Shakur proves he is ready for life in the NBA

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 2011

Mustafa Shakur thought his agent, Leon Rose, was joking when he called late Friday night with the news that the Washington Wizards were going to sign him to a 10-day contract. Shakur hurriedly hopped on a flight to Washington from Bismarck, N.D., where the NBA Development League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers were playing the Dakota Wizards in games on consecutive nights. So, Shakur had to leave his shoes and other equipment behind to make it in time.

When he arrived, Shakur met with Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld, Vice President Tommy Sheppard, his new teammates and coaches and had time for only a sandwich before the team hosted the Boston Celtics. Shakur was excited, because nearly four years after he went undrafted out of Arizona, he was finally set to make an NBA debut that had been delayed by stints in Europe, the D-League, a few NBA tryouts and an extended period with the Oklahoma City Thunder that never included him getting on the court.

Then, the Wizards handed him his uniform - including a hastily put-together, oversize mess of a jersey, with the numbers and his name stitched in the wrong place. Rashard Lewis joked that it looked like an inauthentic jersey purchased in a team shop, which is really an insult to the team shop.

"I was like, what is this? The numbers was spread out. My name was kind of wacky, but I was like, 'Whatever.' I'm ready to play. I don't care what I'm wearing," Shakur said. "It's whatever you guys give me. If you give me some John Stockton shorts, whatever you've got. I just want to go out there and play."

And, through his first three games, Shakur is playing like he means it. He's averaging 4.7 points and 3.7 assists, allowing for little drop-off - and actually some improved play - while spelling No. 1 overall pick John Wall.

Shakur was thrust into action against the defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics and had five points and a team-high five assists in an 85-83 win. In his next game against New York, he had six points, five rebounds and four assists while directing the Wizards through a 32-14 second-quarter run.

"He's not a true rookie," Coach Flip Saunders said. "He's a guy that's been around. He's been over in Europe, so he's been seasoned. He's been in the minor leagues and has kind of seasoned himself and so you know he's got some mental toughness, and he knows how to play. . . . I've been happy with what he's done."

The Wizards (13-31) have needed the production, with Wall's regular backup, Kirk Hinrich missing the past three games with a hyperextended right elbow. Hinrich is listed as day-to-day and could soon return, but Shakur is hoping to stick around.

"Just coming in, I was like, 'I belong here,' " said Shakur, 26. "I just stayed in the gym and just kept working and try to block out everything that happened before. That's how I live my life and base my career on that, working hard today and planning for tomorrow. I can't live life in reverse."

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