Brothers' Rivalry Made Iman a Stopper
By Jared Zwerling
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- When Iman Shumpert was introduced to the media on Friday afternoon at the Knicks' training facility, you could tell it was one of the happiest days of his life. He let it all out, emitting a different vibe than the common politically-correct press conference tone. Every time Shumpert started answering a reporter's question, it only took him about two seconds to flash his giant smile and reveal a very personal emotion or experience.
"Off the court, I think people will like me," Shumpert said. "I’m a people person. I’m a hugger. [When the Knicks picked me], there were a a lot of hugs. I had a whole lot of makeup on my shirt [ laughs]. I’m glad it was a T-shirt."
On the court, Knicks fans will like Shumpert too if he brings much-needed defensive versatility to an offensive-minded team. Mike D'Antoni said that he has the potential to guard the 1 through 3, but not just any typical 1 through 3 -- make that point guard Derrick Rose, shooting guard Dwyane Wade and small forward LeBron James, arguably the best players in the league at their positions.
Many New Yorkers who bleed blue and orange still can't believe Donnie Walsh and Co. passed over two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year and two-time NCAA Tournament participant Chris Singleton with the 17th pick. Instead, the Knicks front office picked a player who, although he was the leading scorer for his college team this past season, he led them to a losing record (13-17). But local fans should find some solace in this: Shumpert treats his defensive game like a secret service agent and the basket like it's Barack Obama. No one gets close to the President.
"If somebody scores on me, I’m going to be mad," Shumpert said. "With [ Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups] being able to score the ball like that, I don’t think they should have to play all the defense too. The first thing I’m going to do is come in and defend people -- take pressure off peoples’ legs."
Shumpert honed his shutdown skills growing up as the second youngest of four brothers while playing in "backyard basketball wars" at his family's house in Oak Park, Ill., a western suburb of Chicago. Shumpert remembers the fierce competition vividly -- the yelling, screaming, fighting and clawing -- and learned the most important thing from his siblings about how to earn respect on the Chi-town playgrounds: stop your man.
"I was so short and I was real skinny, and my older brothers, [Odis and Ahrii], would just beat up on me," Shumpert said. "Back home, if you get scored on, you’re the weak link. When I started getting good, they were like, 'If you’re going to play on our team when we go play pick-up and you start getting scored on, we’re not going to let you play anymore.' I started learning how to help other people out with my defense."
Just like Shumpert can guard three positions, he has three favorite NBA defenders: former Spurs small forward and ESPN TV analyst Bruce Bowen ("he gets under people's skin, you can tell"); Grizzlies small forward Tony Allen ("he's real aggressive and will sort of mean-mug you a little bit and throw you around") and Magic center Dwight Howard ("I’ve never seen anybody decide he wasn’t even going to block the shot and just grab it out of the air and walk away with it").
Shumpert admits that he heard some of the boos from Knicks fans at the Prudential Center on draft night while he was watching everything unfold on TV in his hometown state. But he didn't think it was as bad as previous years when the team made their selection.
"I’ve heard way worse," Shumpert said. "Usually the Knicks fans will boo even harder than that. I heard a couple of boos, but it’s all criticism. It comes with the job. It’s not something I’m dwelling on."
That criticism, the insistent talk about the Singleton slip-up, is only fueling Shumpert like Bruce Banner.
"It’s more motivation for me to come in here and work hard," Shumpert said, "and prove that I can play at this level and prove that I can play with this team."
In order to get minutes at Madison Square Garden, where Shumpert hasn't played since the 2008 Jordan Brand Classic, and enjoy the fruits of his labor to satisfy his shopping interests, he'll have to improve his outside shot. While the 6-5 combo guard, who boasts a ridiculous 42" vertical leap, averaged 17.3 points and an ACC conference-leading 2.7 steals per game as a junior, he shot just 40.6 percent from the field and 27.8 percent from downtown. D'Antoni raved about Shumpert's "almost picture-perfect" shooting form, but consistency is key for the 21-year-old to become the Knicks' best Georgia Tech product since Stephon Marbury.
If there is a lockout, Shumpert plans to snowbird back down to Florida and continue training at the world-renowned IMG Basketball Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Billups once trained there, and now, 13 years apart (Billups is 34), he and Shumpert will be connected on the same court for the first time. Shumpert wouldn't want it any other way.
"I can't wait to sit down with Chauncey to pick his mind apart and to pick the coaches’ minds apart -- just learn as much as I can," Shumpert said. "Coming in being the new guy, you just gotta be a sponge."
Shumpert was once the new guy, and what ended up happening? He became the best baller in the family. With adversity facing him once again, history has shown he can play above the competition.