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Men's Hoops: New shot, more confidence

SAUL LOEB/Arizona Daily Wildcat
With sights on reaching college basketball's pinnacle once again, UA head coach Lute Olson plans to keep the ball in the hands of sophomore point guard Mustafa Shakur as much as possible. Shakur spent his offseason working out with a shooting coach in order to fix a hitch in his release.
By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, November 3, 2004
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Cats' chance at No. 1 rides on sophomore point guard Shakur

Mustafa Shakur is used to lofty expectations.

He came to the UA last season as arguably the nation's premier freshman point guard, and didn't disappoint, scoring nearly 10 points per game to go with almost four assists.

So when the UA coaching staff handpicked the Philadelphia product to be the Wildcats' undisputed floor leader this season, how did he respond?

By trying to make his game even better, naturally.

"I put in a lot of work on my jump shot," said Shakur, who shot over 51 percent from the field last season despite an awkward release on his shot, one that left the ball flying toward the basket with an unconventional sideways rotation.

With another freshman point guard, Chris Paul of Wake Forest, leading his team deep into the NCAA tournament last season, the national media forgot about Shakur.

But Shakur didn't fold, instead choosing to work hard over the summer to improve his game.

Training with Kenny Payne, now an assistant coach for Oregon and a former NBA player, the 6-foot-1 Shakur is certain he fixed some of the problems that plagued him last year.

"He helped me a lot with my jump shot," Shakur said. "Other than that, I got a lot of shots up and worked on my game. I went to Nike Camp, Jordan Camp, played with the USA team and continued working on it."

Shakur averaged 9.4 points in his first season and shot just under 40 percent from three-point range, numbers usually impressive enough for the average freshman.

But the other tools Shakur brought to the court proved he wasn't the average freshman. He made a game-winning 3-pointer in a Pacific 10 Conference tournament quarterfinal game against Southern California and was named the Pac-10's best freshman by Dick Vitale.

Even still, Shakur's daily schedule this summer was anything but easy.

He started by lifting weights for about one and a half to two hours at around 8 a.m. He followed it by another two hours of working out, including catch-and-shoot drills as well as the off-dribble shooting drills.

"I'd probably go back to the gym at night to do something else too, like handle or something like that," he said. "That was pretty much a typical day."

Shakur said he took about 300- 400 shots a day, and those extra shots should prove useful as UA head coach Lute Olson said the ball will be in his floor general's hands even more in his second season.

The concept has already shown to be worthwhile to the Wildcats - Arizona was 15-2 when he dished out more than 5 assists.

Shakur could get even more this year, but it's certain that much of Arizona's hopes of winning the national championship lie on the point guard's shoulders.

"I have a year under my belt and I understand the concept of the team," Shakur said. "I'm definitely ready to lead."

Olson said he expects leadership from Shakur, because any team that does well in college basketball has an extension of the coach on the floor, as was proven last year by St. Joseph's Jameer Nelson, John Lucas of Oklahoma State, Duke's Chris Duhon, Taliek Brown of Connecticut, and Paul, who all led their teams far into the tournament.

"Mustafa has improved greatly," said Olson. "He's much more vocal, which you would expect after a year."

Olson said that it was tough for Shakur to come in and lead right away because the Wildcats didn't have leadership from the wing positions.

"It's very difficult for a freshman to ever take that lead position, in terms of on the court leadership," said Olson. "You look back at the freshman guards that we've had and you look back at Mike Bibby and say he made the adjustment well. If he hadn't had Miles Simon with him, he would have had problems, as would any freshman."

"Last year, it wasn't the case that we had that leadership out of one of the perimeter spots," Olson added. "Right from the start last year we told Mustafa that we needed him to be a leader. I don't think a guy understands what that means until you've been in the college season for a while."

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