When point guard Mustafa Shakur was a freshman, his teammates dubbed him Golden Child because he could seemingly do no wrong in the eyes of coach Lute Olson. Shakur played so well at the outset that Olson, known for being tough on his freshmen, never so much as raised his voice to Shakur.
Entering his junior season, however, Shakur has lost some of that luster. He followed his promising freshman performance with an inconsistent sophomore season during which his outside shooting and decision-making were off and Olson wasn't nearly so soft-spoken in correcting him. (Shakur's field goal percentage dipped from 51.9 as a freshman to 42.3.) After one particularly tough week of practice Shakur called Olson at home and told him that he thought the criticism was deserved. "Coach was in my ear a lot," Shakur says. "But that's fine. He was just trying to make me a better player."
Shakur spent the summer working hard on his game, especially on his jump shot. He's also intent upon becoming a more forceful floor leader, something Arizona needs after the departures of center Channing Frye and guard Salim Stoudamire to the NBA. Olson believes his point guard is primed for a bounce-back season, which would help the Wildcats win their third Pac-10 regular-season title in four years. "Mustafa is a lot more aggressive with the ball than he's been," Olson says. "He's much more talkative because he's been in that situation for two years, and I think he feels comfortable."
The arrival of freshman guard J.P. Prince should prevent Shakur from getting too comfortable. Prince, the cousin of Detroit Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince, is expected to push Shakur at the point. Whoever runs the offense will be surrounded by plenty of options, including the Wildcats' leading returning scorer, Hassan Adams, a senior who has played power forward and shooting guard but should settle in at small forward. "At this point, if you asked the guys, they would tell you that it's Hassan's team," Olson says. Kirk Walters, a 6'10" junior with a soft shooting touch, and Isaiah Fox, a 6'9" banger, will try to replace Frye's 15.8 points and 7.6 rebounds a game.
Arizona will be experienced, athletic and deep, with a good chance of at least making a return trip to the Elite Eight. Shakur may not be the Golden Child anymore, but if he returns to form, the Wildcats might even mine a championship.
Wildcats assistant Josh Pastner likes to work his hometown, where dad Hal is coach of a top AAU team. Those connections helped Arizona land Jawann McClellan, Fendi Onobun and Ndudi Ebi (who then turned pro instead) the last three years.