A Special Person

With the recruiting of Mustafa Shakur hitting full stride with in-homes and official visits in the month of September, TSW looked for insight to Mustafa from his long time AAU coach, mentor and friend, Greg Wright.

It does not take long in an interview with Hunting Park's head coach, Greg Wright, to find out how he feels about his star player Mustafa Shakur. One word kept coming up in our conversation, "special". And he should know, he has coached Shakur for the last nine years. "I have known Mustafa since he was nine and coached him in the rec leagues. He is the hardest worker I have ever coached or have been around. All this started at an early age. When he was young, he decided to put the time and energy into becoming a good basketball player. I'm not going to say great for now, because he has a lot of basketball left to be played. But, it is all paying off for him now, because he is a special player who had a vision when he was young."

The hard work by Mustafa comes partly from his competitive drive. "He wanted to be better than his opponents. It has not been easy for him at all. He has had to work to be where he is today. After practice, he has always wanted to go some more. He would say, coach, I want to play a few more minutes. Of course, that few minutes always turned into an hour or more. He would work on his weaknesses. He has the drive to outwork everybody."

TSW saw Shakur in action at the TOC this summer and witnessed Hunting Park get beaten by a Charlotte Nets 75-60. After the game, Shakur was noticeably troubled by the outcome, sitting off from his team, obviously reflecting on the events that had just taken place. We asked Coach Wright about this side of Mustafa. "It bothers him to lose a game. He gets over it in a couple of hours, but it really bothers him after a loss. You can't tell him, that he could of done no more. He always feels he could have done more. He practices and plays the game to win. It's a team game and I think he will eventually figure it out that sometimes teams lose."

We also wanted to know about those legendary spin moves that Mustafa is known for, so we asked coach where he learned all those twist and turns. "He has real quick moves. We introduce our players to older players from the 70's and 80's, when the athleticism was not as abundant and it took special moves to get to the basket. With Mustafa's athletic ability it just increases his effectiveness to getting to the basket."

Shakur gained a year of eligibility when he enrolled in Friends Central and according to Wright, it has helped his player. "He went to Friends to help prepare for College. I am not taking anything away from the public schools here, but for Mustafa, it was the right thing to do. He is really matured as a player and a student. He is ready as a person to go off to school. I feel that wherever he goes, he will be ready to start his nest, whether it be Arizona or NC State. He won't be like many sixteen year olds that get homesick."

It also seems Mustafa carries the same maturity to all aspects of his life. "He knows what he wants and he works hard at it. He treats school work, basketball, and his recruiting with his special work ethic."

There has been some speculation that Arizona may lead for Shakur. We asked Coach Wright what Mustafa has told him. "We talk on a regular basis and he has given no indication as to a leader. I advised him in the very beginning to hold things close and if he needed to talk about something, then we can sit down and talk about what's on his mind. It is entirely his decision to make and I will support him in whatever he chooses. I have a few pennies I have been saving in a jar, and I will spend them to go to Raleigh or Arizona."

Mustafa has in-home visits this week from both Coach Olson and Coach Sendek. "He has a visit lined up today with NC State and he has one for tomorrow. Then he will hop on a plane Friday to go to Arizona. He is scheduled to go to NC State on the 27th. He may make a trip to Virginia as well. Charlottesville is between us and NC State, but right now its basically down between NC State and Arizona."

Even though Shakur has not named a favorite to Wright, he expects a leader will emerge very soon. "We will sit down and talk before he leaves on Friday. After his visits, we will talk again. I have not given my opinion yet, because I want it to be Mustafa's process. At the end of it all, I will listen to everything he has to say and I will say what I think, as well as his parents and his brothers and sisters. When it is all said and done, he will then choose."

The recruiting process has been well thought out by Shakur according to Wright. "He is very intelligent in handling everything. He told me back in June that he wanted to make a decision by the second week in October before his practice starts in November. That gave him four months to look at the schools. He is a professor about it all and has had a good time with the process. He wants to look at every aspect of each place. The academics, the athletics, and the area are all important. I am very impressed with how he has handled everything."

The month of September could not of come at a better time for a tired Wright. "Mustafa wants to work everyday and I work out with him. As much as I want to keep up with him on the court, I have to let him win that battle. The days he has planned to be visiting are days off for me."

While the abilities of Mustafa are wearing down his older coach, Wright is already thinking about life as a coach without his sidekick of nine years. "I am going to miss coaching him. He is very special and I love the kid. I hate to see him go."

There's that "special" word again.

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