Arizona had five or six days off during Christmas. Shakur could have come home. He thought about coming home. He decided to stay at Arizona and put in some more work. It was just him and Arizona's foreign players.
"I'm just trying to work on the consistency of my jump shot," Shakur said this week. "You have to definitely be able to hit that open jump shot. They're going to scout you, and if they understand you're a pass-first guy, they'll defend you that way."
Shakur has worked on improving his form, "keeping my elbow in, snapping my wrist," since his overall shooting percentage is only 38.3 percent. His three-point percentage is a touch higher, at 38.8 percent. Going into last night's game against USC, the Wildcats were 12-3, ranked No. 17 by the Associated Press, after having a nine-game winning streak snapped at Stanford. Shakur is averaging 9.2 points and 5.1 assists a game.
He leads Arizona with 27 steals, which he's happy to point out is more than he had all last season (17). He showed up at Arizona with all-American credentials and the "next great point guard" label. But Shakur has the kind of game you have to watch to appreciate. He isn't a me-first kind of ballplayer. And Lute Olson wanted him to be a leader right away.
"That's always tough, especially when you have juniors and seniors on the team," Shakur said. "I tried to do what I could."
He said he's very comfortable in that role this season. "My teammates are more comfortable," Shakur said. "They know the things I like to do."
Back home, Wright still talks to Shakur frequently and catches most of his games on cable television. He said Shakur isn't in any rush to leave for the NBA.
Scheduling up. Last season, Michigan State over-scheduled and paid for it. Losses to Kansas, Duke, Oklahoma, Kentucky, UCLA and Syracuse meant Michigan State got a No. 7 seed in last year's tournament, even though the Spartans were 12-4 in the Big Ten. They lost in the first round of the tournament to Nevada. This season, coach Tom Izzo went with a different strategy. The Spartans are 10-2 and ranked 15th by the AP, thanks to an easier path. Michigan State still lost at Duke and George Washington, but other powerhouses were replaced by schools such as Delaware State, Nicholls State and UNC-Asheville.
Tough to stop. Anybody who saw Temple play Duke last weekend saw a college shooter who is ready to be a pro shooter. Temple defenders often got out to J.J. Redick, at least to the spot where most three-point shooters go to, about 21 feet out. The problem was, Redick was setting up closer to 25 feet from the basket and was very comfortable shooting from there. He's also grown adept at driving into the lane and dishing out, so there is no foolproof way to defend him.
National stats: La Salle's Steven Smith is fifth nationally in scoring (22.8 ppg.), San Francisco's John Cox, an Engineering and Science High graduate, is ninth (21.5 ppg.). Dwayne Jones of St. Joseph's is eighth in rebounding (10.5 a game). Villanova's Jason Fraser is 10th in blocks (3.1 a game). Temple's Mardy Collins is first in steals (3.9 a game).
Games of the weekend: The big one is tomorrow, North Carolina at Wake Forest, one of the top regular-season games of the season. The Tar Heels are too tough for the rest of the conference at home. We'll see if that dominance transfers to the road. Others: Louisville at Cincinnati, tomorrow. Michigan State at Wisconsin, Sunday. Boston College at West Virginia, Sunday.
One man's Top 20. 1. Illinois. 2. Kansas. 3. North Carolina. 4. Oklahoma State. 5. Syracuse. 6. Kentucky. 7. Georgia Tech. 8. Wake Forest. 9. Duke. 10. Boston College. 11. Gonzaga. 12. Washington. 13. George Washington. 14. Marquette. 15. Mississippi State. 16. Cincinnati. 17. Connecticut. 18. Oklahoma. 19. Texas. 20. Arizona.
Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or firstname.lastname@example.org.