Chester Standout Awash In Advice

Posted: March 12, 1990

Amid the stamping saddle shoes of the Chester High cheerleaders and the screaming Bensalem faithful, Wilbur "Zain" Shaw heard a familiar sound as he broke out of a team huddle.

A man seated in the third row, a man with an athletic build grown slightly paunchy with age, let out a high-pitched whistle.

The family whistle.

Turning his head, Shaw recognized it immediately. It was a sound Chester's 6-foot, 3-inch junior forward had heard since early childhood.

In the third row, Shaw's father, Wilbur "Zain" Muhammad, himself a former Clipper, pointed to his forehead.

"Zain, keep your head in the game," Muhammad yelled.

Shaw nodded and smiled. Advice is something he has grown accustomed to - from his parents, his coaches and sometimes, it seems, from all of Chester.

A starter since his freshman year, Shaw is rated as one of the top 12 juniors on the East Coast by one recruiting service. He is a young man who people in Chester believe can use his long arms and springy legs to leave their streets behind.

"A lot of people my age are dealing drugs in the projects or getting themselves into trouble," Shaw said. "But, I'm fortunate. I have a lot of people in my corner pulling for me to be successful . . . my parents, coach (Alonzo) Lewis and the other coaches.

"Even people who live in the projects with me are looking out for me, giving me advice to help me make it out."

Shaw's father knows the dangers of the streets and is guarding his son against them.

"He needs to learn more self-discipline, on and off the court," Muhammad said. "So he doesn't make the same mistakes I did."

Shaw, 17, lives with his mother, Debra Shaw, and his 13-year-old brother, Jamar, in the William Penn Projects, "a place where you come face-to-face with drugs every day," he said.

His mother hadn't quite reached her 17th birthday when "little Willy" was born in 1973. She was forced to leave Chester High in her junior year to have the baby, but she said she turned down Muhammad's marriage proposal and later returned to Chester to get her diploma.

As a senior at Chester, Muhammad was a starter and self-professed "master dribbler" for the Clippers. His season ended, he said, when he got into an argument with a teacher at Chester, causing him to be dismissed from the team.

After graduating from Chester, Muhammad went to Lincoln University for a year and played basketball, averaging 15 points and 11 assists a game, before quitting in 1975 to help support his son.

"I made some mistakes," said Muhammad, 35, who is attending Delaware County Commuity College. "I should have finished up my education then, but I didn't.

"His mother and I will do anything to help Zain better himself. Basketball-wise, he's already better than I was, but in order to be a success in life, he needs an education."

When he was younger, Zain Shaw - Zain is taken from a Muslim book of names and means "beautiful and nice" - was schooled on the basketball court by his father as well as by a neighborhood friend and young Chester playground legend, Stephen Cooper, nicknamed "Whip" because he was so smooth with the basketball.

In the summer, Shaw said, he played with Cooper every day from sunrise to sunset.

"The games were always competitive," Shaw said. "But, honestly, I only remember beating him once. He was so talented. . . . We used to dream about playing together at the High, but things just didn't work out."

In July 1988, the two were roommates at the John Chaney-Sonny Hill summer basketball camp at Temple University. But their stay was a short one - less than 24 hours.

A camp counselor found items in their room that Cooper was accused of stealing from other rooms, and Shaw and Cooper were kicked out of the camp.

Shaw remembers trembling as Lewis lectured him and Cooper about the incident.

"I was really upset with what happened and finally realized that it was time for me to start growing up, but Whip just took it as a joke," Shaw said. ''Coach sat us down and told us that if we kept getting involved in stuff like that, we'd get locked up."

Cooper, as it turns out, was arrested three months later in the holdup of two people with a toy pistol at the Tri-State Mall in Delaware. He was sent to George Junior Republic, a West Pennsylvania school for court-adjudicated youth.

Shaw, shunning that road, was the third-leading scorer (13.7 points per game) for the Clippers, who were Seagull Classic, Del-Val League and state champions last season.

This season, the scoring and leadership burden has fallen on Shaw, the lone returning Clippers starter. He has averaged 20.3 points per game and helped the Clippers to a 20-7 record. The Clippers will begin their state title defense this weekend against District 2 champion Hazleton.

On Feb. 13 against Glen Mills, Shaw went over 1,000 points in his career. He now has 1,112 career points.

"Zain has the ability to play the off-guard position at a very high Division I level," said Tom Konchalski, an East Coast scout. "But, in order for him to flourish, he needs to play with a team that plays an up-tempo 94- foot game."

Off the court, Shaw said, he had a 2.7 grade-point average last quarter. His grades were low enough in the first quarter to make him ineligible for Chester's first game, but it was snowed out.

Said Lewis: "Zain needs to mature on and off the court. Right now, he overpowers people with his athletic ability. . . . He out-jumps them or out- quicks them.

"But when he reaches the collegiate level, all the players will be like carbon copies of him: very athletic, very talented. So he needs to become more of a student of the game, so that he can out-think people at the next level.

"The maturity must come in the classroom as well. Zain has dreams of playing college basketball, but there's a whole other side to that and that's academics. He still has strides to make academically, but . . . he's trying."

The added emphasis on academics is fairly new, Shaw concedes. His mother and father agreed that if he didn't enroll in Upward Bound, a six-week summer academic-enrichment program at Swarthmore College last year, he couldn't play for Chester.

"We felt it was time to give him an ultimatum - no books, no basketball," Muhammad said.

Shaw said he has received a great deal of interest from Rutgers, St. Joseph's, Clemson, Wake Forest and Seton Hall, but has always dreamed of playing for Syracuse. He said that when he leaves Chester, he wants to do the city proud and make all that advice, solicited and unsolicited, pay off.

"If you look around Chester," Shaw said, "there's a lot of talented players who for one reason or another really didn't get anywhere.

"Mike (Johnson) and Larry (Yarbray), two guys I played with at Chester, have gone on to Coppin State and have made the NCAA playoffs, so that's a start.

"Next year, it will be my turn. I don't want to blow it."

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