When David Stern called Iman Shumpert’s name at the 2011 NBA Draft, Knicks fans in attendance scratched their heads – some in disgust, and some in complete confusion. Seven months later, he’s silenced the critics and put the entire NBA on notice.
The feature printed below can be found in it’s entirety in our newest issue, Dime #68.
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Every player has a moment – a transformative realization that maybe those NBA dreams aren’t so farfetched, aren’t so distant. It’s empowering, frightening even. Except for Iman Shumpert, the Chicago-area native who, thanks to the 17th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, is now a New York Knick. He had to be told of his potential for greatness, even if he knew in the back of his mind that NBA dreams were in the cards all along.
“My sophomore year, going into junior year when I was playing AAU ball, I started to excel,” says Shumpert. “You know, my teammates started to tell me I was standing out, I was starting to do stuff they couldn’t do.”
His 24-year-old brother, Ahrii, possessed a keener eye for talent. But he was not alone.
“A lot of people that watched him play, when he was 10 or 12 years old, they could tell he was special,” says Ahrii. “Especially offensively, he was real polished. At 10, he was playing like he was 14 or 15 years old.”
The second youngest of four brothers, the 21-year-old Shumpert wasn’t always the lockdown defender that we now know him to be. Back in the days of playgrounds and backyard hoops, Ahrii remembers the natural order – when physicality and size proved just enough to take down his younger brother in a game of one-on-one.
“Probably about until his freshman year of high school, I would win (one-on-one),” says Ahrii. “But after that, we basically started splitting games; and then by his sophomore year, he would just win. But he was always close to winning. It was never a huge margin. That’s how good he was at a young age. I was always bigger than he was, physically, so I knew if there was a way to beat him, it was to post him up. Once he grew, he started to use the skills he had more effectively with his size. Even now, he uses his size a lot.”
It’s those skills, most notably his defense, that have earned Shumpert high praise from scouts everywhere, and prompted former Knick coach Mike D’Antoni to insist that he can stymie the likes of Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
“We’ve been playing since as far as I can remember,” adds Ahrii. “He’s always been tough. He used to take his toughness with a little bit of arrogance, and he was kinda annoying out there – especially defensively. That’s probably where he gets it.”
But the good always comes with the bad, and any draft prospect opens the door to criticism from every angle. Shumpert only listens to his coaches and his father, Odis.
“My father’s my biggest critic,” says Shumpert. “He always gives me an honest assessment of how I played. If I don’t have a good game, he’s gonna tell me about it.”
And so did the NBA coaches and GMs during the draft process. Coming out of Georgia Tech after his junior season and the leader of a 13-18 team, the questions were everywhere. But one repeated message from NBA circles kept floating to the surface.
“They felt that I had a lot of gifts, but I had to learn how to be more efficient,” says Shumpert. “In college, I sort of almost ran wild with my talents, but in the NBA you gotta sort of narrow it down, and know when to use everything.”
There’s no question Shumpert had, and has, his doubters. So much so that he only shot up draft boards late in the game. But the 6-5 point guard claims to ignore external perception. Maybe that’s true of real life, but the realm of video games paints a totally different picture. When the topic of NBA 2K12 came up, Shumpert, although not a gamer himself, was sweating his potential ratings.
“I just wanted to be good at what I’m good at,” he says. “I should be able to lock up and get a lot of steals, I feel like I should be able to rebound over a lot of big guys, I should be able to dunk, and be fast. I don’t want to be a slow guy that people could take the ball from. As long as I’m able to hold my own, I’m fine.”