What I didn't know was just how advanced his playmaking abilities were. In Las Vegas, he was forced to score for his team, which he did (scored 29 vs. 2004 top PG Shaun Livingston) despite a painful hip pointer. Today, with a plethora of athletic wings, forwards and post players at his disposal, Shakur showed why he is truly deserving of the nation's No. 1 ranking as a point guard.
He flat out makes things happen and makes everyone around him better. Forget Arizona and NC State for a second, he could go to Montana Tech and make them a dangerous team.
In the pickup game today he matched up against America's top returning point guard, Jason Gardner, a three-time All-American and favorite for the 2003 Wooden Award. Shakur is completely different than the growing Wildcat legend in that he doesn't look to score first…or second, for that matter. Shakur drives, spins, kicks out, finds cutters, throws lobs and consistently hits the open man for easy buckets. Gardner scored 31 points today against the precocious high schooler but was out-assisted by Shakur 11-1. What's more is that Shakur only committed one turnover and that was while trying to make a little too much happen in transition.
Shakur wound up with an impressive 14 points on 7-12 shooting but that's misleading. He missed three layups that rolled off the rim and then had a wide-open reverse dunk hit off the back of the iron as well. On a normal day, Shakur finishes with 20-22 points to go along with those 11 assists.
Gardner showed why he's so good by making big baskets all day long. He gets himself in the right positions for open shots and scores in transition. Shakur kept up with him defensively but let's be realistic, defense is rarely a high schooler's strength unless his name is Adams or Iguodala. Shakur needs work but he gets plenty of steals with his exceptionally long arms and anticipation. Essentially, Shakur is a taller, longer version of Jason Terry (looks just like him facially, too) but he passes better.
The Whirling Dervish from Wynnewood, PA was on the same team as Wildcat Legend Miles Simon, Iguodala, Luke Walton and Channing Frye. The fact that this fivesome won each game was not a surprise. The ball movement was incredible, led by Shakur but followed closely by Iggy and Walton. Simon, as the team leader, made sure to compliment Shakur after each of his nice plays or good decisions. He also found time to teach Shakur and Iggy the intricacies of the game as much as possible.
Imagining Shakur on the roster in 2003-04 is not hard. It was very obvious that he was having a great time with all of the guys and particularly with Adams and Iguodala: his two primary targets in the years to come. He is tailor made for this team thanks to his playmaking skills and ability to run a team while making those around him better.
With guys like Frye, Latimore, Iguodala and Adams surrounding him, I will say right now that Shakur could average more assists than any Wildcat point guard in the last 20 years as a freshman. Will he break Russell Brown's career assist record if he decides to play for Lute Olson and Arizona? Probably not. But in whatever amount of time he chooses to spend on campus, he will make a serious run at it.
Arizona doesn't need Shakur to score like it has with Gardner, Damon Stoudamire or Jason Terry. The Wildcats need him to do what he does best: create points for the other four guys wearing the Cardinal and Navy uniforms.
And boy will he ever.
Contact Ben Hansen at Bhansen6677@aol.com.
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