The Importance of Mustafa Shakur

It may sound obvious, but it is so true, point guard play is vital for success in the NCAA Tournament. With his recent struggles, many are concerned about Mustafa Shakur's ability to lead the Wildcats. There is no doubt that as Shakur goes, so go the Wildcats.

A lot has been made regarding Mustafa and his four years here at Arizona. Coming out of Philadelphia as a five star recruit, and the top rated point guard in his class, there were a ton of expectations surrounding Mustafa Shakur.

Shakur's career started out on a relatively average note. He came in as a freshman, and led Arizona to an NCAA tournament berth, that resulted in a first round loss. He averaged 9.4 ppg, while dishing out 4.5 apg, but also averaged 2.8 turnovers a game. On a team with serious chemistry issues, he was seen as a bright spot, a player who could carry on the tradition of great Wildcat point guards.

He would go onto improve his assist-to-turnover ratio in his sophomore year, but his PPG average and minutes per game dropped. However, as the starting point guard, Mustafa would lead the Wildcats to an Elite Eight appearance. Although he played quite well in the Tournament, all anyone remembers is the end of the Illinois game.

Shakur played poorly during the Illinois comeback, but few remember what a great game he was having for the first 30 minutes or so. All anyone remember is the turnovers late, including the one right at mid-court where he had the ball stripped away.

In my opinion, this is where the demise of the Mustafa Shakur term as the Wildcats point guard began. Despite improving all of his statistical numbers in his junior year, while being the Cats best player in the NCAA tournament that year, he still couldn't find enough consistency and productivity to please the Wildcat faithful. But how can you blame him? The expectations, in all honesty, were probably way too much for Shakur to handle. Now, that's not a knock on Mustafa Shakur simply because most players with those kinds of expectations, while coming to a program that's known as "Point Guard U," wouldn't be able to live up to the expectations.

Fans did not want a ‘good' point guard, they expected a great point guard. Shakur was not that. In three seasons he had not lived up to his "Golden Child" nickname he was given when he first arrived on campus.

2006-'07 looked to be a new story. With the talent surrounding him, many expected Shakur to have his breakout year; and from a statistical standpoint, that's just what he did. Shakur would go on to post career highs in PPG, RPG, APG, A/T, and SPG. However, he would also post the highest turnovers per game average of his career.

While Shakur was posting some terrific numbers in the first two months of the year, you thought that maybe the critics were backing off and starting to witness the growth and maturation of Mustafa Shakur. He was even proclaimed, by Coach Olson, that he may have been the best point guard in the land.

This was all happening as the Cats opened the season by winning 12 of their first 13. How could you blame Coach Olson for claiming that? During that 12-1 run, Shakur was averaging 13.9 points per game, while handing out 7.9 assists per game. However, he was still averaging 3.3 turnovers per game, but with the Cats winning like they were, those turnovers were easily pushed aside. Things were great for Shakur and the Wildcat nation.

Unfortunately Shakur, and the team, would come back down to earth. Despite opening up the New Year with a win at Washington, which looked like a great win at the time, the After the Washington game Shakur would average 11.7 points per game, 6.1 assists per game, and 3.7 turnovers per game.

Compared to the numbers he was maintaining during the 12-1 stretch, those were significantly down; and you could tell that it was hurting this team as shown by their struggles since January 1st.

Now, we can't say for sure if Shakur's struggles led to the team's struggles, or if the team's struggles led to Shakur's issues. In reality, it was probably somewhere in between, but it was obvious that the senior point guard was not good enough to right the ship.

During the 12-1 stretch, Shakur was steady late in games. He made big buckets and led the Wildcats during tough stretches. As the Wildcats struggled, Shakur failed to make plays late. Against Washington State he led the Cats to an improbable comeback late but mishandled the clock on the final possession. He had a critical turnover late in the home loss to Oregon, and several others down the stretch.

I feel that it's very important for Shakur to find what he had during the early season run and during the 2006 NCAA tournament when he was the Cats' best player. Maybe it was the fact that he was playing back home, in Philadelphia, in front of family, friends, and supporters. I'm really not sure, but what I do know is that in order for the Cats to have success in the tournament they are going to need Mustafa Shakur to play like he did earlier this year. They will need him to play his best.

One thing I do know, however, is that Shakur still has an opportunity to leave a legacy with this program, and to silence all his critics with a great run; and if there is going to be a great run, Shakur will be a key.

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