Four years of memories

After Arizona lost to Purdue it was easy to look ahead to next season. One couldn't help but already think ahead and what is in store for this program. A top ten recruiting is class coming in, and the likes of Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger, and others are returning. Although the past few seasons were disappointing, it would be a shame to ignore the contribution of the two seniors.

Looking back on the last four years of this program, and what Mustafa Shakur and Ivan Radenovic gave to it. Both came into the Arizona program together, but they came in with different backgrounds and expectations.

No matter what you think of the two as players, you have to admire the two young men. Both had up and down careers, but both were always accountable, even in the face of disappointment.

Shakur came in with lofty expectations. He came in as one of the top rated point guards in the nation, and was asked to lead this team right from the start. He was often called the "Golden Child" by teammates and fans, which seemed to work against Shakur throughout his four years at Arizona.

From a pure statistical standpoint, Shakur had a pretty decent career at Arizona. He recorded 207 assists this year, which has only happened one other time in the history of Arizona basketball. Russell Brown had 247 assists in the 1978-79 season. Shakur was also a pretty good rebounder as a point guard, while also being a decent scorer at the position.

The issue, statistically, with Shakur's career is the amount of turnovers that he committed while being the program's point guard. Shakur, throughout his four years, averaged 2.9 turnovers per game. At Arizona that just won't get it done.

Shakur was the scapegoat for this team and program whenever it would struggle. Sometimes that criticism was valid, and sometimes it was not. Many times losses could be directly attributed to Shakur. However, there were times that he got the because it was convenient. When the reason for a loss was tough to pinpoint, it was easy to blame Shakur. When in doubt blame the point guard.

Maybe the biggest knock on Shakur is that he did not improve noticeably in the four years he was in Tucson. Sure he was better, but he did not grow as much as a player as one should in four years.

Radenovic, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. If you want to compare two players to find some definite opposites, Radenovic and Shakur would be the logical choices. Radenovic came to Arizona from Belgrade, Serbia, which meant that he wasn't recruited or even looked at by many colleges. He was a virtual unknown when he arrived in Tucson.

Although Radenovic did not have to deal with the hype, he had to deal with a lot of outside issues, whether it was learning how to adapt to the American culture, to learning how to comprehend with people that weren't familiar with the way he went about things. It has been said that Radenovic was a loner when he first came to Arizona, but how can you blame him? It's got to be ultra tough to come into an elite program and change how you go about doing things.

Radenovic, unlike Shakur, improved in almost every statistical area since he first came to Arizona. He improved his points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, field goal percentage, amongst others, while earning more and more minutes each year. Radenovic exceeded all expectations when he first came to Arizona, and as a senior, he was viewed as one of the team's best players.

Perhaps the fondest memory of Radenovic will be his dominating performance against Stanford a few weeks ago, in a must win situation for the Cats. Ivan displayed one of the all-time great individual performances in the history of Arizona basketball. Who knew that a skinny, fragile kid from Belgrade, Serbia, when he first arrived, would etch his name into Arizona basketball by playing just 45 minutes?

It would be a shame if fans did not recognize the achievements of the two. Sure they never went to a Final Four, in fact they failed to advance past the first weekend three times. It's easy to look back and say that this player didn't live up to expectations, or didn't do what we had expected out of them. Sometimes, things just don't go the way that people want them or expect them to go. That's life. However, what I do know is that what Mustafa and Ivan brought to this program will never be forgotten.

Now, according to coaches and people close to the program, there has never been a group of seniors to come through this program and work as hard as Radenovic and Shakur did. As basketball players, these two grew into two players that have the chance to go to the next level. Whether it be the NBA, the European leagues, or whatever, you'll see these two playing basketball again. But, more important, as people, these two came in as boys and grew into two of the most wonderful, well spoken, and mature men that have come through this basketball program.

Neither player will leave as one of the best at his position and neither will leave with the greatest tournament resume, but both will leave as good citizens and good kids. Those who can step away from the pain of the loss, the lack of overall success, will realize, at the very least, that they represented the program well.


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