CBS’ Selection Sunday show did not tell Arizona guard Mustafa Shakur that the Wildcats were playing in his hometown of Philadelphia this week.
His telephone did.
“I wanted to wait and see what happened so I didn’t watch right away,” Shakur said. “Then I just looked at my phone, and all of a sudden I had four voice mails. I knew I was coming home after that.”
By the end of Sunday evening, Shakur knew he would have nearly 200 friends and family rooting him on at the Wachovia Center on Friday, when the Wildcats face Wisconsin in a first-round NCAA tournament game.
That is, if they can get tickets. Shakur has been trying to hook many of them up, but he only gets six passes himself plus whatever he can scrounge up from teammates.
“Every day the total is adding up,” Shakur said. “I’ve just got to stick with it. I think it’ll help a lot. That’s why I want to get as many tickets as I can.”
All this emotion could go two ways, however. UA coach Lute Olson wants to make sure it isn’t channeled in the wrong direction.
“It’ll be exciting for Mustafa,” Olson said. “But we need to make sure when the game time comes he’ll play the way we need him to play.
“You’re going to be excited about being in the playoffs. The danger is being too excited.”
The other side of it is that Shakur could play better than ever with all that frenzied support behind him. The fact that most ticket-holders attending the Arizona-Wisconsin game will probably be awaiting Villanova’s game immediately afterward did not even bother him.
“The supporters I’ve got, they’ll go crazy,” Shakur said. “Yeah there are (Villanova fans) but with 100 of my fans we’ll see.”
Besides, the Villanova fans might root for Shakur, at least Friday, because of his roots. A McDonald’s All-American and Pennsylvania player of the year in 2003 at Friends Central High School, Shakur is still a well-known name in a town known for its passion about sports.
“In Philadelphia, they love Mustafa,” said Greg Wright, Shakur’s coach on the AAU Hunting Park Warriors. “He’s one of the kids out of Philadelphia who made it. This is one of the hardest places to play. Everybody loves the sport here, and everybody loves the homegrown athletes. The reception he’s going to get is going to be awesome.”
Shakur is averaging 10.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game this season. But he is still criticized for over-penetrating, poor outside shooting (27 percent from 3-point range) and, since he is playing Arizona’s historically marquee position, just about everything else.
But Shakur was not complaining. The messages between Tucson and Philadelphia have always stayed positive.
“Mustafa’s pretty levelheaded,” Wright said. “If he’s getting a lot of heat out there, he has yet to express it. He understands his responsibility and what he’s supposed to do. It helps build character.”
Arizona vs. Wisconsin
When: 10:30 a.m. Friday
Where: Wachovia Center,
Philadelphia TV: Ch. 5