Nick Young, Mustafa Shakur take different routes to the NBA with the Wizards

Washington Wizards guard Mustafa Shakur talks about adjusting to life in the NBA, how playing in Europe prepared him for professional basketball and borrowing shoes for his NBA debut.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 2011; 12:06 AM

Nick Young smiles a lot for a player who has not won an NBA road game this season. But he's not mocking 0-21. On the contrary, it's a knowing, assured smile, as if the Wizards' fourth-year guard is perpetually telling himself and others, "This is the night. We got this one. I know it. I can feel it."

It's the blind confidence of a 25-year-old in his physical prime, rising above both his defender and the notion his team is constantly in the toilet away from home.

"We're getting one here, I know it's coming," Young said, in reference to Washington's upcoming trip - at Oklahoma City, Memphis, Dallas and New Orleans. "I think it's a mental thing. We so caught up in trying to get a win, we don't think about just playing our game."

He spoke in frustration Tuesday night at Verizon Center before a loss to Denver. This was clearly bothering him and many of his teammates, who are just nine road losses away from breaking an NBA record to start a season. Making almost $3 million this season in the last year of the contract he signed as a rookie, the road woes represent a genuine problem.

But maybe 20 feet across the locker room, a player a year older than Young had a real-life dilemma: Mustafa Shakur needs to stick with an NBA team before it's too late. Before the rest of the NBA sees him as the player who just couldn't do enough to stay in the league, before Europe or a non-basketball job beckons and the dream is extinguished before it really began.

"I feel confident I can make it," he said quietly. "I know it sounds crazy, but that's not one of my concerns, whether I'm good enough to make it. I'm just going to continue to play hard and improve."

Shakur is on Day 7 of a 10-day contract, the first of two he can sign with the Wizards before they either must cut him or guarantee his NBA minimum salary deal for the season.

He was not the 16th pick in the 2007 NBA draft. He does not make millions. For his fourth NBA game Friday night, he will make a prorated sum of the roughly $473,000 rookies get for an 82-game season.

Shakur is a call-up from the NBA Development League, a veteran of the Tulsa 66ers and Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Oklahoma City brought him up last season, but he never played in a game.

He made his debut last Saturday night. That's right - Shakur had never played an NBA game before the Wizards' only defining victory of the year, an 85-83 home thriller over Boston. And what a debut it was, both on and off the court.

Shakur's energy on both ends of the floor gave the Wizards' starters the relief they needed to finish.

Also, because of travel time getting to Washington, the team could not find a seamstress before the game. A Wizards employee crudely sewed his name and number on his jersey. Shakur's name was crooked on the back of his jersey. The blue 2s in his No. 22 were so far apart on the white nylon mesh they could have been a Rorschach test.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company