Shakur heading home, now what?

The storyline was obvious from the minute the brackets were announced, Mustafa Shakur is heading home. Every media outlet has covered this story from the angle of Shakur playing in front of friends and family. Some have asked teammates about extra motivation. These are all fine and good, but is Shakur heading home actually a good thing?

The problem with Mustafa Shakur is that he is too tough to read. Not what he is thinking or feeling, but what he is going to do. He is the type of player that can go for 18 points, seven rebounds, six assists and no turnovers on one night (in this case the first round of the Pac-10's) and less than 24 hours later score five points, while committing five turnovers.

You just never know what Shakur will show up. The one who looks like an All-American or the one who looks like a walk-on. If the Wildcats' season was a rollercoaster, then Shakur was their poster boy.

So how will Shakur react to going back home? He has never gotten to play in his hometown. Not including the NCAA Tournament, Arizona has played four games on the East Coast, but none in the City of Brotherly Love.

Last season the Cats played at Virginia and had two games in the Preseason N.I.T. In Charlottesville Shakur was terrible. He scored five points and committed six turnovers, watching freshman PG Sean Singletary run for 15 points and eight assists.

In New York he had 13 points and six assists in a sloppy win over Michigan. Against Wake Forest and Chris Paul he did dish out six assists to no turnovers, but was just 1-12 from the field and missed the game winning shot in the final seconds, failing to draw iron on a short pull-up jumper.

This year in Chapel Hill, NC he was one of the few bright spots. Shakur scored 18 points and dished four assists in a bad loss to North Carolina.

What does this show us? Nothing. Shakur could go either way in front of the home fans.

Will Shakur be motivated and step up his game or will he wilt under the pressure of a homecoming? Will he play smart, aggressive basketball or will he force shots and make bad decisions trying to show off for the hometown fans.

You'd like to think that he'd be motivated. That after a very difficult season he'd cap it off with a couple of great games in front of friends and family. What would be sweeter than beating hometown Villanova in front of his 200 well wishers? What a way to silence the naysayers than with a big upset over a team known for its guard play. A team who took Michael Nardi and let Shakur, then the nation's top rated point guard, leave the city.

That storybook ending could just as easily be replaced by a disappointing loss to Wisconsin. He could let Chris Rock look alike Kammron Taylor break out of his slump and lead the Badgers to the mild upset.

That's the problem with Shakur, you just never know. With Jason Gardner you knew he was generally going to show up and play big. Jason Terry rarely had an off night. Mike Bibby? Forget about it. There was no way Bibby was not going to be at his best in the NCAA Tournament.

You can't say the same about Shakur. That is his problem. Even after three years in the program he's inconsistent. A rough opening to a game and his confidence is shot.

The good news is that he has looked very good in the past few games, with UCLA being the notable exception. The bad news is that he rarely strings together more than a few good games.

Shakur is confident, at least for now.

"Every time I have played in front of my family or friends I always play well," Shakur said. "I think this is more fun and more of a focus for me."

Hopefully that is true. Hopefully he has completely forgotten about the Wake Forest game in front of his family.

The Cats need Shakur. More than Hassan Adams or Ivan Radenovic, it is Shakur that is the key. If he plays well the Cats are far more likely to win. If he is aggressive and smart, the Cats should win. If he is tentative or sloppy, as he was against UCLA, then a Wildcat stay in Philly will be a short one.

The story is not that Shakur is going back home. The real story is how long will he be there.

Even more important, can the Cats get a homecoming game for Bret Brielmaier? A trip to Minneapolis and the Sweet 16 would prove that Shakur did indeed have a great trip home.

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