Mustafa Shakur hoping to finally find a home in the NBA
About a 30 minutes after the Wizards had concluded practice on Thursday, players were heading out of the locker room to get ready for a flight to Oklahoma City in about two hours. But Mustafa Shakur was still on the practice court, sweating through his T-shirt and practice jersey, taking jumpers.
As he walked out of the locker room, Andray Blatche heard dribbling coming from the court, leaned in and said, "I hope he knows we've got a flight at 2:30."
Shakur shot for about 10 more minutes. For a guy on a 10-day contract, there is never much security but always an opportunity to show the coaching staff your dedication. If it means waiting until the last minute to get to the airport so that you can put up some extra shots, then so be it.
Shakur has had to wait so long to have an opportunity to actually play in an NBA game, he doesn't want to go back to the NBA Developmental League. And, he's hoping that he can find a home in Washington.
"I want to show that I'm willing to work," Shakur said. "I don't really want to say show it, because that's what I do. I have a routine, I want to stick to it. I'm willing to learn and be consistent. Consistency every second, every day, as far as my energy, as far as being a point guard and communicating."
Shakur may have made his NBA debut last Saturday, but he has been around the league for some time. A highly-regarded point guard from Philadelphia, Shakur was in the same high school class as NBA superstars LeBron James and Chris Paul. But after playing four years at Arizona, he was undrafted in 2007. Discouraged, Shakur never lost sight of his dream to reach the NBA.
"I just stayed in the gym and just kept working and try to block out everything that happened before," he said. "That's how I live my life and base my career on that, working hard today and planning for tomorrow. I can't live life in reverse. That's pretty much how I do things."
Shakur is averaging 4.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in his first three games with the Wizards, showing an ability to run the team, even though Coach Flip Saunders kept the offense relatively simple since he had yet to practice.
"I had time to see him in college, so I knew he was a great point guard," said Nick Young, who battled Shakur while playing at Southern California. "So coming in, I knew I had somebody on my team, my side, the Pac-10. I kind of expecting it. He been waiting for an opportunity like this. I'm glad he's getting it."
Shakur played in Poland and Spain before deciding to come back and gain more exposure in the D-League. "Going overseas, I learned a lot," he said. "So I don't look at it as I'm a rookie, because I played professional a few years overseas with the top players over there and came back and had some experiences also."
He tried out for Sacramento and then played for the Oklahoma City Thunder's D-League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers. Thunder Coach Scott Brooks and members of his staff made frequent visits to 66ers games and Shakur was called him up twice last season, allowing him to finish the regular season and playoffs as a member of its roster. He never appeared in a game, but learned from being around all-star Kevin Durant and budding stars Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green.
"It was a great experience," said Shakur, adding that he expected Westbrook to make the leap that he has this season. "Because he really puts the work in. I saw him everyday, coming in every morning, staying after practice, just getting his shots and just a real humble guy, hard working. Not surprised with what he was doing."
Shakur said that being in such a hardworking environment rubbed off on him. "It's one of the things I was very excited about to be around that. The biggest thing I saw was the preparation of the players, the coaching staff, and giving the team a clear view in what it took to win."
Shakur moved on to New Orleans for training camp and was one of the last cuts, but he finally got his shot after averaging 16.7 points, 5.0 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals this season while making 48.8 percent of his field goal attempts for the D-Leagues's Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
His agent, Leon Rose, called him to let him know that the Wizards planned to sign him last Friday. The Vipers were in Bismark, N.D., playing a back-to-back set against the Dakota Wizards, so Shakur had to hope on a plane and leave his basketball shoes and other equipment behind, since it was locked up in the arena. He got a pair of size 12 adidas shoes for his debut against the Boston Celtics, an appearance that his been overshadowed by his ridiculously bad jersey, which had been stitched together -- seemingly by hand -- only a few hours before the game.
Nick Young joked that the jersey should be "retired." Shakur's uniform has since been put together properly, but he actually asked for the original. "I'm going to frame it and put a little story headline under it."
When asked what the headline would read, Shakur said, "I don't know, what you do think it should read?"
Someone said, "I'm just happy to be here."
"There you go," Shakur said.
He gets asked the question all time, but before a reporter could finish, Shakur said he is not related to the late rapper Tupac. He laughed as he explained how a television reporter asked him during a live telecast what advice his "cousin" had given him about how to handle fame. "And she was serious," he said, without need to state the obvious: Tupac Shakur died in 1996 -- when Mustafa Shakur was 12 and far from a heralded NBA prospect.
I asked if he ever lied about it, just to have the association. He smiled and said, "No, I'm proud of the family I come from."
Shakur said he has leaned on his family and prayer to overcome the stresses of waiting for an opportunity. "I think the lowest is, just the fight everyday. It's mental everyday, especially when you're in the D-League. You're not getting paid as much obviously, and you're always wondering when your time may come, who's going to call and when they may call. You've got to just stay focused and ready. Not being situated. Not being in one place on a permanent basis. That's what I'm working toward. That's the toughest part."
| January 28, 2011; 3:35 PM ET
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