This is what he dreamed of ever since he can remember. This is what he wished for as he watched McDonald's All-American games, the NBA playoffs, Final Fours and created his own liking on video games. Like all kids growing up, he told himself, "Someday, that will be me."
Now, it is him. He no longer has to dream and wish.
Iman Shumpert is a basketball star.
Shumpert sits on the hardwood floor with his back against the enclosed bleachers in Oakton Community College's gym on a recent June evening. It's about a month since he went from a relative unknown on the national basketball scene to being someone who's now receiving calls from some of the nation's highest profile programs. Enough time has passed for Shumpert to get accustomed to the attention coaches, media and scouts have given him in the past weeks. He told Kansas coach Bill Self he'd call him if he decided to allow the Jayhawks in his recruiting picture. He knows not to give the slightest hint of who his college leader may be to the media. He carries the same sort of confidence in his interviews as he does on the court.
Still, there are moments you realize sitting before you is a 16-year-old kid – he turned 17 on June 26 – who wasn't ranked anywhere near the top 100 nationally when the spring started and within a few weeks time became the hottest high school player in the country. A lot of players in Shumpert's 2008 class have had the words McDonald's All-American, 5-star player and NBA prospect thrown around at them for years. He's only been getting that kind of hype for a few days.
"For me going from not being ranked to people questioning, ‘Maybe, he might be the No. 1 player in the state,' that's a great thing to hear," Shumpert said. "It puts a smile on your face. To play for a McDonald's All-American game, I'm not just going to play for that, but if I get selected for that, I mean … (long pause, then a smile and laugh) … that's one of the greatest things."
A three-week span by Shumpert in April and May has made that a reality.
Recovering from a broken elbow he suffered in February while playing for Oak Park-River Forest, Shumpert started the spring slowly with his AAU team, Full Package. In Las Vegas at a tournament, he struggled to shoot. In Pittsburgh, he got better. The following week at the King James Tournament, he turned it on. Another week later in Indiana, he kept it going.
Of the stretch, it was a 22-point performance, which included 19 in the first half, against the Georgia Stars, one of the nation's premier AAU teams, that opened a lot of people's eyes to Shumpert. After the game, Dave Telep of Scout.com wrote, "The guy can handle it, pass from the wing -- including angular entries -- and has no trouble scoring the rock. Maybe the definition of a late bloomer, so don't be surprised when he rockets past bigger, more established names."
Matt Ryndak will always remember where he was for the moment.
"We struggled as a team, and he really -- against big-time players -- put us on his back," said Ryndak, who recently left Full Package to be the head coach at Johnsburg High School. "He was amazing. I sat down, shut up and watched him keep us in the game. I think it solidified his status nationally. He turned around and finished the tournament well and had a good tournament at Spiece."
At the Spiece Tournament in Fort Wayne, Ind., Telep tried to watch Shumpert play as much as possible. He wanted to make sure Shumpert was as good as he thought he was. Telep had done a study on late bloomers the year before. Like a lot of scouts, he had missed on the likes of Adam Morrison and Tyrus Thomas when they were in high school. It bothered him so much that he went back five years and began analyzing why players like Morrison went from average high school players to great college ones. He discovered a few common traits, including being young for their age and late growth spurts.
Shumpert fit both of those traits. He could be entering his junior year of high school instead of senior. He also began high school at 5-foot-7, rose to 6-0 as a sophomore and now is approaching 6-5.
Telep ended up seeing Shumpert four times in Indiana. Each time Shumpert didn't let him down. When Telep released his spring top 100 ranking, Shumpert went from being unranked to No. 15 in the nation and the fourth-best shooting guard.
"This spring he exploded," Telep said. "Right now, I think Iman Shumpert has a huge advantage over anyone else. He's just now starting to hit his stride. As other guys are trying to hold their spot, Iman Shumpert is sprinting downhill. In my opinion, he's the top senior in the state of Illinois."
It's ironic Shumpert plays for a team called Full Package, because that's how his game can be described. He's a tall and long combo guard who has incredible court vision, can get to the basket with ease and can shoot it.
The one thing he lacked before this spring was confidence. Between himself and Ryndak, they called it his "swagger."
"That's him knowing he's the best player on the floor," Ryndak said. "Not necessarily trying to prove that, but him playing with such a calm, cool flow. Someone made a comment at one point this spring that he's so good it almost seems so effortless. When he has the swagger, that confidence, he has total control of the game."
Telep said: "When you add all that up, he's one of the best wings in the country. If you're going to stick your neck out like that, you have to do your homework. If you do homework on Iman Shumpert, it all adds up."
Van Coleman of Hoopmasters.com does agree with Telep that Shumpert in an elite player, but he's going to wait until after the July period to see if he's worthy of his top 20.
"I think he's legitimately into the top 50 nationally," Coleman said. "I'm not sure if he's broken into the top 20. He had a great, great spring. He was one of the top wing guards we saw on the circuit. In July, he'll solidify himself in the elite group of players. He'll have to do it again and do it against the elite players. At this point he's on the cusp of the top 30. He has to prove one more time to pigeonhole him in the right place.
"I think two things make him stand out: he has tremendous athleticism and he can shoot it. When you get those two combinations together, that really excites people."
College coaches are among those people that are excited. He began getting so many phone calls in May that he needed to turn off his cell phone just to get his homework done. Shumpert had the likes of Illinois, Bradley and a few others coming at him strong before his breakout spring period. Since then, he's heard from teams such as Kansas, UCLA, Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida.
Shumpert has shown loyalty to the schools who have been on him the longest. When Kansas coach Bill Self called recently, Shumpert reiterated that.
"I talked to Coach Self," Shumpert said. "Coach Self can recruit. It was like a 10-minute conversation, and he wants to make you hear more. He's got a way of persuading people. But I told him it's like a loyalty thing. If I wanted to hear more about Kansas, I would give him a call. He didn't pressure me into letting Kansas in.
"I don't feel pressure going somewhere because of a certain thing. I feel like if it's not going to be the best fit and I'm not going to be happy at the school then I'm not going to go there. I want something that will set up me up academically. The school has to be a school that, after I'm done with my degree, will take me somewhere. I also look at my relationship with the head coach and whether it's a place I can take my game to the next level."
That next level is the NBA. It's where Shumpert hopes his game eventually ends up. Full Package 17-and-under coach Steve Pratt, who trains potential NBA draft picks, believes it's more than just a dream.
"He's an NBA talent, and I have experience with NBA talent," Pratt said. "He has NBA speed; he has NBA vision; and his skills are getting better and better. He's got a real chance to be in the League. I don't throw around ‘You're going to be an NBA player' lightly. I work with a lot of kids and a lot of good college players. I don't say that to them. This kid is an NBA player."
It wouldn't have been surprising if Shumpert's head had burst some time during the last month. Everywhere he turns now people are telling him how great he is. While Shumpert carries a good bit of confidence with him, he remembers what he had to do to get where he currently is.
"It's a good feeling that you're finally getting recognized," he said. "There's another feeling that the pressure's on you to get there and work to stay there. I'm not looking to stay there. I'm looking to go up. I just know it's more work. That's how I keep my head level.
"I feel I can get a lot of better. I'm not going to allow the No. 15 ranking in the nation to stop me from working. I'm going to try and stay in the game as much as possible."
Scott Powers is the editor and publisher of Ill. Hoops Magazine.