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Young, Shakur face different dilemmas

This of course made national news, because everything backward or bizarre about teams that are 0-21 on the road seems to make national news nowadays.

But as usual, we missed the bigger story.

A former Arizona star, a kid who grew up playing on Philadelphia's rugged playgrounds, was trying to show he belonged.

He wasn't Nick Young, assured of an NBA future. Mustafa Shakur was a survivor, fighting to stay on the court in the world's greatest pickup league.

For Young, this season has been about growth, being the guy who goes one-on-five less and acting like Rip Hamilton curling off screens for a deadeye jump shot more. Toning down his church-league, stop-and-pop game has been an adjustment.

"Sometimes it's hard, because I want to do so much more," he said. "But even when I'm coming around those screens, you watch: I put a little flavor in it."

Having braided his hair the night before in New York - "Tried to change it up for luck," he said - he was going back to old Nick on Tuesday night. "I'm 'bout to pick it out into a big 'Fro. You'll see it."

Told it had a striking resemblance to the Coolidge character in "The White Shadow," Sam Cassell, the Wizards assistant coach, thought otherwise. As a Chinese film crew stood around, waiting for Yi Jianlian, Cassell yelled, "Yo, Nick, how you say, 'Nappy head' in Chinese?"

The locker room broke up in laughter before yet another loss to more talented team, this one featuring Carmelo Anthony.

It wasn't clear whether Mustafa Shakur heard the joke, but as he got up from his cubicle to take a few warmup shots on the court, he smiled the smile of a man enjoying the first week of life as an honest-to-goodness NBA player.

It wasn't Young's knowing, forever-optimistic smile. But it was meaningful in a different way. By Monday, Shakur will know whether or not he will be signed to another 10-day contract, but the fact that the Wizards are 13 points better as a team when he's on the floor can't hurt his chances.

Either way, they take the court together Friday night, trying to stop the skid away from Washington.

Two disparate tales of youth, the game and what it means for each, obscured by a losing season of transition, obscured by perhaps bigger names but not necessarily better stories.

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