopes to shake off inconsistent reputation
Critics, cynics and skeptics alike have taken their shots at junior point guard Mustafa Shakur almost since his first game with Arizona.
Shakur, who came to the Wildcats widely regarded as the nation's top-rated point-guard prospect in 2003, has heard it all about his first two years under the microscope.
"Nobody likes criticism, coaches don't - nobody does," said Arizona associate head coach Jim Rosborough. "But I think you understand as you come to a program like ours - and there are several others in the country - every loss people are going to take a look and see what's going on."
"The people that are critical of 'Stafa - they don't understand," said Arizona assistant coach Josh Pastner said. "'Staf's one of the best, if not the best, point guard in the game right now."
Critics decry Shakur for averaging 8.7 points, 4.5 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 0.9 steals over his two-year career, starting in 70 of 72 games, including the NCAA Tournament.
One of Shakur's goals this season is to increase his scoring average, something his coaches are confident he'll be able to realize.
"He's going to have a tremendous year, and we're expecting huge things from him," Pastner said. "He knows that, and he's excited - he's worked his butt off."
(37 games): 8.1 points per game,
42.3 percent field-goal shooting
(30 games): 9.4 points per game,
51.9 percent field-goal shooting
"Without putting any undue pressure on him, I think we feel he ought to be one of the better point guards in the country," Rosborough said.
In talking with Shakur, one can tell that he's definitely focused on the job at hand and doesn't view his critics as an annoyance - rather, he views them as people soon to be proven wrong.
"I know I'm going to handle my business this year and prove myself," the Philadelphia native said. "And then when I do, everyone's going to look stupid."
There isn't much that fans and critics can say that truly bothers Shakur, Pastner said.
"He's about what the coaching staff tells him and about his game on the court," Pastner said.
Simply put, those critics are the ones providing the spark for Shakur to succeed this year. The guard lists them as the reason he worked out in the gym as hard as he did this summer.
"When I (have a good season), you'll see a bunch of bandwagoners," Shakur said. "That's what happens."
With the arrival this season of freshman guard J.P. Prince, fans might think the Memphis, Tenn., native has Shakur looking over his shoulder.
Ask the Wildcat coaches, however, and they'll tell you that they see it from a different perspective.
"It gives Mustafa another good guy to practice against every day in practice," Pastner said. "J.P.'s going to push Mustafa, because J.P. doesn't want to sit. He wants to play as well."
"It does get competitive out there at times. They get after it pretty good," Rosborough said. "The good competition helps both kids, for sure."
In the season's early going, the two could often find themselves sharing the same backcourt, Rosborough said.
"I think right now, of course, with (senior guard) Chris Rodgers' knee banged up and not knowing exactly when he's going to be back, I think there's a strong possibility of it," he said.
The influx of new blood into the Arizona roster, along with the graduation of last year's leading scorers, Salim Stoudamire and Channing Frye, has allowed Shakur to step into a leadership role this season, a role he said he is very comfortable with.
"That's what I've been waiting for, to step up and be a leader of this team," he says.
"I didn't have that opportunity - having two seniors ahead of me, having older guys there - I didn't have the opportunity to do what I normally do, so I have the opportunity now."
This year, aside from the unspoken silencing of the critics, Shakur said he has a few goals he'd like to fulfill.
"Definitely to increase my scoring average, increase everything - and win," he said. "That's always my goal, to win. Every time I step on the floor."
For the 2005-06 Wildcats, that goal cannot be accomplished without Shakur fitting as a piece of the puzzle.
"He knows what he's got to do and he's going to have a great year this year, there's no doubt about it," Pastner said. "We're expecting him to have an All-American-type year."