Citizen Staff Writer
By STEVE RIVERA
SEATTLE – Mustafa Shakur heard the message from coaches over and over. Run the offense, distribute and hit shots when needed – no more, no less.
That’s what point guards do, especially those from the University of Arizona. Mike Bibby heeded the advice from Lute Olson. So did Jason Gardner and others before.
For three years, Shakur struggled to follow the Point Guard U. mantra. But it finally sank in when he attended the NBA predraft camp and other pro camps in June.
“When you hear guys like (Memphis Grizzlies executive) Jerry West tell me the same thing, to just run your team and get everyone involved and win, it looks good on your part,” Shakur said. “It also makes it easier to go out and concentrate on what you need to do.”
Now a senior, he’s playing the best basketball of his UA career, averaging 13.3 points and 7.7 assists per game heading into No. 7-ranked UA’s game tonight at No. 24 Washington. Those numbers are well above his career marks of 9.5 points and 4.5 assists after three years. Shakur has been so good passing the ball this season that he ranks third nationally in Division I assists.
From the summer, when he traveled the country trying to impress the NBA scouts, to now, Shakur has turned himself into what UA coach Olson calls a “complete player.”
The 6-foot-3 Shakur runs the transition break, runs the half-court offense, plays tough defense and scores when it’s there. He’s also averaging 4.5 rebounds a game.
“The pro scouts are amazed at how he’s turned his game around,” Olson said.
Each of the past five times he’s seen Shakur, David Griffin, the Phoenix Suns vice president for basketball operations, said Shakur has looked better.
“When he came into the college game he was kind of caught in between trying to score and be a playmaker,” Griffin said. “And nothing came easy to him, where he was in a no-man’s land with his game.”
Shakur has figured out that if he can get the others involved and the team wins, it “reflects well on him,” Griffin said.
The Philadelphia native is doing a “radically” different job of drawing the defenses and finding the open man, Griffin added.
“Mustafa has been helped in that he has finishers around him,” Griffin said. “That’s been a big factor for him.”
Part of the reason is UA is hitting more shots as a team this season.
“You can’t win when you’re shooting 30 percent,” Shakur said, referring to last year’s team. “I just wanted to win.”
He wanted to win, so he tried to do too much.
The coaches told him that. It backfired because he pressed the issue and it didn’t work.
“This year I don’t have to,” Shakur said.
He is letting the game come to him and not forcing the issue.
Perhaps Shakur’s biggest turnaround has been with his shot.
When he came to Arizona, the ball seemed to rotate with horizontal spin as he used a sling-shot-type motion. Now, it’s almost a standard-looking shot.
“I worked on it every day, twice a day,” he said. “It looks 100 percent better, but I’m a point guard and having those wings out there helping me is great.”
Griffin has noticed.
“Most importantly, Mustafa is taking his shots at the right time,” Griffin said. “He’s not forcing bad shots and that decision making is more important than shooting form.”
How’s that for more validation?
DIVISION I ASSISTS LEADERS
1. Jared Jordan, Marist Sr. 8.1
2. Jason Richards, Davidson Jr 7.8
3. Mustafa Shakur, Arizona Sr. 7.7
4. Charles Richardson Jr., Nebraska Sr. 6.8
5. Ishmael Smith, Wake Forest Fr. 6.7
Other Pac-10 guards in Top 50
8. Darren Collison, UCLA So. 6.5
34. Ayinde Ubaka, Cal Sr. 5.5