East coast recruits rarely make the trek out West to play college basketball, but distance and location are not necessarily top priorities for Shakur. In fact, it was almost shocking how much the Pennsylvania native knew about Arizona's basketball tradition.
"Arizona has been on TV a lot out here," said Shakur, a 6-3, 170-pound prospect considered to be the nation's best point guard from the class of 2003. "I watched them whenever I got the chance and saw them get to the Sweet 16. It's such a good basketball school that it's hard not to see them play."
Shakur was a bit of an unknown nationally before he had his coming out party in last summer's NBA camp for some of America's best high school prospects. He still plays on an AAU team (the Hunting Park Warriors) that is stocked mostly with mid-major talent but he has played so well lately that some have called him second only to LeBron James in terms of overall ability in the junior class.
"I started getting noticed with my AAU team a lot more than I did with my high school team," Shakur said. "At the NBA camp last summer, I did really well. Same thing at the ABCD camp. I think people noticed me a lot when we made the Final Four in Vegas because I played even better there than at the ABCD camp."
The Arizona coaching staff has only seen a very little amount of what Shakur can do, thanks to the rigorous and time-consuming college basketball season, but there is no doubt that the Wildcats are highly, highly interested. It's an interest that is very mutual, as it turns out.
"I like how (Arizona) runs a lot of NBA sets," Shakur said. "Even in the half-court sets you can see that it's NBA stuff. I liked all the point guards that they've had: Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Gilbert Arenas. Those guys spent three or four years there even though some left early and some didn't. I know that the assistant coach there was one of their point guards, too (Josh Pastner)."
As impressive as it was in hearing him recite some of the great Arizona guards off the top of his head, it was even more impressive to learn who he thinks his game most resembles. I asked him to compare his game and style of play to that of ANY player in the NBA.
"I'd say Mike Bibby," Shakur said of the former Wildcat All-American. "I can handle the ball, pass the ball and score. If I have good players on my team I won't force the issue, I'll try to make them all happy by getting them the ball. But if my team is struggling, I can make things happen by scoring also."
Shakur compares himself to Bibby
Shakur has listed Syracuse, Villanova (where he took an unofficial visit a couple of weeks ago), Connecticut, NC State, Georgia Tech and Seton Hall as his current list of favorite potential places to play in college. He says that he would like to eliminate some schools from contention by mid-summer because it's too many right now. However, Arizona seems to be the school that has piqued his interest the most in recent weeks.
"I've heard that Arizona has a strong academic program and someone told me they have a great business school," he said. "Pretty much what I want is to be comfortable with the coaches and the players because if you don't get along with the players you'll never play well. I have to like the guys on the team."
If he's worried about not getting along with the players, maybe someone should introduce him to Dennis Latimore. Especially since the last two guys that visited Arizona (Ndudi Ebi and Ekene Ibekwe) left with only glowing things to say about the Wildcat forward. Apparently, Arizona's new recruiting strategy is to, 1. Pick up potential recruit from airport, 2. Introduce him to Latimore and let them hang out with him for two days until, 3. Lute Olson drives the recruit personally to the airport for the lasting affect.
Shakur will likely make an official visit out here to meet with Olson and Latimore sometime in the fall. Now, if the Cats manage to get Mike Bibby to show up while he's in town, it might be a done deal for Arizona in landing the next in its long line of All-American point guards.