It’s been a long time coming — certainly longer than anyone close to Philadelphia basketball circles would have predicted — but Mustafa Shakur is finally in the NBA.
The former Philly high school hero (co-MVP of the ’03 Roundball Classic with LeBron) and University of Arizona star (Elite Eight) once seemed like a lock for a long and prosperous career at the highest level. But as of last Friday, he had yet to suit up in an NBA game. By the end of the weekend, he made his NBA debut after being called up to the Washington Wizards from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the D-League.
Shakur played well on Saturday, finishing with 5 points, 5 assists and 2 blocks in Washington’s win over the Celtics, but the reason he made headlines the next morning was because of his uniform — an obviously hastily put-together disaster where the number on his jersey was askew, the name was halfway down Shakur’s back, and the jersey itself seemed a couple sizes too big for the 6-3 point guard.
Last night at Madison Square Garden, Shakur had a new and improved uni and he again shined in his brief cameo, posting 6 points, 5 boards and 4 assists in 14 minutes off the bench in Washington’s loss to the Knicks. Before the game, I got up with Shakur for a minute to talk about his new job:
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Dime: How did you find out you’d been called up to the Wizards?
Mustafa Shakur: My agent texted me. I was on the road in Dakota playing an away game, and after the game I saw I had a text. It said, “The Wizards called you up for a 10-day. You’re outta here in the morning.”
Dime: What was the next step?
MS: After that I spoke to the GM, Tommy Sheppard, and they arranged my flight for early in the morning so I could get in that day for the (Celtics) game.
Dime: Did the Wizards tell you why they brought you up, or what was expected of you?
MS: When I met with Tommy Sheppard and Ernie Grunfeld, they pretty much said, “Be yourself and go from there.” I talked to the coaches and they said the same thing, then we went over a few basic plays.
Dime: Have you had a chance to practice yet?
MS: No, we haven’t had an actual practice yet since I’ve been here, outside of shootaround.
Dime: How hard is it jump right in the mix like that?
MS: I mean, basketball is basketball. I’m out here with NBA players. When I’m on the court, I just tell the guys, “Keep talking to me.” Coach (Flip) Saunders has really helped out a lot. He’ll give me some plays during every timeout for every situation, or draw up a play since I’m still learning.
Dime: Did you get the jersey situation worked out?
MS: (Laughs) Oh yeah, it got worked out. They fixed it.
Dime: What was your reaction when you saw that first jersey?
MS: I mean, I was just happy to have an NBA jersey. That’s my favorite number too (#22), so I was just like, “Whatever.” It’s cool.