Shakur's return provides options, questions

Mustafa Shakur announced his intention to return for his senior year and the Wildcats can now fully prepare for next season. After the dust settled the Wildcats only lost the three seniors they expected to lose.

Getting Shakur back does not guarantee additional success for the Wildcats but it does give them options. If the Mustafa Shakur who showed up in Philadelphia for the NCAA Tournament is the one the Wildcats will see for the bulk of the year, then the Cats will have a major talent upgrade.

Unfortunately, Shakur has been one of the most inconsistent starters in Wildcat history. He was just as likely to be held scoreless as he was to pump in 15 points and eight assists.

You would hope that Shakur takes what the NBA scouts have told him and fully embrace what the Wildcat coaches tell him. Shakur has always been a hard worker, and fairly coachable, but he has yet to put it all together. Word is one of the reasons that Shakur is coming back to Tucson is that the same things the NBA execs told him are what the UA coaches have been preaching for three years.

So what does his return really mean?

Mostly, it takes the pressure off of the other Wildcat point guards. J.P. Prince, who has had his own share of ups and downs, does not have to carry the load. He can continue to progress at his own rate without being burdened with all of the Wildcats' hopes on his shoulders.

It also means that Nic Wise is not pressed into duty before he is ready. The true freshman now has the luxury to get acclimated to the college game at his own pace. If he's ready to play from day one, great, if not, he can sit back and learn the game.

Of course, this does not mean the point guard job is Shakur's. While he has been branded the ‘Golden Child' for the past three seasons, there is talk that he did not handle his exploration of the draft in the best manner. While Shakur will be welcomed back, nothing will be given to him.

He will have to battle Prince, Wise and whoever else has their sites set for the job. No longer will the senior be given preferential treatment because of his class standing. If the 6-6 Prince is ready to go, he'll steal minutes. If the steady, heady Wise can bring the sort of pass first, leadership he displayed in high school to the collegiate game, Olson will not hesitate to put him on the floor.

While Shakur gives the Cats depth and options, he also further clogs up an already crowded backcourt. Olson needs to find time for players like Marcus Williams, Jawann McClellan, Chase Budinger, Fendi Onobun and Daniel Dillon. Williams and Dillon have already played some at the point and if playing them at the one is the best option to maximize the talent you can bet Olson will do that.

The most maddening thing is that Shakur is talented. It would be one thing if he lacked ability or was not willing to work but neither is true. Shakur may have an ugly shot and seems to lack a bit of innate basketball instincts. Shakur is tall, athletic and strong. He can be an amazing passer and has taken over games with his offense. Sadly, he has also disappeared in key stretches.

He has most of the tools a player needs to be an NBA player but he has to put the whole package together. If he does, watch out! Arizona could be poised for great things. If he does not, all is not lost. While Shakur could be the linchpin to a deep tourney run, the Cats have been preparing for the past few months as if they are not going to have him. In fact, the Cats will succeed based on the play of Williams and Ivan Radenovic. Solid seasons from McClellan and Budinger could be more vital than the play of the point guard.

Certainly the Cats need solid play from the one. You can't win without steady play from the point guard, but the way the Cats are built they may not need a star running the show. Jason Gardner proved that in 2001. That year Gardner was the fourth offensive option, but his rock steady play kept the cogs in the Wildcat machine turning. He hit his share of big shots, but rarely had to take over games. During the championship game run it was Loren Woods and Gilbert Arenas who had the monster games.

Shakur is back and now the battle begins.


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